The Canadian punditry has made it up its mind: The $1-billion that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government projects it will spend on security at the Group of Eight and Group of 20 summits is of boondoggle proportions.
Making no secret of his opinion that the summits are poor value for money, Craig Oliver, co-host of CTV's Question Period, got Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to say on Sunday that the G8/G20 security bill was inflated because the government wanted to keep soldiers off the streets of Toronto, at least in part to deny the Liberals' fodder for future attack ads. Mr. Oliver told the minister that if he was remodeling his kitchen and the contractor let the costs run out of control that he would bring in a second opinion. Mr. Toews responded that he didn't see the need to a seek a second opinion on the work of the same people who so ably arranged security for the Vancouver Olympics.
Last week, The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson called the $1-billion fee "preposterous." Mr. Simpson taps a favourite criticism of the opposition and wonders how many leading scholars could have been installed in Canada with all that money, given that diplomats tell him that little tangible will be accomplished in Toronto.
You don't need diplomatic sources to predict there will be few accomplishments of a concrete nature at the Toronto summit. Most all the deadlines set out at the Pittsburgh summit are for this November at the G20 gathering in Seoul. Toronto is a transitional meeting that became necessary late last summer when it became apparent the world was set to embrace the G20 as the new forum at which to conduct economic business. Unfortunately for Mr. Harper, his government had already invested significant capital -- both monetary and political -- in hosting the G8 summit in cottage country. To stick with the G8 summit alone would have meant ignoring the march of history. In some ways, $1-billion is the cost of retaining a role in the running of global affairs. If in a decade the G20 manages to bring some order to the global economy, the security costs for the Toronto stage of the multi-year process that brought that about will be forgotten. What would the historians write of the government and the country that gave up its chance to play a role in this because they didn't like the look of the bill?
The Toronto Star's Jim Travers has no use for the summits either, calling them "anachronisms." But he's somewhat less cynical than most. Mr. Travers proposes avoiding outlandish security costs by creating a permanent meeting place for the G20. There is actually almost as much academic thought put into these logistical issues as there is the policies themselves. People think about everything from the appropriate membership to the shape of the meeting tables.
Perhaps if the French electorate reacts with the same outrage at the cost of playing G8 and G20 host next year as Canadian voters have, Mr. Travers's suggestion will pick up steam. Choosing a permanent headquarters would be a delicate choice. The old colonial powers of Europe would be excluded for obvious reasons. The United States already hosts the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. While gaining ground quickly, the emerging powers might still lack the technical expertise to support a permanent headquarters, assuming the G20 would see fit to establish a secretariat rather than simply build a meeting place that would sit empty for most of the year. What would be needed is a relatively neutral country and a major city that had both an airport that would allow officials to move in and out quickly and enough attractions to keep meetings from being totally unpleasant experiences. Oh, and the latest in security gear and expertise would be a must.
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