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A military helicopter in Toronto during security training in April for the upcoming G20 summit. (Norm Betts/Norm Betts for the Globe and Mail)
A military helicopter in Toronto during security training in April for the upcoming G20 summit. (Norm Betts/Norm Betts for the Globe and Mail)

Budget watchdog probing summits' $1-billion price tag Add to ...

Parliament's budget watchdog has begun probing the hefty and controversial $1-billion security bill for the two global summits the Harper government is holding next month in Ontario.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page says his study will founder, however, if the Conservatives fail to provide him with the necessary records to scrutinize policing and protective spending for the Group of Eight and Group of 20 meetings.

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"We will investigate with the purpose of issuing a report for parliamentarians and Canadians," Mr. Page told The Globe and Mail.

"For the report to be helpful, we will need co-operation from the government on information and this will need to be done in a timely manner."

The $930-million the Conservatives say is necessary for policing costs appears to outstrip by far what other countries have spent protecting similar events, even if calculations account for two meetings instead of one.

Defending the tab on Thursday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the bombing of an Ottawa bank branch on May 19 justifies the government's security bill. An anarchists group claimed responsibility for the blast, which caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, and warned it would be at the G8 summit in Muskoka and the G20 gathering in Toronto.

"Canadians were shocked last week over the fire bombing at the Royal Bank in Ottawa," Mr. Toews told the Commons. "This is a prime example why we need to be prepared to face thugs and terrorists who threaten our safety."

Opposition parties, however, said the rising tab is only the latest misstep on the summit. Ottawa was forced to move the G20 part of the event to downtown Toronto last fall because the demands of accommodating 20 leaders proved too much for the Muskoka region.

"The handling of this issue is comical," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

"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."

The opposition parties have asked both Auditor-General Sheila Fraser and Mr. Page to scrutinize the spending in light of the fact that security cost so much less for previous summits, including the United Kingdom's G20 gathering in April of 2009, which ran a tab of only $30-million.

"How can this government and these Conservatives justify spending 30 times more than London did just a year ago to talk about austerity?" NDP Leader Jack Layton asked.

Mr. Page said his staff will compare the security bill of the G8 and G20 gatherings to those of past summits and probe whether the Tory government has been transparent about the costs. In March, the government released figures suggesting the bill would be only $179-million - although now it says that was only the first tranche of spending.

Mr. Toews said he would welcome scrutiny by Mr. Page.

Separately, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said his police force - with help from forces in other municipalities - will use only $50-million to $100-million of funds allotted for securing the G20 meeting.

"We did not see this as a windfall opportunity," Chief Blair told reporters on Thursday evening.

The biggest cost, Chief Blair said, is staffing. But gear also adds incrementally to the bill. For example, Toronto police bought four long-range acoustic devices, which emit noise to disperse crowds and can cost as much as $25,000 each.

With a report from Colin Freeze in Toronto

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

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