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2015 games a debacle in the making

Politicians are increasingly seen as clueless when it comes to the priorities of their constituents. If you want to be more pointed in labeling their motives, they’re seen as working in their own interests and those of a handful of supporters.

For proof, look no further than the millions of dollars wasted – and the billions more to follow – in Toronto’s “winning” bid to host the Pan American Games in 2015. Perhaps you’ve been celebrating since last week’s announcement. More likely you didn’t pay the slightest amount of attention. Or, if you did, it’s because you’ll be paying the bill for the colossal blunder.

Today, the budget for the games is $2.4 billion. We can’t afford even that, and you can be sure that number will blossom by the time the final bills roll in. Just a year ago, for instance, the price tag was $1.8 billion.

While the games will be held in the Golden Horseshoe, federal and provincial money taken from every citizen will be dumped into the event. Dalton McGuinty, continuing a spree of decisions that resembles a farewell tour, has indicated the province will cover any deficit – and there’s every reason to believe there will be one.

Given the recession, enormous deficits and the turmoil in the health care and education sectors – the government’s two largest mandates – there is certainly no money for this kind of spectacle. Organizers foresee a cost-sharing arrangement between the cities and the two senior levels of government. Do the math, and you’ll see most of the money will be coming from the deeper pockets.

Rather than just Toronto, venues for the games are to be spread out over several municipalities – a dozen have signed on so far, including Mississauga and Hamilton.

While those in favour of the bid argue the spin-off effects could lead to the collection of billions in taxes, similar predictions have been made before when it comes to large-scale projects such as the Olympic Games – generally the budgeting is overly optimistic. That’s especially true of an event with no cachet whatsoever. Quick, where were the last Pan Am Games held? Rio de Janeiro in 2007. The games will be held next in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011. They’ve been hosted in Canada twice, both times in Winnipeg (1967 and 1999). Reports from the ’99 event show the games were overly costly and may have been a setback to the city and the province’s sports community.

At any rate, infrastructure money is already at a premium. With far more pressing issues on the table, a resounding “no” from the public would set the right tone for any subsequent efforts to tap the common purse.

Recognizing the massive infrastructure deficit – every community is rife with corroding water and sewer pipes, crumbling bridges and chewed up roadways, not to mention aging hospitals, schools and other facilities – all levels of government have been boosting spending on that front. In the case of the infrastructure needs for the Pan Am Games (or whatever comes along as the next great idea), if the work is worth doing, then it should be done without the need to sell it under the guise of preparing to host an event.

Under such circumstances, the timelines tend to elevate prices and increase the number of shortcuts.

What’s more, the requirements of hosting a sporting event may not be the long-term priorities of those in the host commmunities, and certainly no benefit to the rest of us footing the bill.

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