G8, G What?

According to news reports on May 26th, the security price tag for the G8 and G20 joint summits to be held in Toronto and Huntsville Ontario from June 25th to 27th is now estimated to be close to $930 million, up from the original estimate of $179 million set aside in the March 2010 budget. Ms. Christine Csversko, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vi Toews acknowledged that the costs were based on a "medium security threat" and did caution Canadians that the final tally for the security costs will not be known until after the completion of the dual summits. She also claims that the unprecidented combination of having the two summits at the same time is adding to the security cost.

Two words – holy crap! Five more words – that’s a lot of pepper spray!

For those of you poor at math, the new estimate works out to $12.9 million per hour of the 72 hour combined summit, $116.3 million for each of the G8 leaders and $46.5 million for each of the G20 leaders if divided evenly. What exactly are we protecting these so-called VIPs from? Generally, protests at these summits are fairly tame events with a less than a few thousand young anti-globalization, pro-human rights demonstrators hurling epithets and rocks followed by a wrestling match with police after they take a face-full of RCMP Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart’s famous 1997 vintage spicy pepper mix. Sure, bad things can happen at any time but we can’t cover all bases. For instance, earthquakes do happen in Southern Ontario from time to time as do tornados but we certainly can’t protect G8 leaders and their entourages from either nor should we be expected to.

What Canada should have done was to have set the G20 meeting in a location other than downtown Toronto where there are hundreds of high rise office towers and condominiums with hundreds of thousands of windows that require securing. It would most likely have been cheaper to hold the G20 meeting in another part of the country where security would have been a simpler matter and then moved the cast of characters involved in the G8 meeting to Huntsville.

Looking through the population statistics for the G8 (Italy, Germany, U.K., Russia, Japan, Canada, United States and France), Canada has, by a wide margin, the smallest population. This means that on a per capita basis, individual Canadians are footing a very large bill. Sure, when you break it down it’s only $27 and change donated to this very worthy cause for each of us and that doesn’t seem so bad. It’s when you look at the size of the number for security alone and that fact that this is still an early estimate that the magnitude of this expenditure becomes alarming. Our government is running a deficit in the $40 to $50 billion range this year; I’d much rather have seen the billion dollars spent on something that will benefit real Canadians, not elected so-called VIPs. As well, there are other costs to hosting this event; food, accommodation, transportation, upgrades to local facilities that were estimated to be at least $50 million for the 3000 to 5000 attendees. While there are short term economic benefits to the hosting communities, long term economic benefits are unquantifiable despite glowing estimates made by the Canadian government (the same Canadian government that "misunderestimated" the cost of the G8 security!). As an aside, should you wish to check in the future the expenditures of our elected officials at this or any other summit, here’s the website where you can get all of the details.

Generally, G8 summits accomplish very little of lasting value. Since leaders of all G8 countries change from time to time as their respective voters show them the door, the agenda of each country changes. I can’t imagine that the U.K.’s new Prime Minister David Cameron has the same agenda as Gordon Brown; in the year since the G8 last held a summit in July 2009, all bets on what the U.K. wanted to accomplish within the G8 are off.

If the G8 and G20 leaders are really sincere about helping out the world, why don’t they skip the staged, self-serving photo ops and meet by video conference like the rest of the world and let Canada spend the billion dollars where it will actually benefit Canadians not just a few of the world’s elite. But, I guess this just shows us that our government finds it easy to spend money they haven’t earned.

Click HERE to read more of Glen Allen’s columns. 

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