By Maureen Bader
Those who have followed the saga of bursting Olympic budgets were likely unfazed when it was finally confirmed that the original $175-million Vancouver 2010 Olympic security budget was a work of fiction. The most recent, but probably not the final budget is pegged at $900-million. It has long been assumed our politicians, and their RCMP minions, knew the original security budget was pure figment, yet were loath to come clean. Now, less than a year from the Olympics, taxpayers are getting a better picture of the security costs and the lasting legacy they may bring.
As early as 2005, the RCMP was forced to admit the security budget didn't reflect current costs. However, it wasn’t until February 2009 when Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan confirmed, "[the security budget] was developed without an actual plan for security in the first place." Once again, we see that politicians say things they know are not true to get citizens on side for big-ticket items, and only reveal the truth once it is too late to do much about it.
So, just what are we paying for?
The RCMP's 2010 Integrated Security Unit, in charge of security for the games, has over half of the $900-million budget -- $491.9-million. The vast majority of that goes to operations, including salaries and expenses (such as food and accommodations) and capital expenses (such as radio communications equipment and vehicles). The next biggest chunk of the budget, $212-million, goes to the military, and $11-million to Canada's spy agency, CSIS.
Right now, anyone who dares question the need for massive spending is told, 'we wouldn't want to have what happened in Munich happen here.' But taxpayers must still insist on getting the best bang for our buck. Maybe, for example, instead of housing police officers in luxury cruise ships during the Olympics, the police could save money by billeting with their local brethren.
But regardless of how much we spend, of how tightly controlled, even a total police lockdown won't eliminate all risk. In China, where police can regularly be seen hauling peaceful protestors off to jail, the father-in-law of US Olympic Men's Indoor Volleyball Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon was stabbed and killed during the Beijing Olympics.
Certainly, steps must be taken to protect athletes and their families during the Olympics, but the last thing B.C. needs is another legacy -- a legacy of electronic surveillance.
And that’s just what might happen. At a press conference on the eve of the one-year countdown to the opening of the 2010 Games, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge said, "Security investment always leave a good legacy of security for the country. Whenever the Games are finished, everything that has been built, the expertise that has been acquired, the hardware that has been put in place, is serving the country and the regions for decades to follow."
Great -- closed circuit TVs, surveillance planes, metal detectors, spies, command and control systems, perimeter protection systems -- all left over after the games so that government can do a better job watching us.
British Columbians have been sold an Olympic illusion so politicians can create legacies to themselves. Paternalistic politicians tell us things they know are not true when they think it is in our best interest. This must change. Politicians must be up-front at the beginning of these processes, or get out of them altogether. It's time to give all government spend-a-thons a reality check -- especially when the true legacy is big brother intruding not only into our pocketbooks, but into our daily lives.
Maureen Bader is the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.