IN THE NEWS ~ Olympic security bill tops $850 M

Olympic security bill tops $850 M

Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News

OTTAWA - Federal security costs for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver are pegged at nearly $854 million according to a detailed departmental breakdown tabled this week.

In response to a written request for a budget breakdown by Vancouver-Quadra MP Joyce Murray, the Liberal Olympics critic, the report indicates 12 departments - including Canada Post, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Public Health Agency of Canada - played a role in protecting spectators, athletes and VIPs during the international sporting event last February.

According to the report, the federal government covered 72 per cent of security costs - about $647.5 million - while British Columbia covered the rest.

Pegged at $175 million when the Games were awarded in 2003, the government revised its estimate about a year before the opening ceremonies, predicting security would actually cost closer to $900 million.

While the $854-million tally is slightly under the revised budget, Murray is not impressed. For one thing, she can't understand how the government could have spent only slightly less - $676 million - on security for the three-day G8 and G20 summits in Ontario a mere four months later.

"This is a government that does not know how to manage money," she said Tuesday. "I don't want to be a hindsight armchair critic, but it did balloon at a certain point . . . Was this money spent with due respect to the taxpayers that provided the money?"

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews noted final costs were expected to be under budget and that Canada pulled off a safe and secure event - that despite an embarrassing incident in which a mentally ill man got within a dozen rows of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden after coming through a non-spectator entrance.

"The government of Canada, together with the RCMP and our partners developed a comprehensive approach to security planning, and hosted a successful and secure Games," Chris McCluskey said. "Our goal was for people to remember the excitement of the competition and the celebration and not any questions of security."

Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong also applauded Canada's approach to security.
"The 2010 Games security exceeded our expectations, and it was an outstanding example of Canadian policing at its best," he said Tuesday. "They helped us achieve our vision of staging Canada's Games, coming together from across the country to discreetly keep everyone safe and secure."

In July, a B.C. government report showed Olympic spending had skyrocketed from $600 million to $925 million. That figure included construction costs, First Nations funding, tourism promotion and a myriad of other items.

A report tabled in March in response to an inquiry from Vancouver East MP Libby Davies pegged the total federal portion of the Olympic cost at $1.25 billion.

NDP Olympics critic Peter Julian argued all these reports offer is allocations and estimates and what Canadian taxpayers are looking for are some concrete answers as to how much was actually spent.

"I think its incumbent on both the provincial government in B.C. and the federal government to bring forward all of the final figures," he said. "It's almost a year later now, we're in December . . . those final figures have to be out."

According to the latest figures tabled this week, the RCMP was allotted the biggest budget - $526 million.

In the end it spent $522 million on personnel, capital, operating and maintenance costs, though the figures have yet to be finalized.

National Defence had the second largest budget at $231 million and didn't require about $17.4 million from a contingency reserve. Canada Post received $652,000 to screen the mail, while CSIS received $11 million over three years to assess security threats and assist in the screening and accreditation process for officials associated with the event.

The Public Health Agency of Canada got $900,000 for public-health surveillance, equipment and medical supplies, emergency training for health responders and staffing for a mobile laboratory at Whistler.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority returned to federal coffers some $3.11 million in unused operating funds and another $660,000 in capital funds by "redeploying surplus equipment." The Crown corporation responsible for airport screening had been allocated about $19.2 million.