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How Canada made the G20 happen Add to ...

The British were onside, but the French preferred a G13 that would include only China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Mr. Martin pointed out that this would leave the Muslim world outside the door.

As for the Americans? "I go to too many meetings already," George W. Bush reportedly told Mr. Martin, though Mr. Martin himself doesn't recall that statement.

Indeed, even Mr. Martin felt jet-lagged, shuttling between APEC and the G8 and the UN General Assembly and the Commonwealth and the various hemispheric forums. But Mr. Wolfensohn, the former World Bank head, maintains that "meeting fatigue" was a red herring. The G8 members, apart from Britain's Gordon Brown, simply didn't want to let anyone else in.

"They didn't mind getting advice from 20 finance ministers," he says, "but if you broadened that to include 20 leaders, that was a different proposition."

With Mr. Martin himself increasingly distracted by domestic political alarms, hopes for a G20 leaders' forum withered. But after his defeat at the hands of Stephen Harper in January of 2006, Mr. Martin revived the campaign, relentlessly raising the subject in speeches and in foreign meetings. To some, he was becoming tiresome.

"With this obsession over the [G20] he's starting to turn into the tedious drunk at the global village tavern, rattling on about the glory days when he and Larry Summers saved the world economy from near-ruin," an Ottawa Citizen columnist wrote on Nov. 1, 2008. "He needs to give [it]a rest."

Two weeks later, the G20 summit was born.

Riders on the storm

November, 2008: Investment banks were failing or being bailed out throughout the United States and Europe. Markets were in free fall and home foreclosures skyrocketing. Credit was paralyzed because no bank trusted the survival odds of any other bank. Businesses couldn't get loans. The world was in clear and present danger of plunging into a depression that could rival the Great one.

George W. Bush was the lamest of lame-duck presidents, marking time until the inauguration of Barack Obama, yet he had to act if the American economy were to be rescued and the global one preserved. He needed to convene a meeting of world leaders, to co-ordinate a global response to the crisis. But who should he invite? Luckily, a ready-made solution was sitting on the shelf: Paul Martin's G20.

"If you didn't have that model, it probably would have been very difficult," Robert Rubin believes. "Because you needed to get [world leaders]together very quickly."

The first expanded G20 summit - one that gathered political leaders, not merely finance ministers - convened in Washington on Nov. 15, 2008, leading to agreement on "closer macroeconomic co-operation" - which meant that every country in the G20 would pump billions (in some cases, hundreds of billions) of dollars into their economies, while guaranteeing the solvency of their banks.

It worked. There was no new Great Depression, and some countries - the big emerging ones, especially - even managed to avoid a recession. The meeting was so successful that G20 leaders convened again in London and in Pittsburgh in 2009. In Pittsburgh, the leaders "designated the G20 to be the premier forum for our international economic cooperation," Bye-bye, G8.

Not overnight, of course. While many, including Mr. Manuel, who is still a minister in the South African government, believe that "the club is fading," others still question the G20's legitimacy. After all, none of the world's other nations authorized it to speak for them. Yet no other organization properly recognizes the emerging economies that are, in many cases, larger and healthier on some levels than those of the old powers. Mr. Wolfensohn predicts the G20 will grow in strength with every passing year.

Of course, with this increase in influence, there's also an increasing struggle for power within the group itself. Observers expect some fault lines to sharpen in Toronto next week.

Nevertheless, Mr. Summers' voice is tinged with pride when he recalls the day George W. Bush called the leaders of the G20 to Washington: "I showed my wife and my kids - I still had a G20 windbreaker and a little G20 carrying case from Paul's meeting in Montreal," he recalls."And I said: 'I was part of starting this, along with Paul Martin, and look what's happened to it now.'"

John Ibbitson is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau chief. Tara Perkins is the Financial Services reporter for Report on Business.

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