Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion, which criticizes the government for the anticipated $1 billion price tag for security at the G8 meeting in Huntsville and the G20 meeting in Toronto.
The motion also calls for a detailed breakdown of how the money will be spent and an explanation of how spending was permitted to spiral out of control.
Naturally, the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this motion. I want to make it clear that we are not against holding important meetings like the G8 and the G20, although we condemn the fact that some issues, such as development assistance, will not be on the agenda. We are not against holding these summits, but we do not understand how it can end up costing so much.
To be clear, a review of the government's budget documents reveals that the bill for three days of meetings ballooned from $179 million to $833 million. Worse still, the government has said that the final cost could climb to $930 million for security alone. In addition, $150 million is being spent on organizing the summits. These two summits taking place over the course of three days will cost $1.8 billion.
We have good reason to wonder about this. When a government talks about austerity and the importance of saving money, then turns around and, without batting an eyelid, says that it has to spend $1 billion on a three-day event, that is bound to raise some questions, particularly since this is the same government that spent thousands of dollars on plants and lamps. Who could forget that?
When we compare the cost of these two events to other similar events in Canada or abroad, or to major infrastructure projects, we have good reason to ask questions about an amount in excess of $1 billion.
Here are a few examples. The security budget for the Vancouver Olympic Games, which lasted 17 days, was $900 million. Millions of people and hundreds of athletes and teams were kept safe for 17 days. That was not a three-day event for a few heads of state and their entourages, regardless of how large. The cost of providing security for these two summits may well become the highest in all of Canada's history.
I have two other examples of security, such as the G20 in April 2009 in London, just one year ago. Prices have not gone up that much. London covers an area of 1,579 km2, and has a population of over 7,684,700. Those figures were from 2007, so its population has likely gone up since then. Toronto covers an area of 629.91 km2, and has a population of over 2,503,281. These figures are from 2006, so the population has certainly increased. So the two cities are comparable, even if London has a much larger population. The cost of the G20 over there, in 2009, was $30 million, according to the most recent reports from London.
It cost $30 million for the same number of heads of state and surely the same number of delegations, in a city that is bigger and has a larger population than Toronto. So why did the G20 cost $30 million, when the one in Toronto will cost much more?
The G8 summit that was held in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005, cost $110 million, and the G8 held in Japan, in 2008, cost $381 million. The G8 summit that was held in Alberta in 2002 cost $190 million. The G20 summit in Pittsburgh, in September 2009, cost $20 million.
None of the summits I just mentioned cost more than $400 million. We have to wonder.
I found another rather striking example. In 2008, the Government of Quebec announced that the 117 bridges in Quebec in poor shape were going to be made safe. Each bridge would be demolished, repaired, strengthened, rebuilt or replaced, depending on its condition. Out of the 117 bridges, 60 had to be demolished or replaced, and the other 57 repaired or strengthened. That is a lot of work. The cost to do all 117 bridges was only $100 million, which is 11 times less than the cost of the upcoming G8 and the G20. We need this money in Quebec for the health care system and for equalization. We would rather have our money instead of having it spent on who knows what for the G8 and G20 in Toronto.
What these figures tell me is that it costs less to make bridges safe than to keep heads of state safe. We need bridges that are in good condition, because there has already been one catastrophe in Quebec. In Laval, a whole overpass collapsed and killed people. Bridges are important to us.
The government has the gall to tell us that it wants to abolish the gun registry. In its throne speech, it says it wants to remove long guns from the registry, because the long gun registry costs too much. The Conservatives told us this repeatedly in committee. They sent their supporters to tell us the long gun registry was too expensive. Yet it would cost only $4 million to keep long guns in the registry. That is too expensive, but $1.08 billion for the G8 and the G20 is not expensive. It is necessary.
The Conservatives feel that $4 million is too much to spend on gun control. They are willing to let guns circulate freely. They even bemoan the fact that it does not occur to 14- to 18-year-olds today to buy a gun. Good God, what a scandal. Meanwhile, they are drafting bills to put young people in prison. They are all but putting guns in their hands. At least, they will be able to justify their bills and the prisons they are going to build. They even accuse single mothers of contributing to the decline in the number of hunters by not teaching their sons about hunting. They practically accuse them of causing car-deer collisions. It is so ridiculous that it is pathetic.
The Conservatives have the nerve to try to abolish the long gun registry to save a few dollars, yet a number of important people working in the field came to tell us how useful the registry is in police work, crime prevention and investigations. Moreover, a recent criminological study showed that the registry had saved 2,100 lives in seven years. The RCMP told us that more than 7,000 gun permits had been revoked in 2009 alone for public safety reasons.
Despite all the indications that the registry is important, the government tells us, through its MPs and the throne speech, that $4 million is too much to spend on saving lives.
