House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was security.

Topics

Question No. 206
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, in response to part a) of the question, between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, according to substantive position, the total number of employees who worked in the Prime Minister's Office was 152. Note that this total includes employment periods of varying lengths.

In response to part b) of the question, as of March 1, 2010, there were 112 employees in the Prime Minister's Office.

Question No. 207
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Regarding the 20-week extension of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits that was announced as part of new EI measures for long-tenured workers, how many letters were sent from each of the Edmundston, Saint-Quentin, Campbellton and Dalhousie regional offices informing Canadians they were eligible for these measures?

Question No. 207
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, the government is temporarily providing additional EI regular benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers who are having difficulty getting back into the workforce. Long-tenured workers are individuals who have worked and paid EI premiums for a significant period of time and have previously made limited use of EI regular benefits. This legislation provides from 5 to 20 weeks of additional benefits, depending on how long an eligible individual has been working and paying into EI. This measure builds on those introduced in Canada’s economic action plan and will be phased out gradually as the economy improves. It will help approximately 190,000 Canadians over the course of its duration.

There were 1,393 letters issued to claimants advising that they would receive between five and 20 weeks of additional regular benefits. This number is applicable to the four Service Canada Centres listed above with the postal code boundaries supplied by HRSD actuarial services. The breakdown is as follows: Edmundston--842; Campbellton--169; Dalhousi--254; Saint Quentin--128.

These letters were not sent from each office as they were printed and sent by a private contract due to the volume of letters issued.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, while Canadians are justifiably proud of Canada’s upcoming hosting of the G8 and G20 summits and determined to provide effective and efficient security for the visiting world leaders, they are outraged at the reckless partisan choices and financial mismanagement that have caused the security budget for the summits to skyrocket to over $1 billion which is more than six times the original budget and more than was spent on security for the 2010 Winter Olympics which lasted for 17 days and therefore the House calls on the government to provide a detailed breakdown to Canadians of how the money earmarked for security is being spent and an explanation of how the security budget was permitted to spiral out of control.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to move this motion before the House and to ask for its consideration.

Canada has a proud tradition of hosting the world. In fact, Canada has hosted the G8 summit four times since 1976. In 1981 we hosted it in Ottawa and Montebello; in 1995 it was in Halifax; in 1998 it was in Toronto; and in 2002 it was in Kananaskis. Each time Canada has hosted the world, we have done so in a very admirable fashion.

We have been able to do it while providing the security for world leaders and having a forum for the discussions of the day to help move the great powers of the world together in common unison toward a common cause.

The G20 was first established in large part because of former Prime Minister Paul Martin's actions to say that we needed to bring more than just the eight largest nations, rather we needed to bring the 20 largest nations together. He chaired that process for the first two years of its development.

We well understand the imperative need for nations to get together and work collaboratively on common problems. We also, of course, understand the need for security. When we are having world leaders come to our soil, it is imperative that they are kept safe and the meetings are able to be held without any sort of incident.

The latest costs that have been thrust upon us are a whole other thing. When the estimates first came out, the supplementary estimates C for the Conservative government's March 2010 budget, $179 million was earmarked for security for the G8 and G20 meetings.

In fact, in September 2009, which was before that, the Minister of Industry, the MP for Parry Sound—Muskoka, told the Algoma News:

There may be some augmentations to the existing (G8) budget but I would argue they should be minor. After all, one of the advantages of holding both in Muskoka would be the cost advantages.

Just one month later, one month after the industry minister said there were going to be these cost advantages of having it in one place, it could not be held there. So an initial move to put it in a cabinet minister's riding as a reward suddenly turned into a debacle.

Just one month later in October of last year, the government was scrambling to try to move the G8 and G20 meetings into two separate venues, now doubling the costs of security over that period of time.

The city of Toronto urged the federal government to reconsider its decision to move the location into the downtown core because it was going to create enormous disruptions. It is not like this is going to be bringing thousands of tourists in. In fact, it drives them out. I have had the opportunity to talk to many businesses that are very concerned about the fact that they are going to be losing a lot of revenue in the height of tourist season because of areas that are going to be cordoned off and shut down.

The other thing that was frustrating to the city of Toronto is that the government would not even consider another location inside of Toronto. It seems the imperative of having a photo-op with bank buildings in the background was worth more than a location that could have been more easily secured. Again, the costs go up and up.

We also learned that many of the improvements that were made in Huntsville, supposedly for the G8 summit, are going to serve no purpose. More than $50 million of infrastructure and improvements to the town for summit facilities have little or nothing to do with the summit itself.

Greg Weston recently wrote in The Sun that a local MP and industry minister cut the ribbon for a $23 million community complex in Huntsville, officially renamed the Canada Summit Centre. It now houses an Olympic-size hockey arena, a pool, conference facilities, seniors centre, and preschool facilities, but none of the G8 meetings are going to be held there. Now the media is even being told that this facility is not going to be used for them. We have a facility that cost $23 million, called the Summit Centre, that is not going to be used for a summit.

What is the tally for all of this? Well, not including all of the sort of pork-barrel spending that seems to have no actual relation to the summit that is happening in the industry minister's riding, the security costs alone are more than $930 million. When we bandy that number about, it is important to consider that this is just security. That does not include all of the other ancillary items that go along with hosting a summit.

In fact, we have recently learned that the numbers will be higher. We have heard one number of $1.1 billion. It could even be more than that. I think it is important to put that $1.1 billion, which is an enormous amount of money, into some context. The government says that it is expensive to hold these things and that we need to understand that we are hosting the world and we need to ensure we provide security.

Let us look at what other jurisdictions have done. When Canada last hosted the G8 in Kananaskis, it cost six times less for security than this summit. That was in 2002, not exactly a long time ago. The G8 in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005 cost $110 million, which is roughly one-tenth of the cost.

In fact, the most expensive summit ever held prior to this, because this is a record setting summit here in a way that we would not want it to be, was the G8 summit in Japan in October 2008 at a price tag of $381 million. In other words, this is about three times the most expensive summit that has ever been held anywhere at any time in the history of the planet. For 72 hours of meetings, the amount of $1.1 billion is pretty outrageous.

If the rest of the world can do it for so little money, why on earth is it costing so much money in this example? I will put this in a better context. Per hour, this summit will cost $12,916,666, almost $13 million an hour. It is an outrageous amount of money.

If we look at why this occurred, at the end of the day, as I mentioned, it is just to shoehorn it into a cabinet ministers riding. This really could have been avoided. The government's line that somehow this is just the cost of doing business is erased by the fact that everyone else was able to do it so cheaper.

The Conservative government tried to stick this summit in a venue that could not handle it and it caused spill-over into two venues. It insisted on having a location with a good photo op instead of something that could be more easily secured and the net result is an egregiously large amount of money.

To put this money into context we need to look at what else that amount of money could buy. The amount of $1.1 billion is a hard number to get one's mind around because it is such an egregiously large amount of money.

The Canada Border Services Agency spent $477 million for all of our border safety and security in the entire country. It could have funded that for two years. One meeting of G8 meetings could have funded all of the operations in the Canada Border Services Agency for a year.

The entire budget of the RCMP is about $4 billion, which means that this amount of money could have funded the entire budget of the RCMP for three months.

We are having a debate in the public safety and national security committee about the gun registry. The government is very upset about how much the gun registry costs. The RCMP tells us that it cost $4 million a year to run the gun registry. That means that for one hour of G8 and G20 meetings we could fund the gun registry for three years.

The mover of the bill, who was speaking in committee, asked aggressively the chief of police for Toronto, who is the head of the Association of Canadian Chiefs of Police who was talking about how important the gun registry is, which he would rather have, $4 million for officers or $4 million for a gun registry. The chief said that it was not that simple. He could not say which one he would rather have, a police cruiser or a police officer. He said that he needed to have both, that he needed to have the tools and the officers. The member insisted on getting a direct answer.

Perhaps a better question for the chief would have been, “What would you rather have, more than a billion dollars for a summit for 72 hours of meetings, the most expensive meetings that have ever been held, or money that would actually go to hire police officers and give them the tools they need to do their job?”

