Politics poised to spoil Pan- Am Games

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The 2015 Pan-American Games is the largest sporting event to hit Canada since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and yet the current discussion is dominated by quibbling about the budget. In just two years, Toronto will be front and centre on the world stage as the Pan-Am Games come to Ontario's capital, and controversy isn't far behind.

The event occurs every four years and is a lead up to the Summer Olympic Games, but there have been multiple complaints raised about executives billing personal expenses to the overall budget of the games. The most publicized examples of this “gross” misspending have been travel and accommodation expenses, which are completely unremarkable in this context. The current wording of the policy allows executives to bill the fund for any expenses related to the business of the Pan-Am Games, and yet both opposition leader Tim Hudak and Toronto City Mayor Rob Ford have attacked the Liberals on the issue.

As the controversy continues, it's crucial to separate the issue into its two elements. The first is whether or not the executives for the Pan-Am Games broke the rules of what they were allowed to charge to their expense accounts. As of right now, the answer appears to be no. The travel, moving, and accommodation expenses all fall within appropriate spending.

The second issue is whether the policy that governs what can be billed is appropriate. Judging from the backlash, the answer is yes, however it would be both unfair and most likely illegal to seek reimbursement for expenses claimed prior to a revised policy, as Premier Kathleen Wynne has called for.

Beyond the questionable expenses, the pay structure of the 2015 Toronto executive team is also generating a lot of criticism. The Liberal government is fighting back against accusations of wasteful spending after it became public that the event planning executives are eligible for $7 million in bonuses if the event is successfully on-time and under budget.

Critics of the bonus structure reveal their basic misunderstanding of business when questioning how organizers like the CEO of the Toronto Organizing Committee, Ian Troop, could be eligible to receive double his annual salary if the event goes off without a hitch. The compensation of individuals with specialized expertise like Troop is only partially based on the value of their work.

If Troop is the best man for the job, and there's no reason to believe otherwise, he must be paid enough that he won't be head hunted halfway through the process. In giving Troop an annual salary of $390,000 the hiring committee had to add incentive in the form of a bonus, or risk losing him to an organization willing to pay more.

From a political perspective, this is an ideal opportunity to cast doubt on the Liberals' ability to lead, but if the end result is an event that leaves a bitter taste in everyone's mouth, there's no winner at these games.

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