Pan Am spending splurge at City Hall


With just 373 days to go until the Pan Am Games, the race to spend $20-million or more on city pet projects – dressed up as games legacy projects – is off and running with a vengeance.

And it seems the city’s bureaucrats have learned their lessons well from their TO2015 colleagues – whose fiscal skills seem to be limited to revising the Pan Am Games budget upward from an initial $1.4-billion to now $2.5-billion to what I suspect will be closer to $4-billion by the time all is said and done a year from now.

In fact, a report to Wednesday’s executive committee – Update on the 2015 Pan American/Parapan Games Host City Showcase Program – is really an update on how much more money the bureaucrats need to complete their pet projects (which will provide “long-term” benefits to the city, of course) and a list of excuses as to why they can’t find corporate sponsors to help defray the costs of the Showcase program.

It is interesting to note that it was Mayor Rob Ford who put forward the motion in January 2014, asking for city staff to explore corporate sponsors to help defray the $20-million in costs the city can ill afford, given its huge infrastructure problems.

The most outrageous request on the city pet project to-do list (a.k.a Pan Am Legacy project list) is an extra $1-million – for a total of $2.8 million – to illuminate the below-bridge elements of the Bloor Viaduct (the TTC track, under deck and piers) with LED programmable lighting in a variety of colours.

But really, if the politicians want to go with the full Kahuna – that is, also lighting the suicide prevention barrier known as the Luminous Veil – the entire project would cost $4.6-million.

The report, penned under the direction of deputy city manager Brenda Patterson, notes that the original design of the Luminous Veil in 2003 included a lighting scheme which was not put in place due to “budget constraints.” You think?

The suicide prevention barrier itself was supposed to cost taxpayers $2.5 million. But it ended up being $6.5-million when the $3.5-million that was to be raised from corporate donors never materialized and it went $500,000 over budget.

Money is clearly no object, if one reads the entire executive committee report and the original report promoting the Showcase program from a year ago. At a July 18, 2013 council meeting, the idea to create a Major Special Event Reserve Fund with $12.2 million from the 2012 operating surplus was approved 37-1. That, and money pulled from the economic development and parks, forestry and recreation departments will be used to fund the pet projects and the assorted grants that will be given to starving artists and assorted “community partners.”

Never you mind the backlog in park repairs or our crumbling infrastructure. The Pan Am Showcase program will create a legacy. For whom, I’m not sure.

I always get nervous when I hear the word “community partners” because from my experience at City Hall, that usually means an A-list of grant-getters who are politically correct, diverse, visible minorities and friends of the assorted leftist bureaucrats who allot the spoils.

Take the proposed 84-kilometre Pan Am path, a multi-use trail that will connect the city’s trails and adjoining neighbourhoods from northwestern Etobicoke to southeastern Scarborough, taking in 21 wards.

The city is designing and upgrading the path and creating the signage to the tune of $1.9 million. That would be enough. But no. The plan is to provide cultural activations and art installations at 14 locations with additional public funding of $865,000. The Friends of the Pan Am Path is looking for even more money if they can get it.

The money will be used to hire starving artists to produce the art and cultural activations. City spokesman Wynna Brown told me last week that the final list of artists and organizations is “still in development” and that the goal is to “showcase the vibrant and diverse communities that exist along the route through community partners.”

There are those “community partners” words again.

Another $1.5 million in the way of grants will be available to “multi-stakeholders” to support community and neighbourhood activities across the city that celebrate the games as well as to non-profit organizations that provide legacy initiatives showcasing Toronto’s Latin American, South American and Caribbean communities. This grant program will be launched this fall.

Phew. So many grants. So little time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Public Festival and Cultural Celebration to showcase the Nathan Phillips Square renovation, now at $60 million. According to the city’s report from last year, the festival – to which the city is contributing $2.5 million – will showcase Toronto’s “cultural diversity and talent.”

One can only hope the emphasis is on talent and not on being politically correct given that the city’s $2.5 million will likely be topped up by $2 million from the province and $1.4 million from the feds.

Speaking of partners, what about that request to Toronto’s Partnership Office to find corporate donors?

Brown told me they’ve “been investigating” and other than a few small donations (amounting to way under $100,000) the Partnership Office has come up pretty much empty. Well now that’s a surprise considering I’ve found in the past they have a no-can-do attitude.

Brown gives legal considerations, market conditions and competition with TO2015 – the group charged with putting on the sporting spectacle.

Yes, I particularly loved the last reason. The report says TO2015 has several “full-time professional staff” raising money while the city does not have people dedicated to the Showcase program projects.

“Assigning them to this task on a full-time basis would jeopardize the city’s ability to secure other funding initiatives,” the report says.

Heaven forbid, they should break a sweat and multi-task!

Matthew McGuire, of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, feels the games are quickly turning into an excuse for dignitaries to wine and dine on the taxpayers dime.

“If the Pan Am Games are a celebration of sport, why is there so much grant money going to non-sports related programs?” he asks.

McGuire thinks the city should not give up on potential corporate sponsors.

“Hitting a small goal for sponsorship money should not preclude a search for further sponsorship revenue,” he said. “We would expect councillors to always support alternative ways of trying to save taxpayers money.”

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