G8, G20 Canadian summits likely costliest ever, says budget office

OTTAWA - Canada's G8 and G20 summits will likely go down as the costliest in history.

OTTAWA - Canada's G8 and G20 summits will likely go down as the costliest in history.

But an analysis by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says it can't be determined for certain at this juncture whether the about $1 billion price tag for security is too much.

The Harper government surprised most observers last month when it announced security alone would ring in at $930 million, resulting in NDP MP Don Davies requesting Page do an analysis of the expenditure. Security costs roughly break down to $507 million for the RCMP, $278 million for public safety and emergency preparedness, $78 million for National Defence and $55 million as a contingency reserve.

The summits have also been dogged by accusations of needless spending on a fake lake to serve as a media backdrop and the sprucing up of Industry Minister Tony Clement's riding north of Toronto that includes the resort where the G8 meeting will be held.

Page's report makes clear that he did not receive sufficient detail on where the money is going to make a definitive determination on whether it was wisely spent.

But he notes that it is costing four times more to pay for the RCMP on a per unit basis and three times more for each national defence employee than it did the last time Canada hosted a similar event, the 2002 G8 conference in Kananaskis.

"These are significant unexplained variances and a more detailed breakdown of how the allocated funds are to be spent might help explain these variances," he writes.

Overall, Page concludes that while the Huntsville G8 will cost more in constant dollars than Kananaskis, it is within the range of reported costs for recent similar summits in L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009, and Hokkaido, Japan, in 2008.

The G20 summit in Toronto is another matter, however. Page estimates the big-city security required will result in a $600 million price tag. That is double anything else reported for previous G20 or G8 meetings.

Page cautions that he has not received sufficient costing from other nations for a definitive comparison and he notes previous G20 summits in London and Washington had the advantage of being held in cities with pre-existing large security establishments.

Most of the cost for the Canadian summits stem from importing thousands of security personnel from across Canada and paying for food and lodging.

Last year's Pittsburgh G20 reported $18 million for security, but Page said that can't serve as a comparison because it left out the cost of deploying the U.S. army and national guard and other measures that are included in the Canadian accounting.

Davies said he still believes the costs are excessive, but added that Canadians will have to await Auditor General Sheila Fraser's audit to settle the issue.

But he said the government made errors in planning that have needlessly drive up costs.

"I think there were a number of mistakes, having two (summits), having them in separate locations and the choice of venues," he explained, noting that rural areas are easier to secure than large cities.

He also suggested the final audit may reveal the government "used the cover of G20 security to make capital spending and equipment purchases for other purposes."

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the Page report vindicates the government and shows that some of the charges of overspending have no basis in fact.

"We will take all measures necessary to ensure Canadians, delegates and international visitors remain safe," he said in a statement.

Toews added that the final bill won't be known until the summits are over. He said the government will co-operate with the Auditor General's review.

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