The Harper government is preparing to spend close to $1-billion on security for world leaders gathering in Ontario this summer - meetings in which one of the top items on the agenda is reining in state profligacy.
The soaring security bill for safeguarding the late June Group of Eight and Group of 20 summits is now several orders of magnitude greater than the costs of similar meetings in Japan and Britain.
The Canadian government disclosed Tuesday that the total price tag to police the elite Group of Eight meeting in Muskoka, as well as the bigger-tent Group of 20 summit starting a day later in downtown Toronto, has already climbed to more than $833-million. It said it's preparing to spend up to $930-million for the three days of meetings that start June 25.
That price tag is more than 20 times the total reported cost for the April, 2009, G20 summit in Britain, with the government estimating a cost of $30-million, and seems much higher than security costs at previous summits - the Gleneagles G8 summit in Scotland, 2005, was reported to have spent $110-million on security, while the estimate for the 2008 G8 gathering in Japan was $381-million.
"When I first looked at it I think the reaction would have been the same as any ordinary Canadian looking at those costs," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told CTV's Power Play.
"You say, 'How much money is this costing us?'"
But he said he's comfortable with the expense. "I'm satisfied that the experts have been very careful in their assessment."
"We don't want to have a security incident," Mr. Toews added. "Security is the biggest concern that we have in putting these summits on."
By comparison, the estimated total cost of security for the 17-day 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was just over $898-million.
This is the first time ... that a country has hosted two summits back to back so there is no basis for comparison. Christine Csversko, spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews
Opposition party critics assailed the spending.
"For 72 hours of summits, the costs are exorbitant and have clearly gotten out of control," Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said.
"They think if the word 'security' is in it, we shouldn't ask any questions - but we need an accounting of what happened here."
The G8/G20 security bill is far bigger then what Ottawa suggested two months ago when it disclosed that it would incur $179-million in security costs. But Christine Csversko, spokeswoman for Mr. Toews, made no apologies, saying that no nation has ever had to host both G8 and G20 summits within the space of a few days.
"This is the first time ... that a country has hosted two summits back to back so there is no basis for comparison," Ms. Csversko said.
She said the scope and magnitude of the task requires the largest deployment of security personnel for a major event in Canadian history. "[It's] unprecedented."
The costs of securing the G8 meeting in Huntsville, Ont., as well as the downtown Toronto G20 summit are spread across more than 10 federal government departments and agencies and include everything from protecting the airspace to hotel rooms for thousands of police and security officials.
The RCMP is so far slated to receive more than $450-million in extra funding for its role in co-ordinating security at the summits. That's equivalent to 16 per cent of its $2.8-billion annual budget.
Canada originally only expected to play host to the G8 meeting for wealthier nations this June in Ontario's cottage country.
But its plans for the Huntsville G8 summit were disrupted last September when world leaders decided the G20 - which includes bigger developing countries - would supplant the G8 as the key international economic council.
You shouldn't skimp on security. But that being said ... clearly there must be room for efficiencies. Derek Fildebrandt, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
The Harper government responded by announcing it would also host a G20 meeting at the same time. It was forced to move the G20 summit to Toronto from Muskoka because the demands of lodging and securing the vast retinue accompanying 20 world leaders threatened to overwhelm the rural Ontario district.
One security expert said the cost of securing Toronto is the biggest reason for the massive policing and protective bill.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former CSIS intelligence officer, said the G20 meeting in downtown Toronto - a busy part of a bustling city - is a major security headache.
"They are in a residential area. There are high rises nearby. They will have to monitor so many different things," he said. "There is tonnes of air traffic that needs to be controlled."
Derek Fildebrandt, national research director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the security bill Ottawa is racking up is surprising.
"You shouldn't skimp on security. But that being said ... clearly there must be room for efficiencies," Mr. Fildebrandt said.
He quipped that the Canadian spending plans appear to be designed to juice the economy rather than merely protect world leaders.
"If security has been fine at previous summits - and the costs are this far over [those]then clearly this must be a part of the economic stimulus package."