OTTAWA (Reuters) - At a time of global austerity and shrinking budgets, Canada is set to spend C$1 billion ($980 million) just for security at two big international summits this weekend.
The enormous amount of money needed to protect foreign leaders for such a short period of time has prompted outrage and cut the minority Conservative government’s popularity.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and security officials insist the costs are reasonable, given that Canada is hosting two separate summits in two different locations.
The Group of Eight will meet in the town of Huntsville, Ontario, 215 km (135 miles) north of Toronto on June 25-26. The larger Group of 20 then gathers on June 26-27 in Toronto, where the city center is awash with police and security fencing.
The furor is good news for the main opposition Liberal Party, currently lagging in the polls. This week it launched a G8/G20 waste clock (here) and calculated the summit was costing C$4,928.32 a second.
“In the time it takes for you to wash the dishes, or cut the grass, or cook dinner, you’ll be able to see how much of your money Stephen Harper will blow at the same rate during the summit,” said Mark Holland, the party’s security spokesman.
Ottawa has declined to give a detailed breakdown of the full summit costs. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says the police bill alone will be C$450 million, most of it for overtime payments.
“I take my advice from the experts ... and the indication we received was that the amount of money spent is what was required to address the threat that was in place,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
However, Canada’s spy service says it is picking up “surprisingly little” chatter about an attack by groups such as al Qaeda.
“From the terrorist perspective we don’t think there will be an issue,” said Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director Richard Fadden, saying al Qaeda preferred surprise attacks rather than targeting big events.
Fadden, speaking in a CBC interview aired late on Monday, identified anarchists and other extremists as possible problems.
“If there’s one thing I‘m worried about it’s the lone wolf who’s had a year or two to organize his or her activities, and comes in unexpectedly and does more damage than they might be able to do otherwise,” he said.
Security experts and even Canada’s auditor-general, who oversees government spending, say the costs seem reasonable, given the task of securing two summits.
That has done little to stop the almost daily flow of attacks from opposition figures and media commentators.
“There’s a nagging sense police, public servants and politicians are wallowing in a bottomless trough they figure Canadians will constantly replenish,” columnist James Travers wrote on Tuesday in the Toronto Star, the country’s biggest newspaper.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson