By Kathy Corrigan
The 2010 Winter Olympics provide a unique opportunity to host the world and to celebrate sport. With the lighting of the Olympic torch, and just over 100 days to go, people around the province are getting ready to welcome the world.
While many British Columbians are increasingly excited and supportive of the Games, others are raising concerns, particularly given that so many people and communities are in dire financial circumstances.
Whatever people’s level of enthusiasm, I believe there are some things that we can all agree on. We agree that taxpayer dollars spent on the Olympics must be spent wisely. People also want accountability and transparency, and rightfully resent any hint of elitism and waste associated with the Games. Unfortunately, it increasingly seems that the Liberals are not living up to those tests.
The most recent Olympic ticket revelations and the associated public anger are illustrative. Last week, the New Democrats revealed that the B.C. Liberal government spent nearly a million taxpayer dollars on the purchase of 3,200 Olympics tickets and then tried to hide it.
The documents, obtained through a freedom of information request, revealed that many of the tickets, including those for luxury suites in B.C. Place, GM Place, and the Pacific Coliseum to watch coveted hockey and skating events, were for B.C. Liberal MLAs and cabinet ministers for the purposes of “Olympic community engagement and leveraging”.
During question period, Minister of State for the Olympics Mary McNeil reluctantly admitted to the expenditure. However, when pressed on how the tickets would be distributed, McNeil said she didn’t have a plan. The minister still hasn’t released an official policy on how these tickets will be distributed.
Late last month, the government admitted to shelling out nearly $1.5 million for 2010 tickets purchased by Crown corporations B.C. Hydro, ICBC, and the B.C. Lottery Corporation, all at the expense of taxpayers.
While the B.C. Liberals have slashed funding for mental health services, supports for arts and culture and children’s sports, they argue that it’s in the public’s interest to spend millions to send elected officials to the Games.
For the Games to be a real success the government must be upfront and honest with taxpayers about the real costs, and be accountable after the Olympics are over.
The New Democrats have been calling on the B.C. Liberals to designate a formal role for B.C.’s auditor general to monitor and report on Olympic expenditures in an effort to increase accountability and transparency. In addition, we think the public is entitled to the release of several overdue reports that evaluate the costs, benefits, and sustainability of the Olympics before, during, and after the Games.
The bottom line is British Columbians shouldn’t be left on the hook for government misuse of taxpayer dollars on the Games. While we all strive to be a great host to the world, it’s paramount we not lose sight of the fact that every misspent taxpayer dollar could mean another vital cut to healthcare, education, and housing.
The torch is lit, and we’re getting ready to showcase our amazing province and its people to the world. I look forward to joining the public in celebrating the Games together.
Kathy Corrigan is the B.C. NDP critic for the Olympics and the MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake.