Thursday, May 27, 2010

Harper's billion dollar boondoggle

It's been a long time coming, that blog post title. Harper now has his very own billion dollar boondoggle in the form of the escalating security figures for the upcoming G8/G20 summits. Maybe in some twisted retributive justice universe thing, if one says something enough to taunt one's opponent, it becomes a reality for the taunter.

Isn't it also kind of precious that Harper and his ministers have been flagrantly touting to the world Canada's great banks, our great regulation and how well our economy is doing, with the implicit messaging that they have everything to do with all of it...and then news of this billion dollar security figure breaks. That's a bit of awkward undercutting of the message of the great financial managers. Maybe the Conservatives should have let the banks run the budget for the summits.

So, what else do we have here? The comparative aspect of this smells. Other nations have held G20 summits in the last two years and have spent sums on security that are dwarfed by the incredible amount being vouched for by the Harper government. Examples: G20 London 2009: $30 million; G20 Pittsburgh 2009: $18 million. Ours just doesn't add up.

The government's truthfulness is at issue, on an expenses issue, again. Parliament was initially informed that the cost would be $179 million. It's now $1.1 billion and climbing.

Their competence is under the klieg lights again. A colossally dumb decision was made in the first place, to hold the G8 in Huntsville which required $50 million in upgrades just to handle that summit of fewer nations. That bad decision was compounded when the G20 became part of the equation. Yet no re-think was done on holding the G8 in Huntsville despite the obvious duplication that would occur:
The costs of providing security in two locations is much greater. It is expected to be higher than the $900 million Canadian (US$864 million) the government estimated it spent on security during the 17-day Vancouver Olympic Games.

"I wonder if the minister would accept there's a degree of incompetence, a degree of a happen hazard approach to the planning for these summits that explains why you have such a high cost and cost overrun," opposition Liberal lawmaker Bob Rae said in Parliament.
More here (video, top right) on the costs of the Toronto end, i.e., astronomical.

There are other needs that could be met with this money, that's clear. And there are untold costs in leaving climate change off the agenda, for example, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently appealed to Canada to include at these meetings.

But let's leave off with a thought from Jim Flaherty, that displays the Harper government's lackadaisical attitude toward substantive achievement at the G20, despite how dearly we'll be paying for it:
Flaherty told reporters he did not expect the G20 leaders to reach an agreement on financial reforms at the Toronto summits, suggesting a deal was more likely at a followup summit in November in Seoul, Korea.
Flaherty's pessimism is strange since theoretically financial reform is what they've been pushing all along in lieu of a bank tax. There also seems to be little in the offing on that de-prioritized maternal health initiative. So, at the end of the day, that goal's not getting much attention just a month away from the summit and we're willing to punt off a leadership opportunity on the economic front in a rather ho-hum manner like this to South Korea. It all seems so odd and rather glaring now that it looks like we're going to pay so much for the hosting yet achieve so little substantively.