VICTORIA, B.C. – The B.C. government is under fire for spending almost $1 million on tickets to the 2010 Olympics, but the minister in charge says none of the tickets are going to MLAs.
During a heated exchange in the legislature Thursday, the NDP Opposition accused government MLAs of being pigs at the Olympic trough at a time when they’ve also slashed funding to the Special Olympics and high school sports programs.
“Why doesn’t the minister and the government get their nose and their snout out of the trough, give those tickets back to (Vancouver Olympic organizers), take that money and give it back to Special Olympics and other sports groups that they cut?” demanded Mike Farnworth, the Opposition’s house leader.
But Mary McNeil, the minister responsible for the Olympics, repeatedly denied MLAs were receiving the tickets.
Instead, she said the tickets would be used to market the province by inviting foreign dignitaries, international investors and “B.C.’s biggest customers and future customers.”
“Let me be clear,” she said in response to one question. “None of these tickets will be used by MLAs or ministers unless they are asked to be part of the official hosting business for this province.”
The 3,000 tickets are among the 1.6 million tickets to the Games.
In total, Canadians have access to 896,000. The rest are reserved for government and corporate sponsors, athletes and their families and sporting organizations from other countries.
McNeil said in question period Wednesday that the total the B.C. government is spending on tickets is about $900,000.
How much governments are spending on tickets has become a contentious topic across the country as provinces and the federal government struggle with unexpected deficits due to the economic downturn.
Earlier this month, a spokesman for Canadian Heritage confirmed the department spent $432,000 on almost 2,000 Games tickets. They were purchased on behalf of an undisclosed number of departments and agencies.
The Heritage spokesman said the parliamentarians would repay the department for the tickets. Some tickets would also be handed out to businesses and individuals to promote Canada as an investment opportunity.
In the B.C. legislature Thursday, NDP Leader Carole James noted an internal government briefing note says an Olympic ticketing strategy should be in place by the end of last May.
James said either the government is hiding its strategy, or it has pushed ahead to spend $900,000 on tickets without having a plan on how to do so.
McNeil said since she was appointed to her portfolio this past June, the government has been talking about a hosting strategy for the Games.
“I’m struggling to understand why the members opposite don’t see what an incredible opportunity this province has.”