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Ward Elcock. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Ward Elcock. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Billion-dollar G20 security cost not a 'blank cheque,' security czar argues Add to ...

Ward Elcock is the bureaucrat who is buying nearly a billion bucks worth of security for the G8/G20 summits and, to hear him tell it, that's money well spent.

Protecting world leaders "requires a lot of people and people are expensive," Ottawa's security czar told The Globe and Mail in an interview. He denied allegations of profligacy, saying that Canadian taxpayers have to understand the logistics of deploying thousands of federal agents. Also, he said, other countries lowball their own costs.

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"Nobody has written a blank cheque," he said of Canadian spending.

A man who rarely emerges from his job deep inside the Ottawa's nerve centre - he is the Privy Council's security co-ordinator for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the G8/G20 - Mr. Elcock has supervised the spending of about $900-million for each event.

This adds up to $1.8-billion for a month's worth of international extravaganza. To put this cumulative expense in perspective, security for the Olympics and the summits will cost about three-quarters of a penny from every tax dollar collected this year.

Or about as much federal money as Mr. Elcock spent during a decade at a past job. From 1994 to 2004, he ran the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He vastly increased the CSIS budget as he transformed it from a lean spy service figuring out its role after the Cold War, to a flush counterterrorism agency after 9/11.

Mr. Elcock remains a force in Ottawa, where security jitters have never abated and where a mandarin's clout is often determined by his budget.

Critics point out that Britain pegged its costs for hosting a one-day G20 meeting in London last year at $30-million - a relative pittance, but an amount some U.K. newspapers still decried as spendthrift.

How to account for the Canada-U.K. discrepancy? Bookkeeping, according to Mr. Elcock.

"You're assuming, and I frankly don't, that the public numbers out there are correct," he said. "If you could actually compare apples to apples, the costs are going to be fairly comparable.

"We have been much more transparent about total costs. I don't mean that other countries are hiding costs," he cautioned, saying that other, unnamed governments' accounting methods are "just different."

Add up the Canadian police, soldiers and spies who will be deployed to Huntsville and Toronto next month, and each Group of 20 leader may end up having hundreds of agents watching his or her back.

"There are incremental salary costs," Mr. Elcock said, adding: "We don't know how much overtime there will actually be until we get to the event."

Many police and soldiers will have to be flown in, lodged and fed. These expenses are "among the biggest cost drivers for the G8 and G20," he said.

And consider what the security czar likens to a "trailer park" built in Huntsville, where a small army of police and soldiers are now amassing. The Globe has heard that the camp may have cost $50-million, given all the infrastructure - electricity, water, sanitation, communications - which had to be rigged from scratch.

"It's not a pre-organized venue you can walk in and turn on the lights," said Mr. Elcock, who said he couldn't speak to the cost.

Of all the federal G8/G20 money, about half of it - nearly $500-million - is earmarked for the Mounties. The force will deploy up to 10,000 officers, according to contract documents.

The Globe suggested to Mr. Elcock that, even supposing 30 per cent of the Mountie money is spent on gear, it would still mean that each individual officer will cost more than $30,000.

Expenses are "ultimately driven, as much as anything, by people," Mr. Elcock said. He said the government will open its books to the Auditor-General. The public will also see an accounting - just not yet, and perhaps never full disclosure.

"There may be some very tiny things around which there would be secrecy for one reason or another," he said.

Will Canada have anything to show for the expense?

Some police gear and systems will remain in use, but Mr. Elcock insists the most lasting lesson is teamwork. "The biggest legacy in this - and it's an intangible legacy I concede," is that Canada "will have had two security events in which police forces, military and others across the system will have worked together in ways they haven't done for years."

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