Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Fact check: Is Toronto over budget on Pan Am Games projects?

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Jul 11 2014

Another week, another bit of misinformation from Mayor Rob Ford.

Ford’s target this week — in addition to the Eglinton Connects plan I wrote about on Wednesday — was a BMX track being built for the 2015 Pan Am/ParaPan Am Games at Centennial Park in Etobicoke.

At a city council meeting Thursday, Ford presented a long list of grievances on the subject. He said the budget was too much to spend on a dirt track. He bemoaned the fact that the track will not be covered by a dome. Without a dome, he explained, the track will be useless for half the year. “If it rains, you can’t use it!” he lamented, repeatedly circling back to the issue.

He spun it as a populist issue, suggesting elderly people would never ride BMX bikes and that residents in general just don’t want the track. He said he’d recently been at Centennial Park to watch his children play soccer. While there, he said, “folks come up to me and said, ‘Why are they building this? Why can’t we stop this?’” The mayor didn’t say whether these people would like the project more if it had a dome. But it seems a fair assumption.

Mostly though, Ford just railed against the budget for the project. Council was considering a staff report requesting authorization to increase the capital spending for the dome-less track from $1.547 million to $3.96 million, of which the city will be on the hook to pay for $1.94 million.

Ford wasn’t happy.

The mayor and a handful of other councillors — the item ultimately passed 25-4 — portrayed the budget changes as a simple overrun. But as with a lot of things Ford takes issue with, the facts of the matter are more complicated.

The original budget for the Pan Am BMX track was for a temporary facility located at Ontario Place. The new budget is for a permanent track at Centennial Park. The Centennial track will be a legacy project, available to residents — even seniors!— for years to come. It’ll be built to Pan Am standards for hardcore pro riders, but will also include a start ramp designed for people learning the sport.

As a result, it’s hard to label this as a budget overrun. Both the location and scope of the project were changed, resulting in an entirely different project than was originally envisioned.

But, yeah, it still means the city is spending more on a BMX track than they originally planned. But it turns out that maybe doesn’t matter so much, because the city is currently under budget on their original Pan Am spending commitments.

Here’s a chart, based on data provided by city staff:

Current projections for the city’s 10 Pan Am projects show they’re $67 million under budget in total spending. The city's share is $20 million under budget. Both figures include the new price tag for the permanent BMX track at Centennial.

To me, that seems like a good news story. But I guess it all depends on how you spin it.

This post was originally published at on 2014-07-11T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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