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Security could drive Pan Am costs higher, minister warns

The Pan-Am count down clock is unveiled in Toronto on July 11, 2014.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The rising price of next year's Pan American Games may balloon even more because of security costs, the Ontario government is warning.

Culture Minister Michael Coteau said it's impossible to know what the final cost will be, since that will depend on how much security the Ontario Provincial Police decides Pan Am needs.

"How can I guarantee the cost of the Games when I don't know what the threat level is going to be?" Mr. Coteau told a legislative committee Tuesday. "I will not put a price tag on the safety of Ontarians."

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He argued, however, that cost overruns and delays in completing Pan Am venues to date are all relatively minor.

The total tab currently sits at $2.57-billion, having grown steadily in several areas. The price of policing the event – to be held next summer in Toronto, Hamilton and several surrounding suburbs – has already more than doubled from its initial estimate of $113-million to $239-million.

Progressive Conservative and New Democrat MPPs on the committee fretted that police overtime costs could also exceed the current estimates and drive the bill higher.

"You have no intention of making these budgets," PC MPP Todd Smith thundered at one point in a testy exchange with Mr. Coteau, which led the committee chair to cut both their microphones.

The government last week gave Pan Am's organizing group, TO 2015, a $74-million bailout. The organizers wanted extra cash to provide a live broadcast of some events and to construct "satellite" athletes' villages in communities outside Toronto. The money further helped cover a shortfall in sponsorships, which turned out to be less lucrative than the organization had expected.

TO 2015 also shelled out more than $600,000 last week in severance to two ousted executives.

Mr. Coteau promised he would not give the organization any more money. The security costs are separate, as they are being handled directly by the government through the OPP.

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"This will be the last time they approach me," he said of the $74-million bailout. "I will not allocate any additional money to TO 2015. And you can bank on that."

He also promised anyone hired from now on at TO 2015 will not receive bonuses.

For the most part, Mr. Coteau played down Pan Am's problems, pointing out that, while some venues fell behind their original construction timelines, they are still scheduled to be ready months before the Games.

Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, for instance, was supposed to be ready in June. But it only opened earlier this month, forcing the CFL Tiger-Cats to play their first three home games in a smaller venue at McMaster University.

"It is not on time. It is not on budget. That is a fallacy," New Democrat MPP Paul Miller told Mr. Coteau.

The minister brushed off the delay.

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"The Ticats are playing in the stadium a year ahead of [Pan Am], and we're still getting complaints," he chided Mr. Miller. "Enjoy the stadium 10 months before the Games. Be happy."

But the response didn't sit well with the New Democrat. Even when the stadium finally opened, he said, the washrooms and concessions were incomplete.

"I was one of the guys lined up with 400 other people for two working urinals," Mr. Miller said. "It was rather embarrassing. A few people had accidents."

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