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Olympic budget blown by $325 million

British Columbia's government spent $325 million more on the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics than originally promised.

The $925.2 million bill to taxpayers was disclosed in an unaudited Friday report and included a $50 million bailout for the recession-rocked Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee.

The province stepped in to help VANOC pay costs of transportation and accommodation and to truck snow into Cypress Mountain after El Nino-related warmth melted snow at the snowboarding and freestyle skiing venue.

"We faced incredible challenges in the year leading up to the Games," said Colin Hansen, finance and Olympics minister, in a teleconference. "Certainly the global economic climate that we went through over those months going back to September 2008 was really unprecedented."

The B.C. government promised the International Olympic Committee that it would cover any Games losses. The $925.2 million figure does not include costs borne by Crown corporations or government agencies that were VANOC sponsors or service providers.

VANOC chief financial officer John McLaughlin appealed for provincial help in a March 26, 2009 letter obtained by QMI. McLaughlin got his wish when the government agreed to spend $14.4 million on celebrations and ceremonies and $7.6 million on the torch relay. Hansen said the provincial government was "constantly" updated on VANOC finances and was compelled to spend more.

"We wanted to make sure that these were spectacular (Games)," Hansen said. "VANOC had the budget to do a good job on things like the opening ceremonies, we felt with a few added dollars we could make a bigger impact internationally and boost the reputation of B.C. and Canada."

While the federal and B.C. governments contributed $580 million for venue construction, VANOC was supposed to fund its $1.76 billion operations budget primarily from private sources via broadcasting, ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorship. When the recession happened, all four revenue sources shrunk. Two sponsors -- General Motors and Nortel -- went into bankruptcy protection. VANOC was stuck with $12 million in unsold billboards that it gave to the province for a tourism advertising campaign.

VANOC's final, audited report is expected in late fall. It stopped issuing quarterly reports last December, despite the 2002 Multi-Party Agreement with governments that said it must.

The B.C. government report was released just over a week after Hansen regained the Olympic portfolio and the Harmonized Sales Tax went into effect. The B.C. Liberals won the May 2009 election based on a projected $495 million deficit. After the election Hansen announced the HST and revealed a $2.8 billion deficit, which has since been cut to $1.8 billion.

"Can you trust Colin Hansen to tell the truth?" asked NDP Olympics critic Kathy Corrigan. "It'll be up to the citizens of B.C. to determine if it was worth it, but they do deserve to have fully transparent and complete accounting for the Olympics and we're not there yet."

-Bob Mackin reports for 24 Hours Vancouver and has been their lead reporter on the Olympics.

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