Like most Canadians I was somewhat disturbed to learn recently that the security costs for the upcoming G20 summit in Toronto will exceed $1 billion. Given that it allegedly cost a mere $30 million to secure the London summit in April 2009 and $18 million to secure Pittsburgh last September, I would say that Canadian taxpayers are certainly entitled to question a security bill that is several orders of magnitude greater than that for previous, comparable events.
Those responsible for the expenditures are suggesting that the difference in costs between Canada and previous host nations is a matter of accounting differences (see here, for example). I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see more evidence, but either way one cannot help but feel that the job could have been done for a lot less. Why not just have the meeting at a military base? Presumably that would have been significantly easier to secure than a section of downtown Toronto, and it’s not like the summit will boost the local economy anyway. Everyone from local citizens to tourists have been warned to avoid the actual summit location. I suspect most local businesses will be hurt by this, not helped.
To be honest, I typically don’t align myself with those who insist that governments should never consider getting involved in international events such as various summits or the Olympics, or engage in space exploration, etc., when there are people living below the poverty line and other, more immediate and acute problems to be addressed. After all, there will always be poverty and there will always be urgent crises to which we must attend. This cannot be used as justification to avoid investing in the future. The problem with the G20 summit is that it simply doesn’t provide any of the benefits of those other investments.
Alternatives to the summit
Where I work, international boondoggles of the G20 variety have been replaced by virtual conferences managed via technology such as Second Life. I wonder why something like that couldn’t have been employed for this event. The agenda for the summit is described as follows on Wikipedia:
The Toronto summit’s agenda calls for evaluating the progress of the financial sector reform, further developing sustainable stimulus measures, discussion of global bank tax, and promoting open markets.
Pretty bland, and certainly something that could have been handled online, in my opinion. Seems to me that the leaders of the world’s most technologically advanced nations missed a great opportunity here to curry favour with activists by demonstrating that the fruits of capitalism can sometimes be used to ease the stresses on our planet instead of compounding them.
Opportunity cost of the summit
Finally, I know that it has become somewhat of a tired game to enumerate all the different things we could have done with $1 billion (see here, for example), but what the hell, I might as well have my kick at the can and add something to the list.
Okay, it is estimated that 1 in every 110 children currently born has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (some estimates put it at 1 in every 94 children). Intensive behavioural therapy (e.g., ABA therapy) is one of the few interventions that has been shown to significantly improve the outcome for autistic children. The going rate for ABA therapy is roughly $40/hr.
So how many children could have received 20 hours of ABA therapy per week for 5 years if we had spent that $1 billion on them instead of G20 security?
Cost per year of 20 hrs of ABA therapy per week for a single child:
($40/hr * 20 hrs/week) * 52 weeks = $41, 600.00 per child per year.
Number of years of therapy covered by $1 billion:
$1,000,000,000/($41,600/yr) = 24,038 years of therapy
Number of children who could be funded for 5 years:
24,038 years of therapy/ (5 yrs/child) = 4808 children
So there you go. In a country where autistic children can wait 3-4 years to receive public funding for ABA therarpy, typically causing them to miss one of the more crucial developmental periods, the government apparently had enough spare cash on hand to fund 20 hrs of ABA therapy per week for 5 years for almost 5000 autistic children. Unfortunately, they decided to squander the money instead on a wasteful vanity project for our prime minister.