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Adam Radwanski

Dude, where's my summit? Add to ...

If this is the act that Canada is preparing to take to the international stage, it could use a little fine-tuning.

In seven months, world leaders will descend on this country for the first formal Group of 20 summit. The fact that nobody seems clear on where exactly they'll be going doesn't scream out professionalism.

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Will it be Huntsville? Almost certainly not, because nobody outside that small Ontario town (or perhaps even within it) really believes it's capable of playing host to an event of this scale. But the federal government, apparently in a state of denial that holding the G20 is somewhat different from the original idea of holding the G8, has spent the past several months pretending it's all systems go in cottage country. As a result, there has been no action whatsoever on preparing Toronto - the city that will almost inevitably wind up as the venue - for the myriad logistical challenges. The confusion, which has come to light this week, is not quite an international embarrassment - mostly because few outside Canada's borders seem to have noticed.

But it sends troubling signals about the federal government's degree of competence, and perhaps about its priorities.

There was one very good reason to put an international summit in a place like Huntsville: It's much easier and less costly to secure than a big city.

That would, in theory, appeal to people like William Elliott, the RCMP Commissioner. But even Mr. Elliott said Wednesday that a lack of space to accommodate visitors would make it "difficult if not impossible" to hold it there.

If Mr. Elliott knew that, then presumably so did Tony Clement, the local Conservative MP and the federal Industry Minister. Mr. Clement acknowledged this week that the G20 involves "up to 57 countries and institutions," and that it remained to be determined whether it could be pulled off in his riding "in a secure and comfortable fashion."

If Mr. Clement were bidding for the Olympics, or a world's fair, or probably a Tory caucus meeting, such uncertainty would be interpreted as an admission of failure. But still, he says, he's "trying my hardest" to make it happen in Huntsville - and to this point, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has evidently been reluctant to tell him it's a non-starter.

There are two obvious explanations for that. Either the government has been too distracted by other matters to pay sufficient attention, or it was reluctant to stop using the G20 as justification to pour funds into Mr. Clement's riding.

The Industry Minister, it should be noted, does not hold the safest of Conservative seats; although he won Parry Sound-Muskoka by a big margin in last year's election, he took it by only 28 votes in 2006 as a parachute candidate from the Toronto area.

Mr. Clement seems to have seized upon the promise of the G8, and then the G20, as an excuse to ensure it's never that close again. From a "G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund," the government has invested approximately $50-million in his riding , much of it in places that none of the world leaders will ever see. If Toronto had been announced sooner as the G20 host, presumably at least some of that money would have gone there instead.

Mr. Harper's Tories aren't the first government to favour the ridings they hold over those they don't, and unfortunately, they won't be the last. But one would like to think that, in planning for an event at which so many people at such a high level will form impressions of Canada, the only priority would be ensuring the highest possible level of preparedness.

If there's a reasonable explanation for the apparent state of disarray, the government would do well to provide it. Because if partisan considerations really did play a role, it says something about the degree to which small-time politics has impeded this country's ability to think big.

Follow on Twitter: @aradwanski

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