But, $1 billion or more would cover the cost of managing long guns for 250 years. With $1 billion or more we could practically double the crime prevention budget in Canada for almost 20 years. It is a basic need that is not one of this government's priorities. With more than $1 billion, we could invest in the fight against poverty. I could go on and on.
It is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that the cost of these summits is justified and that the government answers our questions and those of the public, of taxpayers, of those who are footing the bill. Citizens have mandated us to ensure that this government properly manages public money and is accountable for how it is spent.
Let us ask the question. Was choosing Toronto a wise choice? I have heard all my colleagues speak about this and it has become increasingly clear that it was not all that wise. The government itself maintains that providing security for two consecutive summits, in two very different cities—one of them Toronto—has driven up the price tag. I have to admit that I do not understand. If I want to organize something, the first thing I do is to ask for an estimate of the cost. If it is too expensive, I look for another cheaper estimate. I opt for what is cheaper. That is proper management by anyone organizing an event. Why choose a city like Toronto if the estimated expenses in that location result in higher costs?
Let us ask ourselves another question. Why is it expensive in Toronto, but it did not cost that much in London? One day the Auditor General will be looking at this and all will become clear.
On May 18, to explain the significant discrepancies in cost compared to other organizing countries, the head of G20 and G8 security, Mr. Elcock, who was just appointed, suggested that the governments of these countries are not transparent about the real costs of these events with their citizens.
That is what the security chief seemed to be suggesting when he said, and I quote, “I think Canada is one of the rare countries that has actually been transparent about the security costs.” Mr. Elcock also says that the high price of the security operation will be “comparable” to previous meetings held by members of the group. He said, “Our security practices are the same as other countries that attend the G8 and the G20 on a regular basis. And I would expect that, if you actually could find an apple-to-apple comparison, you would find that our security costs are actually pretty comparable.”
If Mr. Elcock's comments reflect the reality on the ground where G8 and G20 meetings have been held, then taxpayers are entitled to wonder if things could be done differently because these costs are exorbitant and unacceptable. It is a valid question. There are people, groups, citizens who are saying that we could achieve real savings by holding these summits and forums via teleconference. It is an idea that should be considered, like any other. It would be less expensive, greener and, in addition, it would not disrupt tourism or the routine of the country organizing the summit. These are ideas that should be explored. Perhaps we should listen when people speak.
How can we explain to the public that the Government of Canada is willing to spend $1.08 billion on two summits for heads of state and their delegations—there is a legitimate obligation to provide security—when it is not even meeting its international aid or development obligations?
From now until 2011, Canada will invest 0.29% of its GDP, even though the United Nations established the target of 0.7% in 1970. Canada has yet to reach the target of 0.7% that it agreed to. Unfortunately, since the 1990s under the Liberal government, this envelope has not stopped shrinking, going from a little less than 0.5% in 1991-92 to 0.25% in 2000-01.
Are things any better under the Conservatives? Have we reached our target? No. We will be at 0.29% in 2011. I am talking about a target set in 1970, so you could say that things are not going so well. In 2006, the OECD ranked Canada 15th among 22 donor countries in terms of official development assistance based on their GDP, down from the sixth place ranking it had received nine years earlier. Unfortunately, there is a desperate need. Considering the global situation, one cannot help but feel worried.
While I could provide several examples, I will instead give my colleagues just one important example: maternal health. Since I see I have only three minutes left, I will try to be brief.
For example, when we look at the millennium development goal of maternal and child health in developing countries, the numbers are appalling. Too many women are still living in poverty and do not have access to basic health care.
Here are some statistics. Every day, 1,600 women and more than 10,000 newborns die from truly preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Again, 1,600 women and 10,000 newborns die every day in pregnancy or childbirth and these deaths could have been prevented. These statistics are truly outrageous.
Almost 99% of the maternal deaths and 90% of the neonatal deaths occur in developing countries.
A child born in a developing country is 13 times more likely to die in the first five years of life than a child born in an industrialized country.
In East Asia, in Latin America—not very far from here—and in the Caribbean, the infant mortality rate is four times higher than in industrialized countries.
It is estimated that malnutrition is the cause of one third of infant deaths in developing countries.
In 2005, 500,000 women died in pregnancy or childbirth or within six months of giving birth.
It is estimated that 14 million adolescent girls become pregnant every year and 90% of them live in developing countries.
Children born to an adolescent mother have a much greater risk of death in the first five years of life.
It is scandalous to see numbers like this and to see how little is being invested in official development assistance while billions of dollars are being spent on so-called security for summits to chat about how things are going elsewhere. How can we spend more than $1 billion on these three-day summits when we are not fulfilling our obligations?
We support this motion because we feel that the government has a duty to tell everyone what it is doing with our money. I am quite pleased as we all are, to know that the Auditor General is looking into this.
It is a good thing that Parliament looks at the administration of these events. Taxpayers have the right to know.