The B.C. government has confirmed it spent almost $1 million of taxpayers' money on 3,200 prime seats at the upcoming 2010 Winter Games for MLAs and cabinet ministers to host visiting politicians, dignitaries and business leaders.
On Wednesday, the NDP opposition released documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that showed the government had bought the tickets, but the prices had been deleted from the documents.
During question period in the legislature that afternoon, the NDP turned up the pressure on B.C.'s Liberal government to release the cost of the tickets, which included 1,000 luxury seats in box suites at BC Place, GM Place and the Pacific Coliseum for the duration of the Olympic Games in February.
'We actually can't tell you right now exactly where these tickets are going.' —Mary McNeil, Minister of State for the Olympics
"What is shocking is that this minister would not tell British Columbians just how much it is going to cost them," said NDP MLA Jenny Kwan.
Short on answers
It took heavy questioning, but the NDP did get some answers from Minister of State for the Olympics Mary McNeil.
"To help them with the math, 3,000 tickets is approximately $900,000," said McNeil.
It wasn't clear if that estimate actually included the full 3,200 seats, but the minister had few other details.
"We actually can't tell you right now exactly where these tickets are going. However, we are going to focus on business leaders, investors from around the world," said McNeil.
NDP Leader Carole James said no matter who ends up in the seats, no one could say the luxury seats were a good use of taxpayers' dollars at a time when hospitals and schools have been slashing programs in order to rein in the government's record $2.8 billion deficit.
"This goes over the top!" said James. "A million dollars when they're cutting back mental health services?"
No longer acceptable
At least one expert in the Olympic movement says it's no longer acceptable for host governments to spend thousands of dollars for event tickets that will be given to politicians, dignitaries and business leaders.
Kevin Walmsley, the co-director of the University of Western Ontario, International Centre for Olympic Studies, said there is a long history of host countries doing these kinds of things, but it still appears excessive to average taxpayers.
"Canadians will be looking at a price tag of $6 billion for all things Olympic, so I don't think people will be happy, particularly in British Columbia, where there is a considerable percentage of people who have voiced their displeasure about hosting the Games in the first place."
Just two weeks ago, questions were raised after the federal Canadian Heritage Department spent $447,000 to reserve 2,000 tickets for MPs and senators and people working in government agencies to buy.
BC Hydro, ICBC and the BC Lottery Corporation have also bought thousands of Olympic event tickets worth an estimated $1.3 million to distribute to staff, contractors, business partners and customers in contests.
Of the 1.6 million Olympic tickets printed, 896,000 were made available to Canadian residents. The rest were reserved for government and corporate sponsors, Olympic and sport organizations of other countries, athletes and their families, the media broadcasting the games and to residents of other countries.