IN THE NEWS ~ Security for 2010 Olympic Games is $725 million higher than original estimate

PUBLICATION: The Lethbridge Herald
DATE: 2009.02.20
SECTION: National General News
BYLINE: Wiremanager


The high price of security


Security for 2010 Olympic Games is $725 million higher than original estimate


The security budget for the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia has been set at $900 million, more than five times the original $175 million estimate.

Federal and provincial officials released the budget late Thursday after more than a year of negotiations. The main holdup had been how much each jurisdiction would contribute to protecting and policing the Games.

The federal government will pay $647.5 million, as well as cover any unexpected costs. British Columbia's share is equivalent to $252.5 million, but only a fraction of that will actually be spent on security.

Instead, the two sides struck a deal that sees Ottawa pick up a greater portion of the security tab but give B.C. less for new buildings and roads over the next three years.

In its latest budget, the federal government announced billions of dollars for infrastructure projects with matching provincial funds to rebuild roads, sewers and other projects to help stimulate the economy.

So, B.C. will actually pay $87.5 million toward the overall security budget, and spend an extra $165 million on $14-billion worth of infrastructure the province has planned over the next three years to fight the financial crisis.

B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said the deal was a win-win for provincial taxpayers as the province finds itself in a deficit situation.

"This allows us to take what was going to be a pressure on the operating budget and cap it, so we didn't have to divert dollars away from other programs in the province such as health care and education to live up to our Olympic security obligations," he said. Hansen gave details on the province's share of the budget at a hastily called news conference at the same time as the federal government posted the deal on its website.

Federal NDP Games critic Peter Julian slammed the timing of the announcement, saying it was deliberately released on the same day as U.S. President Barack Obama's visit.

"They released it today because they're hoping it won't become a story, it will die a quick death and somehow people will forget," he said.

"These figures are still approximate, they are still a guess but what they do show is that there are significant cost over-runs."

But Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said the timing reflected the fact that details of the arrangements were only finalized Thursday.

The original $175 million estimate for security costs was included in the bid book but the RCMP later said the figure wasn't accurate. The Mounties, who are overseeing 2010 security, submitted their revised budget in November 2007.

Van Loan said the new figure reflects a realistic plan to play host to a secure Games.

"It wasn't a question of setting a budget and saying here's what you have for security," he said in an interview.

"It was a question of saying how can you deliver a secure Games."

Pressure had been growing for both the federal and provincial governments to release the figures; Hansen had said he'd wanted them public before B.C. released its budget this week.

The chief executive officer for the 2010 Olympic committee said he was glad the updated figure was out there.

"People will have some confidence that there's a good plan in place that's been well thought out and that the Games will be secure," said John Furlong.

Securing the Olympics is a complex affair.

The Games are taking place in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. which are separated by 126 kilometres of highway with ocean on one side and cliffs on the other.

In addition, there are thousands of kilometres of coastline, airspace and the U.S.-Canada border that must be secured.

Games security will involve more than 8,000 people from agencies including RCMP, military and local police.

Among other items, the budget includes $212 million for the Department of National Defence, $11 million for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and a $137 million contingency fund.

Van Loan said even though there was a now a public budget, the final tally for Games security remains unknown.

"It's a number based on the plan that exists right now," he said.

"But we of course can't anticipate what events will unfold during the Games. The number can change up or down."

The most serious incident ever to take place at an Olympics was in 1972, in Munich, when a terrorist group known as Black September killed eleven Israeli athletes.

Canadian officials have identified both local and international threats to the Games, but have said in the past that they are planning only for a medium-level threat during 2010.

- By Stephanie Levitz in Vancouver