Commonwealth Games, Canada Games and provincial budget games

The ATV brouhaha, the $230,000 bit of silliness coming from Rodney MacDonald's scandal-plagued government, was funded by the Department of Health Promotion and Protection, and so I decided to take a second look at the HP&P budget, see what I could find.

The ATV dough came out of a line item called "Physical Activity, Sports and Recreation." According to figures released by the Department of Finance, in the 2006-07 budget year, PASR was budgeted at $12.3 million, but actual expenditures were $17.8 million, some 45 percent over budget.

That's bad enough, but lookee what happened the following year, 07-08: budgeted at $18.3 million, actual expenditures came in at a whopping $30.8 million, which is $12.5 million and 68 percent over budget, and a 73 percent increase from one year to the next.

Remembering that HP&P had involved itself in the Commonwealth Games bid fiasco, I wondered if I was looking at a previously unreported $12 million of taxpayer money thrown into that black hole, so I called HP&P to ask what's what.

A week later, department spokesperson Brett Loney called back. "What I can tell you," he said, "is that there's a significant Canada Games investment that we've budgeted for but that we've yet to announce, that we expect to announce in the coming weeks."

I guess I'm breaking that bit of news---and everybody watch as the dailies unquestioningly celebrate big bucks going to the Canada Games, which will be held around the province in 2011.

My criticism of the Commonwealth Games bid effort was that $9.5 million of taxpayer money was simply given, no strings attached, to a super-secretive group of private individuals who decided among themselves where the money was going, and (surprise!) in large part it went to themselves. Much better, I said at the time, for such efforts to be run directly by government, so that decisions are made publicly by democratically elected representatives with accountability to the citizenry.

Unfortunately, that's not what we're getting. The public, not to mention the legislature, was not at all involved in deciding how Canada Games money should be allocated---all decisions were made behind closed doors.

And we don't even know how much money we're talking about---Loney won't say what portion of the $12 million is going toward Canada Games, or what else the money is being used for.

Perhaps Canada Games is a worthwhile investment, who knows? It'd be great if we had a public discussion about how much money should be spent on the Games and where the money could best be spent, and public scrutiny of business plans justifying the expense. Maybe then we could have something like public buy-in and support for the effort. That's something I could get behind.

But instead, what we've got is old-school politics of spoils, and the HP&P budget is serving as a gigantic slush fund for partisan political purposes. I'm hearing rumours of what can only be described as vote buying by the PCs. In one case, I'm told, without prompting an MLA called a curling club to ask if they needed any money. Sure, $7,000 would be great, came the response, and a week later a check arrived for $10,000.

Ten thousand bucks is peanuts, of course. But just imagine what kind of shenanigans a vote-angling government can do with $12 million.

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