British Columbia

B.C. civil servants to be paid to volunteer at 2010 Olympics

The B.C. government is offering partially paid leave to its 30,000 public servants if they volunteer for the 2010 Olympics, according reports on Thursday.

The B.C. government is offering partially paid leave to its 30,000 public servants if they volunteer for the 2010 Olympics.

As part of the plan, B.C. government employees who are accepted by the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) as volunteers will be able to claim part of the time as vacation time, and the other part as paid leave, said Colin Hansen, the minister responsible for the Olympics.

No extra money will be spent on the program and all government ministries will have to work out arrangements with employees on a case-by-case basis within their normal operating budgets, Hansen told CBC News on Thursday morning.

"Only in rare circumstances will someone be hired to replace them [while they are volunteering]," said Hansen.

But those civil servants who do volunteer will get a vacation time bonus — for every two days they volunteer, they will only be deducted one day of vacation time, said Hansen. The rest will be made up as paid leave.

Hansen denied suggestions it would be inappropriate to pay people who choose to volunteer, because the volunteers would be using up their own vacation time while working for the Games.

Organizers support government proposal

VANOC is praising the proposal, saying it will bring workers with valuable skills to the volunteer pool and are expecting at least 50 other large employers in B.C. offer similar incentives.

NDP Olympics critic Harry Bains is not impressed with the paid-leave plan, saying it could cost taxpayers millions of dollars and is another example of the hidden costs of the Games.

But Hansen said the policy was first implemented for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria by the NDP, which also allowed civil servants to use vacation time to volunteer at that event.

The program was criticized by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which said Olympic spending is already out of control.

VANOC launched the online search for 25,000 volunteers on Tuesday, exactly two years from the opening of the Games, and applicants have until the end of March to get their applications in.

Over 10,000 applications had already been received from countries around the world, VANOC said Wednesday.

With files from the Canadian Press