BY TYLER BATTEN
Major controversy surrounding Pan Am Games executive expenses were nearly overshadowed by last week’s announcement that the Ontario government would be offering a loan break to students who volunteer at the games.
Qualifying OSAP borrowers will be offered a chance to apply for an extra six-month, interest-free period following Pan Am volunteer work and the completion of their program of study. The loan break will apply to current or prior OSAP loans. OSAP’s mandatory pre-study period contributions will also be waived.
Some students aren’t impressed by the Pan Am offer.
“I’d really like to make money over the summer,” said Alisha Khalid, a first-year international business management student at Conestoga College. She added if you work and make money you can pay down the principle instead of just volunteering and delaying the interest payments. “I feel like having a paying job is much better.”
This isn’t the first time the games have been slammed.
Criticism of the games has flooded in from the political right after “strange” expense claims were filed by members of the organizing committee.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed to boycott the games back in October. In a letter addressed to the chief executive officer of the organizing committee, Ian Troop, the mayor voiced concerns that expenses being filed were “completely inappropriate.” Among the stranger expenses filed was a 91-cent parking ticket by Troop himself who made a $390,000 yearly salary as the games’ CEO.
Troop has since been fired from his post, reportedly due to “leadership issues.” Deputy health minister Saad Rafi took the helm on Jan. 6.
The games were originally expected to cost Ontario taxpayers $1.4 billion but an update made last week forecasts that sum to rise considerably due to the cost of security, the creation of an athletes village and a provincial Pan Am Secretariat. The new tally is expected to be over $2.5 billion.
The OSAP loan break portion of the games is expected to cost the Ontario government around $1.9 million in lost interest. About 4,500 students are expected to benefit from the offer.
Supporters such as Conestoga College’s manager of financial aid and student awards, Patrick Bennett, said, “… it’s a great opportunity, especially for students related to that type of field.”
Many critics, such as National Post’s Robyn Urback, consider it a Liberal public relations “gift.” Urback wrote: “… on this side of Queen’s Park, I think we still call ‘volunteering’ for financial benefit (whether cash or waived interest payments) a type of ‘working.’”
In November, The Star reported that Sport Minister Michael Chan expects the economic injection of the games will boost Ontario’s 2015 gross domestic product by $3.7 billion, so long as the final price tag isn’t over $2.5 billion and the majority of seats sell.
The Pan Am Games are the world’s third largest international multi-sport games and have historically played out financially well for most host cities.
With the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games already so wrapped in controversy and yet still over a year away, it’s hard to tell what in the end will draw more attention, the games themselves or the politics?
To volunteer, or to find more information about the 2015 Pan Am Games, go to: www.toronto2015.org/about-us/toronto-2015.