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Police patrol the waterfront as seecurity is tight during the Muskoka 2010 G8 Summit in, Huntsville, Ont June 25/2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Police patrol the waterfront as seecurity is tight during the Muskoka 2010 G8 Summit in, Huntsville, Ont June 25/2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Roy MacGregor

In the tale of two summits, the happy ending was Huntsville's Add to ...

The surveys have been taken, the results are in - and the conclusion indisputable:

The best thing that ever happened to Huntsville was the G20 Summit.

That would be the Toronto end of the late-June gathering of 20 world leaders, not the smaller Muskoka dock party of eight that preceded it.

While they marched in the hundreds in Toronto this weekend to demand a full inquiry into the police conduct during the G20 that saw shops vandalized, police cars burned and more than 900 people - not all of them protesters - arrested, in Huntsville they were sitting down with their weekly Forester to read an open letter from Colonel Wayne Eyre, commander of CFB Petawawa's 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group.

"On behalf of myself, and the soldiers of Task Force Huntsville," Eyre wrote, "thank you for being such wonderful hosts during the time we spent in your midst."

And if that wasn't enough, they could go to the local radio station's Web page and read similar words from outgoing Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino: "I want to express my gratitude to all Muskoka residents, full-time and seasonal, for their support and good humour during the recent G8 Summit that was held at Deerhurst Resort."

Talk about the differences between the middle of nowhere and the centre of the universe.

In Toronto the anger over G20 costs, inconvenience and controversies seems unabated, even growing. In Huntsville, summer is in full swing, the G8 a fading memory. All traffic and pedestrian laws are once again out the window along Main Street. Sun-scalded camp staffs are strolling about the town dock with ice cream cones. Vacationers on the surrounding lakes - real lakes, where high-speed Internet service from the Muskoka chair isn't even a consideration - are rationalizing their breakfast beer with the old argument that it has to be noon somewhere in the world that just peeked in on Huntsville and moved on so quickly and quietly.

There are still some signs of the G8 to be found. The world's second-ugliest fence - the Toronto G20 fence winning first ugliest - is still standing in places around Deerhurst. There is the odd military transport moving along Highway 60 toward Petawawa. But other signs are permanent and welcome: the $50-million "legacy" fund that is leaving behind an Olympic-sized hockey rink (unused as a media centre), a brand-new university facility (barely used as a summit facility), repaired roads, new pavement and even a new town park to honour the eight countries that came and merely stayed overnight before moving on.

Thank you, Toronto, they are saying here. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

"We know we may have ducked a bullet had there been no G20," says Councillor Mike Greaves, "or had it been in Huntsville."

Somewhere along the way, some very strange decisions were made. The first may have been to hold a G20 when one had just been held last fall in Pittsburgh and one will be held this fall in South Korea. Surely this fragile old world could hold together until November.

The second was to split the G8 and the G20, thereby doubling, or more than doubling, the security costs until they soared into the billion-dollar realm. If they had to hold both, it should have been either in Huntsville (organizers say impossible, but nothing is impossible) or Toronto, not divided between the two.

Those who wonder why this common-sense solution never happened might like to consider that the G8 was delivered to this riding by its member of Parliament, Industry Minister Tony Clement. This being not long ago a Liberal riding and host Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a minority Conservative government soon to face an election, Clement's hold on the Parry Sound-Muskoka seat - today inadequately described as rock-solid - surely was a factor in the decision.

The absurd splitting of the two summits, however, was a second gift to this town far beyond the new pavement and buildings. The protesters who showed up could be counted on one hand: a Japanese monk who walked from Toronto in support of religious harmony, a few orderly supporters of a global water policy, an anti-abortionist …

One kid stood on Main Street with a sign calling for "more cookies" and the cops actually went into a non-vandalized shop and bought him some.

"Toronto," says Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty, "was my worst nightmare for Huntsville."

Doughty had sleepless nights worrying about how his little town of 18,500 might cope with such an onslaught of protesters. He does not, however, believe that even if the full G8/G20 had been held in Muskoka the story would have turned out the same.

"If the G20 had stayed here - and it could never have, there was not enough accommodation - but if it had they would not have had the vandalism they had in Toronto.

"They would have needed police protection to protect the Black Bloc from the local populace - no way they could have hid in a residential area the way they could in the city."

But in the end it was G8 here and G20 there - two hours and two worlds away.

"We hoped for the best," says Doughty, "and we got the best."

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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