Summit price tag sparks audit calls

The growing $1.1 billion cost of security for the G8 and G20 summits sparked angry opposition demands Thursday for audits by the Parliament Budget Officer and the Auditor General.

OTTAWA, Ont. — The growing $1.1 billion cost of security for the G8 and G20 summits sparked angry opposition demands Thursday for audits by the Parliament Budget Officer and the Auditor General.

“I would welcome that,” said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, when asked about the NDP’s demand that Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page be brought in to study the mushrooming price tag for next month’s G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont. and the G20 in downtown Toronto.

Page said in an email that he was considering the request.

The Liberals called on Auditor General Sheila Fraser to take a look at what it called the most expensive 72-hours of summitry in history.

The price tag for the G8 and G20 includes $933 million for policing, including a large portion for overtime.

In a letter to Fraser, the Liberals point out that in the government’s March 2010 budget, $179 million was earmarked for security of the two summits.

“We believe the cause of this skyrocketing security bill is the result of improper planning and foresight,” Liberal MP Mark Holland says in the letter to Fraser.

“Had the government handled this matter competently, they would have known from the start that the original summit location of Huntsville presented its challenges, and a more practical and affordable solution — other than downtown Toronto — could have been found.”

The Conservatives came under heavy fire in the House of Commons over the cost.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused the government of “a pattern of reckless spending.”

’We are concerned about two things. One is the safety of the world leaders who will be visiting our great country and the safety of people in the Huntsville, Muskoka and in the city of Toronto,“ replied Transport Minister John Baird. ”We will do all it takes to keep these Canadians safe.“

Ignatieff said the government’s planning for the summits has been “comical.”

“The Conservatives could not figure out a location. They could not nail down an agenda. They could not figure out who to invite,” Ignatieff charged.

“We would not organize a children’s party this way and now we are on the hook for a billion dollar security charge on top of a $54 billion deficit.”

Liberal security critic Mark Holland, who wrote to Auditor General Sheila Fraser, said the price tag is “2,000 per cent more expensive than the last G20 and 300 per cent more expensive than any summit ever held.”

But Toews said last week’s firebombing of a Royal Bank branch in Ottawa underscored the urgency for security.

“This is a prime example why we need to be prepared to face thugs and terrorists who threaten our safety,” the minister said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton called the cost estimate for the Toronto G20 a “$1 billion boondoggle,” and said it was six times the estimates previously tabled by the Conservatives.