We need to look at the Toronto Police Services budget in the municipality where this summit will be held which covers 5,567 police officers and 2,056 full-time civilians or part-time casual employees. This amount of money for these three days of meetings would pay for the entire police services budget of Toronto. The City of Toronto said that instead of hosting these meetings in the security nightmare of downtown Toronto, the money could be used to help pay for its transit city plan, one of its 15 kilometre lines. It would be a whole new subway line at a cost of $950 million. The government could have funded a brand new transit line in Toronto instead of having three days of meetings in a location where they should not have been.

Calgary could have used the cash to pay for a long planned tunnel linking northeast communities and businesses to Calgary International Airport. The city says that the estimated cost is around $900 million.

The federal government could have forgiven the student debt for 33,214 graduates in Atlantic Canada where the debt at graduation is $28,000, or it could have given it for 71,538 graduates in Quebec where the average debt is around $13,000 instead of for 72 hours of meetings.

If none of that catches anyone's eye, ironically this amount of money could have paid for a year's supply of maple syrup for every man, woman and child in Canada. That is just to give an idea of just how much money this is. This is more money than was spent on the Olympics for security. We had tens of thousands of people from around world coming to Vancouver and gathering over multiple venues for sporting events all throughout the day for two weeks. The cost for that was less than the cost for the G8 and G20 summits in Huntsville and Toronto.

What I want to know is how the government can look into the eyes of the unemployed in this country and tell them that it does not have the money to help enhance benefits further or to help do things for breast cancer survivors who are asking that EI benefits be augmented to help those who have been suffering with cancer to get back on their feet. I do not know how it can look at people like that and say that it is sorry but that it does not have the money to help and yet it has $1.1 billion to give to 72 hours of meetings.

How can it look at church groups, the YMCAs and YWCAs and the Boys and Girls clubs that have seen their funding slashed for crime prevention and for stopping people from going down dark paths. When I meet with members of those groups, they talk to me about how difficult it is to see their funding slashed and wonder how the government can look at them and say that it is sorry but that it has to cut their funding because it does not have the money that it used to have to give them.

We have the prison farm issue where inmates have the opportunity to work on a farm. It is one of the most effective programs that we have in our system for rehabilitating inmates. We have demonstrated, through animal husbandry and working with animals, how important that is to the rehabilitative process. The government is cutting that program despite the fact that correctional officials are saying that it is one of the most effective programs we have. The people who have been working there for more than 30 years say that in their experience they have not seen one example of violent recidivism from all the people who have worked through that program. The government is cutting it because it costs $4 million. It is saying that it is sorry but that it just does not have the money to continue that effective program.

Again, about 20 minutes of the G20 and G8 meetings would have kept the prison farm system alive.

At the same time, the government has slashed from international aid and women's groups because it says that it just does not have the money. It is the same lines again and again.

When the Minister of Public Safety was on television, he was asked why he did not consider using the military, which would have been much cheaper. He said that he feared criticism by the Liberal Party. I had no idea we were so powerful that the only thing we had to do to develop government policy was to threaten to criticize the government and it would do what we say it should be doing. If I had any idea that it would be that simple to develop government policy, I obviously would do a lot more criticizing. What a preposterous notion, that the government will not make a decision because it fears being criticized.

I have an idea. Why does the government not go to the City of Toronto and the residents of Toronto and say that it blew this, that it mismanaged the situation terribly, that the costs are so out of control that it needs to look at other options and just admit that it needs help?

One of the options we need to look at it is the military. How would the City of Toronto and the residents of Toronto feel about using the military? That is a good starting point and it would be something that would be pretty hard for us to criticize if the government is so fearful of us criticizing it.

The government says that this is about security and that we cannot question it. Do members remember 9/11? When I have asked questions multiple times in this House during question period, 9/11 pops up. There have been 11 summits since 9/11 and all of them were infinitely less expensive than this. It is shameful to hide behind security, to raise that as a flag and say that it should not have to answer any questions and that accountability should disappear out the window the second we use the word security. The government does it again and again. It feels that by raising the spectre of security or public safety concerns it can get out of being accountable. That does not cut it.

