Premier Kathleen Wynne is defending a $7-million bonus package for 64 executives organizing the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, saying it was necessary to avoid losing key personnel ahead of the event.
"We may think it's out of whack in terms of comparing it with other endeavours," she said Monday.
"But the reality is we were competing for multi-sport games with other jurisdictions around the Americas, and that's the structure we put in place in order to be able to compete and draw the Games here.
"I think we should be celebrating that. We should be celebrating that we won the Games."
Winning the Games comes at a steep cost. The $1.4-billion budget for the Games doesn't include $700 million to build the athletes' village or $10 million for the provincial Pan Am secretariat, which oversees TO2015.
Ian Troop, CEO of the Pan Am committee, was paid a base salary of $390,000 last year plus an $87,000 bonus. He's eligible for a $780,000 bonus if the Games come in on budget and on time.
Pan Am executives earning between $190,000 and $250,000 will be eligible for bonuses of up to 100 per cent of their annual pay when the Games are over — half for staying on the job and the other half conditional on performance.
Opposition believes bonuses not justified
The Opposition Conservatives say it's ridiculous TO2015 executives are in line for generous bonuses for "sleepwalking" through the job they were hired to do.
"When it's 200 per cent of your salary when you're making $477,000, that's a problem," said Tory critic Rod Jackson. "We're not getting value for our money."
The premier slammed some of those well-paid executives last week for billing taxpayers for "ridiculous" expenses like a 91-cent parking fee and a $1.89 cup of tea. The Liberals have since ordered TO2015 to tighten its expense rules.
But they've defended the bonuses, saying it's similar to other multi-sport event organizations like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Officials have said the Pan Am Games will be even bigger than the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, with more than 10,000 athletes and officials from 41 nations, who will compete in 51 sports.
VANOC budgeted about $30 million for bonuses to all its employees after the Olympics, but ended up cancelling them.
The government shouldn't award generous bonuses just because it's always been done, said Jackson.
"When you're dealing with public money, you need to be responsible for that public money and you can't give away responsibility for that," he said.
It's unbelievable that Wynne can act outraged about a 91-cent expense, but not blink an eye at a $780,000 bonus, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Most people in Ontario won't see that kind of money in 10 years of work and the premier tries to say this is about job creation," she said.
"No, this is about $780,000 that might have actually provided jobs for 10 people."
Past spending controversies
The Liberals have been dogged for years by spending controversies, including handsomely paid eHealth consultants and former executives at the province's Ornge air ambulance services being reimbursed for chocolate bars and $14 cashews.
The latest setback comes as the Liberals brace for the release of the auditor general's long-awaited report on the true costs of cancelling a gas plant in Oakville in 2010.
It was one of two plants in Liberal ridings that were scrapped ahead of the 2011 election, in what the opposition parties have derided as an expensive seat-saver program.
The Liberals originally pegged the cost of killing the Oakville plant at $40 million, but the most recent estimate is $310 million.
Pulling the plug on the Mississauga plant in the dying days of the 2011 election campaign cost about $275 million — $85 million more than the government originally claimed, the auditor general concluded last April.
Voters in the next election should be asking themselves whether they trust the Liberals with their money, said Jackson.
They always pass the buck to agencies like eHealth, saying they're the ones that screwed up, then promise to tighten the rules, he said.
"We've seen this refrain over and over again and it's not good enough," Jackson said.