G-20 Summit On Belt-Tightening Busts Budget

Leaders of the world's major economies are meeting in Toronto for meetings to discuss austerity measures across the globe. Robert Siegel speaks with Derek Stoffel, a CBC reporter covering the G-8 and G-20 summits, about why a summit on reducing spending has itself broken records for spending.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Let's say you're hosting the G-8 and G-20 Summits over the next few days. And let's say that you set out to spend as much money as you possibly could doing that on facilities, on security, on keeping the delegations and media well-fed and well-lubricated. Throw in a pavilion promoting local tourist attractions, say.

Well, the Canadians are hosting this time, starting with the Group of 8 today and the Group of 20 tomorrow. And they are out of the gate spending. Some comparisons here: Last April, London spent $30 million on the G-20 Summit. A couple of years ago, Tokyo vastly surpassed that total, spending $381 million on security alone.

So how much are the Canadians spending on the G-20 in Toronto and the G-8 that precedes it in suburban Huntsville?

Well, here with the answer is reporter Derek Stoffel of the CBC.

How much?

Mr. DEREK STOFFEL (Reporter, CBC News): Robert, a billion dollars if you can believe. Thats what the price tag is for security. You know, what that buys you is a huge fence.

Im standing right in front of it in downtown, Toronto. About 12 and half feet tall, it's made of concrete. There's lots of metal. You can't climb up the top of it. And then behind it, about 10,000 cops from across Canada are here. So thats what a billion dollars buys you if you want to host the G-20 and the G-8 in Toronto.

SIEGEL: But a billion dollars, I mean this is equivalent to what Canada spent on the Winter Olympics, which went on considerably longer and had a lot more athletes than there are summit delegations to a G-20 conference.

Mr. STOFFEL: I think thats why so many Canadians are scratching their heads and saying, why are they spending so much money here?

And let just give me - some quick background here. The original summit, the G-8 was supposed to be up in cottage country and that was, you know, a much smaller meeting, smaller price tag. But then as soon as they made it the G-20, all these leaders coming, and they decided to throw it right in downtown Toronto, the biggest city in the country. And that meant securing this huge area. So thats when things started getting expensive.

But there's also some things that are kind of questionable. And I think at the top of that list there is, Robert, the fake lake.

SIEGEL: The embarrassing point about the fake lake is that people are reduced to saying, well, it only costs $57,000. But, of course, the question is: Why is there a fake lake in Toronto?

Mr. STOFFEL: Yeah. And thats the big question and the government - the line from the Canadian government is that all this spending is promoting Canada, that maybe people from the States are seeing the summit, maybe theyll come up and have a visit. And that just didnt happen at previous G-8 Summits and the best example is when Canada held this the last time in 2002, out in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta.

They said, yeah, all kinds of people are going to come out and visit Canada. And the tourist officials that we've talked to say, well, that didnt really happen. Maybe only a five percent bump, so a lot of Canadians are really angry about this billion dollar price tag.

SIEGEL: Yes, you said that the main object that is created for all this is a fence around Toronto. But there have been security at all of the recent big conferences. A billion dollars seems an awful lot to build a security barrier in a city.

Mr. STOFFEL: Yeah. And, you know, the government's line is that it's better to be safe than sorry. You have to protect all these dignitaries. Canada's national police force, the RCMP - the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - they're here in huge numbers and a lot of the money is being spent on putting them up in Toronto hotels.

So, Robert, thats how a lot of the money is being spent. And officials are having some tough times trying to justify that expenditure.

SIEGEL: Well, Derek Stoffel, thank you very much for talking with us about the G-20, G-8 conferences in Canada.

Mr. STOFFEL: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Derek Stoffel, a reporter for the CBC.

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