The great irony of this is that these meetings, which will cost far more than any meetings ever held in history, are about austerity, about fiscal restraint. We are gathering the world together to talk about how to trim spending, how to cut back excess and how to stop going into debt so much and yet the government is spending $1.1 billion for these meetings. It is unbelievable.

If the government wants to show austerity and show the world how to spend less money, a good place to start would be to not spend $1 billion on 72 hours of meetings. Canada is running its largest deficit in its history, more than $50 billion. We simply cannot afford a $1 billion binge on meetings that are basically costing this much because the government wants to shove them in to a cabinet minister's riding.

I have written to the Auditor General and she has responded that she will investigate these costs. This motion today calls upon the government to do the responsible thing and explain how on earth this thing went so off the rails. I am sorry but it does not cut it to give us a $400-plus million line item for the RCMP. That amounts to more than $10,000 for every RCMP officer in the country. That is the most in the way of a breakdown that the government will give us.

This House and Canadians deserve to know exactly how this thing went so out of control. We do not need anything that will infringe upon security. We just need a 30,000 foot view of exactly where this money is going, what it is getting us and how on earth the government arrived at the figure of $1 billion.

I urge all members of the House to support this motion, and I include Conservative members in that. The motion simply asks for transparency. It is simply asking the government to demonstrate some accountability instead of just preaching it. There is no reason all members cannot get behind the request to provide this information and make the vote on this motion unanimous. I would encourage the government, instead of just dropping these things at the last second, to include Canadians in the discussion process.

The minister said that he knew from day one that the costs for these meetings would be $1 billion but we only just found out. If the minister knew these costs all along, why on earth did he not ask questions from day one? The first time I heard the minister question these costs was about a week ago when he said that these things were expensive and that maybe we should look at them. That was not the time to look at them. The time to look at these costs was from day one, before the government shoved the meetings into a cabinet minister's riding, before it had to spread them across two venues and before it had to go red faced in front of the Canadian public and say that it had completely mismanaged this process.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to note that the member has been running around with his hair on fire since last week but the bottom line is that the member supported the budgets that set this money aside. I am surprised that he would indicate today that he had no idea that this was in place. Other opposition members would know that the member has twice supported this government's federal budgets in this Parliament.

He clearly is not an expert on the G8 or G20 and clearly not an expert on security. However, somebody who is an expert on G8 costs is University of Toronto expert, John Kirton, who said:

The cost for each of the two Canada summits are more or less within range of what G8 and even G20 summits have been costing.

It’s a very good investment. Most of the money has permanent benefits, well beyond the G8.

The hon. member would have to admit that he is no expert on this. However, that is what the experts had to say. Has he listened to any of them or is he just going to continue flapping around?

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the hon. member did not have an opportunity to look at the budget, but if he had, he would have seen that the supplementary estimates (C) for the Conservative government's March 2010 budget contained $179 million that was earmarked for the G8 and G20 meetings.

I do not profess to stand here as the eminent expert on G8 and G20, but what I will say is that this is the most expensive summit, by 300%, that has ever been held anywhere on the planet, and here is what I, or any layperson, could conclude pretty quickly. If the rest of the world can do it for 300% less, or in some cases, many times less than even that, surely we could. Surely we could have done this for hundreds of millions of dollars less.

The reality is that this steals from priorities that Canadians care about.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his presentation today. We will be supporting the opposition motion.

The fact of the matter is that this is a big boondoggle and an embarrassment for the government. The question I have for the member is this: Why are we having these conferences in urban settings in the first place? Would it not make sense to have them in a secure military base, where the costs should be approaching zero and we would not be requiring military in the streets, which is a big concern of the government?

