Auditor General Sheila Fraser says her office will examine the federal government's hefty security bill at the upcoming G8 and G20 international summits in Ontario after the events are completed.
The Opposition Liberals called on Fraser to conduct an audit after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government disclosed this week that the estimated cost for security could top $933 million.
NDP Leader Jack Layton decried the cost as a "boondoggle" from a government that preaches fiscal restraint, with Liberal MP Mark Holland dubbing the dual summits "the most expensive 72 hours in Canadian history."
Despite the large figure, Fraser, whose mandate is to prevent waste of public money, told CBC News such an audit would be "typical" for her office.
"We will be doing some work," Fraser said Friday in an interview from Ottawa. "We have to determine exactly what. I would expect we would have looked at this in any case, given the costs involved.
"And we will wait, obviously, until the summits have been held."
She said she "was and wasn't" surprised to hear the security cost estimate, but added preparations for large events that last only for a few days require extensive co-ordination months in advance.
"Obviously, a billion dollars is a lot of money, but I think we have to recognize that security is expensive," Fraser said.
Parliament watchdog mulling probe
On Thursday, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page confirmed to the Globe and Mail that his office is debating whether to launch an investigation into security spending for the G8 summit in Muskoka and the subsequent G20 meeting in downtown Toronto. Page was responding to a request by NDP for him to launch a formal probe.
The auditor-general cautioned against saying the costs for the summit have ballooned, because the government's preliminary disclosure of $179 million for summit security spending in the last budget was not an initial estimate of what the full costs would be.
She also said it would be "relatively easy" to sort through the spending after the summits, recalling how her office audited the billions the federal government spent on security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States
"We found that the processes and controls around that were very good, and that the monies were spent as they were intended to be spent," she said.
Not a 3-day event
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has defended the cost estimate, saying it is due to Canada's "unprecedented" hosting of dual international events almost simultaneously amid a medium security threat level.
Meanwhile, Ward Elcock, the man the government hired to co-ordinate security at the summits, told CBC News on Friday that he didn't buy previous summit security cost estimates. He suggested other summit host nations were not as transparent as Canada over the final price tag.
"I doubt very much whether those numbers are an accurate reflection of the all-in costs for any of those meetings," Elcock said in an interview with the CBC's Evan Solomon.
Elcock, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service who also served as deputy defence minister, said he didn't believe other governments were misleading their citizens, but that some countries do not publish amounts spent on intelligence services at such events.
Canada, he noted, was among the first host countries to give an all-in cost for security at the Vancouver Olympics, including funds spent on CSIS, Canada's spy agency.
While critics have questioned the government's decision to relocate the G20 summit from the rural site of Huntsville to downtown Toronto, Elcock said most G20 summits have to be held in urban areas, because cities are the only environments that can accommodate the large number of dignitaries, as well as thousands of journalists from around the world.
Elcock also dismissed claims the summits were three-day events, saying security forces "don't arrive the day before and leave the day after" like reporters.
"In many cases, they will be there for weeks. In some cases, for much longer than weeks."