Revisiting Toronto’s G20 Costs

In the lead up to the G20 conference, the security costs were projected to approach a billion dollars. As high as this number sounds, sources are now speculating that the total bill could be closer to $2 billion. Shocking as that number is, the costs incurred by local businesses may have exceeded that total.

In addition to the physical damage to the hundreds of shops that were smashed in, there were major productivity losses during, and in the week before the conference. The most visible opportunity cost was the sharp decline in retail sales. According to Monaris Solutions, businesses within the security barrier saw a 28.08% decline in sales, and a 40.87% decrease in transactions. Businesses outside of the barrier experienced a 10.78% decline in sales, and a 16.43% decrease in transactions. The total city decline in sales was 9.31%, with 14.96% less transactions. This may not seem like that much, until you consider that the city has $47 billion in annual retail sales. A crude calculation puts the total retail losses in the $386 million range for the 25-27th. Given that this is a summer weekend, it is probably a low estimate.

The implicit costs to the financial sector would be difficult to tabulate. With 223,000 employees, even minor disruptions to the sector are extremely costly. Many of the large banks asked their employees to work from home for several days, which certainly caused some level of productivity costs. Many of them also had to temporarily move their trading floors outside of the downtown core. Moreover, each bank needed to prepare its employees for the inevitable disruptions during the conference. As the security boundaries shifted, and government policies to deal with the conference changed, banks were required to hold multiple meetings in preparation. Assuming each meeting lasted a half hour, and the average employee earns $20/hour (an understatement), the financial sector would have lost roughly over $2 million for every single preparatory meeting.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to calculate the full cost of the summit to Toronto businesses. The banks have been fairly quiet about their own costs, likely because of the Harper government’s strong stand against implementing a global bank tax, a move that would have devastated the global financial sector. Though there have been no public statements from the banks, there are rumors circulating that the financial sector lost at least as much as retailers. Those same rumors have it that the overall economic losses exceeded the security costs (based on the original security estimates). With nearly $400 million in retail losses alone, this seems realistic. Let’s hope this G20 experience has finally put to death the myth that hosting controversial global political meetings in major cities brings economic benefits.

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