I would like to ask the member whether he has any idea what the cost would have been if we were to have staged this conference in a secure military base.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an excellent point. Given that the meetings were about austerity and fiscal restraint and about bringing together the world to talk about how to spend less, what a great opportunity to have them in a location, be it a military base or somewhere else, that would be no-frills, easy to secure, at an extremely low cost. Why not put it in Trenton or some other location that was very easy to secure, and say to world leaders, “Sorry, it is just not the time for martinis and caviar. We have to really have a streamlined summit here to show the world we are serious about austerity”?

That would have been the right thing to do, but here is the crazy thing. They did not even ask the city of Toronto. It is not like the city of Toronto said, “Please give us the G20”. The city of Toronto said, “Do not put it in an urban environment. Please do not bring it here. It is going to cause massive disruption, an enormous amount of costs and lost revenue. Please do not put it here”.

Yes, it was wrong to put it in an urban environment. Yes, it should have been somewhere else, but at the very least, they should have asked the city of Toronto its opinion.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was an eye opener in many respects, because a few of the numbers that he put out there were quite astonishing.

However, before I get to that, one of the comments across the way was certainly about the military in the city, and if I am wrapping my head around this correctly, they thought the Liberal opposition was a reason not to invite the military. That is one of the greatest examples of trying to slip their way out of a situation that is an absolute absurdity. Do they think the people are that stupid to believe that they have a point?

I was living in Toronto when they brought in the military during a snowstorm. I believe, if memory serves me correctly, it was a Liberal government. I did not see any problem with it. I do not think the federal government had a problem with it.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question. He said that it started out at $179 million. How did we go from that to what he is talking about, into the billion-dollar range? Here we have it shoehorned into a minister's riding. If I had known about ridings, I would have asked for this thing to be on Fogo Island in my riding, for that matter.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it may have been cheaper on Fogo Island than this. If we were to spend $1.1 billion, Fogo Island would never look the same after spending that kind of money.

It is a good question. How did these costs get to where they are? It is the crux of this motion.

The government has to come clean here. It cannot just invoke the word “security” and think there is no accountability. What it refuses to do is give us any kind of meaningful breakdown of what exactly these costs are.

The member is quite right to point out the fact that the City of Toronto itself called in the military. What was different about that situation was that there was an engagement with the municipality around that decision. Every time I have ever talked to any councillor in the City of Toronto or we have had correspondence from the mayor's office, they say they have never been consulted and at the last second are told what is happening.

A different way of handling this would have been to go to the city and say, “We have mismanaged this terribly. We have really blown it. We are going to have costs that are just outrageous and Canadians are angry. Is it okay if we use the military? We know they came in once before to help you with the problem of snow. This time, Canadians are being snowed over by costs. Is it possible for us to use the military to get us out of this billion-dollar boondoggle that we have created?”

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, the member for Ajax—Pickering is a master of overstatement. He made the statement in his speech that there have been 11 summits since 9/11 and none of them have cost anywhere near what we are predicting for the G8 and G20 in Canada. That is absolutely incorrect. Most of the time we are comparing apples with oranges, but we do have the complete set of numbers in from Hokkaido for the G8. That was $1.5 billion.

Why is the member politicizing the security of the leaders of the western world? This is ridiculous.

Opposition Motion—G8 and G20 Summits
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, what is outrageous is that the government will not even acknowledge that it made an error here. Conservatives are continuing to stand up and justify $1.1 billion for 72 hours. The reality is, and the facts show, that the most expensive G8 that was ever held was just over $380 million, and that cost is infinitely less than the $1.1 billion being spent here.

Here is what the hon. member does not get, and maybe he needs to talk to some more people to hear the anger that is out there. People do not accept this. They do not expect that $1.1 billion will be used for 72 hours of meetings to have discussions about austerity. They do not get it, and I agree with them, that if we are going to have discussions about fiscal restraint, we do not kick them off with the biggest and most expensive meetings ever held. Even if somebody, somewhere, at some moment in history, found a way to blow as much money as the government did, that does not make it right.

We have the largest deficit in the history of this country. Canadians are saying there are extremely important priorities. Thousands of people are unemployed and need help. People are coming forward and saying that they cannot get by, that they cannot make ends meet. They are not looking at $1.1 billion for 72 hours and saying it is okay. That is the part that the government does not get.