The Pan American Games are not quite as big as the Olympics but it does share an Olympian appetite for taxpayer dollars.
The 2015 edition of the summer sports extravaganza is slated for Toronto, which nurtures a desire to host an actual Olympics. Some see a successful Pan Am Games as a full audition for the big show.
If that's the case, it's gaining useful experience on how to do damage control when the inevitable questions about dubious spending crop up.
First there's the growing furor over expense claims filed by top executives of TO2015, the Pan Am Games organizing committee.
According to documents obtained by the Toronto Sun under Freedom-of-Information legislation, highly paid officials submitted claims for almost everything from lavish dinners to entertain their international counterparts and each other to individual cups of Starbucks coffee.
One executive, senior operations vice president Alan Vansen, billed taxpayers more than $27,000 to relocate from Vancouver, including $110.25 to fly out his pet.
In an email to the Sun, TO2015 chief executive officer Ian Troop, who cut his own salary from $552,065 to a mere $477,259 last year after questions were raised, defended the moving tab as conforming to "best practices and typical of international multi-sport Games."
Troop himself was unwilling to eat a 91-cent parking cost during a stop in Hamilton, Ont., according to documents covering 2010 to early this year, the Sun reported. He also billed medical expenses of $744.56 for himself and his wife in 2010.
Another vice-president, Louise Lutgens, expensed $45.19 for a Blackberry cover, while chief financial officer Barb Anderson, who pulls down $304,000 a year, decided not to swallow the $1.89 cost for a cup of Starbucks coffee. Human Resources veep Elaine Roper charged $101.26 for a training book on how to handle difficult conversations with employees.
And, of course, thousands of dollars were spent on dinners and trips, including more than $8,500 spent on accommodations and a 2011 cocktail party for 150 guests at the Fiesta Americana in Merida, Mexico at the request of the Pan American Sports Organization, the Sun reported.
“It’s ridiculous, okay? I’m just going to say it is ridiculous,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters on Monday, the Globe and Mail said. “I believe that it is the kind of entitlement that is unacceptable. I don’t believe it should happen.”
If you live outside Toronto, you might be shrugging right now or wondering why you should care. Well, it's coming out of your wallet, too.
The Toronto Games' $1.4-billion budget includes a $500-million contribution from the federal government, matched by Ontario, with the balance coming from various municipalities and institutions connected to the Games.
Oh, and that budget apparently does not include the roughly $709-million cost of building the athletes' village, Ontario Sports Minister Michael Chan told a provincial legislative committee Tuesday, The Canadian Press reported.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa said construction of the athletes village is outside the scope of the Games because afterward it will be used as student and social housing, Newstalk 1010 reported.
The expenses flap was red meat to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who the Globe noted campaigned on a promise to rein in spending.
“If things don’t change, then it’s going to be hard for me to support the Pan Am Games,” Ford said. “If he can’t do the job, I think we should look at other people.”
After defending his organization's policies on expenses to the Sun earlier, Troop seemed to concede Monday in a Newstalk 1010 interview that while spending was within the rules, some expenses may have failed the test of "common sense."
"You may be following policy but does it follow common sense," he said, adding the organization has already tightened up rules on expensing things such as dinners.
But Troop defended the executives' high salaries.
"This is a unique beast," he said. "We're trying to put together a billion-dollar enterprise and deliver it in a prescribed time frame, and you need people who are going to be able to do that kind of work, and do it well."
In a column Monday, the Toronto Sun's Jerry Agar pointed out Don MacKenzie, who quarterbacked the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, earned a fifth of Troop's salary. Those Games cost $150 million to stage and earned a $9-million surplus.
Jerry Agar suggested that if the TO2015 crew is committed to transparency in spending public money, it ought to post its expenses online.
You have to wonder how these questions over expenses and budgets could play into Toronto's tentative move towards fielding a third bid to host a Summer Olympic Games, this time in 2024. It lost out to Atlanta in 1996 and Beijing in 2008.