THUNDER BAY – With the G8-G20 summits now behind us it is worth taking a moment to see what exactly was accomplished over those three expensive days of meetings.
The costs of holding these two meetings have been well documented in this column not that long ago, but it is probably worth re-visiting them for a moment. The security costs for the two summits are estimated to be about $940 million range ($475 million for the G8 and $465 million for the G20). These costs are a full 60 percent more than any other post-9/11 meetings, including those held in arguably more risky environments in England, Russia, and the United States where acts of terrorism have been perpetrated quite recently.
As for the rest of the costs, we have never been given a clear figure but we know that tens of millions of dollars were spent on “legacy” items, mostly located through the riding of Conservative MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound Muskoka), and that these projects total at least $50 million. When we factor in the costs of renting the venues, the entire Deerhurst resort in Huntsville and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, plus the usual gifts, translators, hospitality, media centres (ie: fake lakes) many estimates have put the total cost of hosting these two three-day meetings at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
So the $2 billion question is – was it all worth it?
The delegates for both meetings arrived, met, and then left safely and without incident which certainly was a good and positive thing. The 100 or so vandals in Toronto set fire to police cars, and attacked banks and other business were a major low point for the meetings (New Democrats, myself included, have condemned their actions) but the vandals never threatened the delegates or the meetings which was also a good thing. On the security front, everyone was safe, but the lingering question is, ‘was that $1 billion security tab really needed to ensure their safety? ‘
The answer to the above question is absolutely not. There are two specific organizational decisions that could have been taken to reduce the security of these summits – the two meetings could have been held in one location, and the meeting place could have been more isolated and remote. I’m not an event planner, but I do know that hosting two meetings generally costs more than one, and protesters don’t really pose much of a threat to people or property if they can be seen coming from several miles away and are protesting away from their preferred targets of banks and businesses.
The first point, hold one meeting instead of two actually, looked like it was going to happen as Huntsville was originallyset to host both the G8 and G20. However, poor planning by the Conservative government meant that they figured out that there wasn’t enough room at the Deerhurst resort just three months before the delegates arrived, and moving the larger G20 meeting to downtown Toronto was the only other option available on such short notice. This absurd mistake meant that the security costs for the meetings doubled over night, and the economic loss to Toronto from vandalism and shutting its downtown core for three days during tourist season was completely unnecessary.
Were all the leaders and their delegations kept safe? Yes. Could it have been cheaper? Absolutely, and we could have had achieved the same result for half the cost if the Harper government had been on top of things from the get-go.
Finally, before closing the door on our analysis we should look at what was actually agreed to at these meetings. The Conservative government stated that its top priority was increasing international aid for maternal health in developing countries, which few would argue is a not worthy cause. In the end and after lobbying the richest countries in the world, Mr. Harper made Canada the largest donor in his maternal health initiative. Mr. Harper gave the same amount to this maternal health fund that he allotted for three days of security at these summits – about $1.1 billion – with the key difference being that the international aid money will be spread over five years instead of three days.
Overall, I have to say that these summits, fake lakes and all did not justify the considerable expense involved in hosting them, especially given that our federal government is running a record deficit this year of between $56 and 64 billion. If we can pick a more appropriate venue that is secluded and sufficiently large enough to accommodate both meetings next time and cut down on some of the “legacy” items and slush fund type expenditures, then we should be able to commit more money to the items on the agenda, or at the very least more than we spend hosting them.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River