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Marcus Gee

Torontonians should welcome the world to their diverse city Add to ...

Within hours of the announcement that Toronto will host next June's G20 summit, the grousing began. All-news channel CP24 trotted out no less an authority than Ben Mulroney. The entertainment chat show host says he is so out of here when the G20 hordes arrive. Who would want to be around for that mess?

Others were just as wary. Imagine the traffic jams when 20-plus world leaders and their 10,000 hangers-on descend on our quiet little burg. Where will we find the hotel rooms and meeting space for all those foreign folk? And what if our peaceful streets are overrun by - eek! - activists and their tiresome views on world issues?

Oh, get a grip, Toronto. The G20 is a priceless opportunity for the city. These summits last less than 24 hours. The disruption will be brief and the potential payoff huge. The tourist industry will get a badly needed boost from all those hotel stays, cab rides and restaurant visits. More important, Toronto will get a chance to show a little leg with the whole world looking on.

Our diversity, old hat for those who live here, is a marvel to the rest of the world. Here's a chance to talk about it with thousands of journalists and policy-makers from the four corners of the globe.

The G20, as it happens, is all about diversity. Promoted by a Canadian, former prime minister Paul Martin, it has grown from a meeting of finance ministers to a full-blown international summit attended by global leaders such as Chinese President Hu Jintao, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It has met three times since the start of the global financial crisis - in Washington, London and Pittsburgh - but the Toronto meeting will be historic: its first gathering since it was made a permanent global economic council.

The whole idea is to broaden the institutions of global governance to include the rising nations of the developing world. What better place to mark that transformation than Toronto, the place that so many people from those developing nations have chosen as their new home. "Toronto," says John Kirton, the University of Toronto authority on summits, "is a perfect physical embodiment of what G20 governance is all about."

The city has something else to boast about: financial stability. The strength of Canadian banks in the midst of the global storm will not be lost on the thousands who come to Toronto next June to talk about rebuilding the foundations of the global financial system.

Of course, big shows like this come with hassles and risks, but it is nothing that Toronto can't handle. Toronto hosted the G7 summit in 1988 without incident. Our police force has lots of experience with big events, from a papal visit to a NATO summit, not to mention the Tamil protests on city streets earlier this year. We have at least two venues big and modern enough to take the G20: the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and Exhibition Place. We have two airports, one, on the island, just minutes from the likely meeting sites. And the meeting will take place on a late June weekend, avoiding rush-hour foul-ups.

Stay in town, Ben. It should be a heck of a show.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee


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