Toews questions whether G8/G20 summits justify massive security tab

OTTAWA – Canada’s anticipated $930-million cost for security for the G8 and G20 summits raises a "good question" about whether gatherings of international leaders are worth the money, says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

"Quite frankly, whenever you have a situation where many heads of states gather, the costs are quite simply very expensive, so the question then becomes are these types of meetings necessary?" Toews said Wednesday.

"If countries want to look at the issue of whether or not this is value for money, that is something they are entitled to do, but quite frankly these commitments have been made and my job is to make sure security is in place."

Toews cautioned that he still believes face-to-face meetings are the way to go, because there are certain issues that can only be discussed in person.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Kevin Gaudet has called on world leaders to start thinking about video conferencing in light of escalating security costs.

"That’s something for world leaders to determine," said Toews. "If they feel they can accomplish the same things through video conferencing, that is a determination they will have to make."

Toews was responding to questions from reporters on why Canada’s budgeted bill dramatically exceeds costs for all other past G8 and G20 summits, including last year’s G20 summit in London, for which security was pegged at about $20 million. Security for the 2009 G8 summit in Italy was estimated at $359 million.

Toews said he does not believe the London figures, asserting that Canada set aside almost $1 billion because that’s what security experts advise it will cost to host safe summits.

He declined to provide a cost breakdown, saying only that the RCMP tab alone will be $450 million, which will include securing the sites, paying overtime, travel, and accommodations.

Cost details will be released when the summits are over, Toews said.

The G20 will be held June 26-27 in Toronto, and the community of Huntsville, Ont., will host the G8 on June 25-26. U.S. President Barack Obama, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be among the world leaders attending.

The New Democrats on Wednesday issued a list of other things that $930 million could buy, including Employment Insurance benefits for 159,492 Canadians, tuition for one year for 189,140 undergraduate students, health care coverage for 167,569 people, 1,270 new hybrid buses for public transit.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused the Harper Conservatives of bad planning and out-of-control spending that he said is "off the scales" compared to other G8 and G20 gatherings.

"Canada’s on the world stage, let’s have a good show, but for heaven’s sake get your budget under control," said Ignatieff.

"They didn’t even get the venue right, at first they said Huntsville and then they said whoops, Huntsville is too small, there are too many flies, let’s hightail it down to Toronto."

Canada originally was supposed to host only the G8 in Huntsville, but the federal government opted to expand the summit to include G20 leaders after it became clear that the larger organization was the dominant one for dealing with the world financial crisis and other economic priorities.

The security detail is expected to include more than 10,000 police officers, private guards and soldiers, intelligence analysts, aerial surveillance, motorcades of up to 50 vehicles, expansive three-metre-high security fences erected around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville and airport-style security checks within wide security perimeters.

RCMP Cpl. Leo Monbourquette, media spokesman for the Integrated Security Unit, overseeing summit security, noted that one challenge is that the G20 summit is being held in congested, downtown Toronto.

But he said he could not comment on whether securing a high-density area, as opposed to a rural venue, is adding to the bill.

Monbourquette said that almost $180 million went toward security planning and "pre-event operations."

He said another $321 million is being spent on venue security, protecting world leaders, marine and aerial security, intelligence gathering, mobilization of security forces for an undisclosed number of police officers and private security guards. A significant sum will be spent on overtime, accommodation and travel for security forces.

Public Safety will get another $262.6 million and National Defence will receive an extra $63.1 million.

There will also be purchases of undisclosed new equipment, Toews confirmed, and police forces will be able to buy the assets after the summits for 50 per cent of costs.

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