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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is attending the Bilderberg Meeting in Hertfordshire, England. (Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is attending the Bilderberg Meeting in Hertfordshire, England. (Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Bilderberg: The most exclusive, secretive schmooze-fest in the world Add to ...

The Bilderberg Meeting is the World Series of schmoozing, an invitation-only gathering of politicians, corporate chieftains and financiers that takes place each summer in a suitably exclusive and secure location. This year’s meeting starts on Thursday at a country estate in Hertfordshire, England. Your guide to the festivities:

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Can you go?

In a word – no. The cachet of the event stems from its exclusivity. This year, there are only 138 participants. By contrast, the World Economic Forum, another confab for the global elite held each winter in Davos, Switzerland, drew more than 2,000.

The Bilderberg conference started in 1954 with the goal of promoting co-operation between North America and Europe. It developed a reputation for secrecy that has spun numerous conspiracy theories, which imagine a Bilderberg role in everything from the election of U.S. president Bill Clinton to the advent of the North American free-trade agreement.

In recent years, Bilderberg has opened the door a crack, revealing broad topics of discussion and a list of attendees, but the meetings remain closed and off the record. To be invited, your name must be proposed by members of a steering committee and approved by the event’s chairman – in this year’s case, Henri de Castries, chief executive of France’s AXA Group.

Those who pass the test will rub shoulders with current and former government officials (Timothy Geithner, Henry Kissinger) and the heads of some of the world’s largest companies and banks (HSBC Holdings, Siemens, BP).

Are any Canadians going?

Yes. From the corporate sector, the Canadians tapped to attend are: Ed Clark, chief executive officer of Toronto-Dominion Bank; Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books and Music; Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaws Cos.; Robert Prichard, chairman of law firm Torys; and Frank McKenna, chairman of Brookfield Asset Management and former premier of New Brunswick.

Mr. McKenna apparently helped to extend an invite to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, according to an interview Mr. Wall did with CBC Radio. “It has to do with the province, not with myself,” the Premier said. “We are emerging as a place that has, quite literally, what the world wants [natural resources, such as potash].” His Saskatchewan Party is picking up the tab for him and a senior aide to attend, a spokesperson said.

Canada usually sends a healthy contingent to the event. Last year, Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recently departed chief of staff, attended. The year before, Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, was on the list.

What happens there?

This year’s topics include how to achieve faster economic growth in the United States and Europe, how “big data” is changing the world, developments in the Middle East and the threat of cyber-warfare.

But only the participants know exactly what goes on, and the understanding is they don’t go home and blab about it. The event is very private – for example, no aides can attend the meals, where attendees get to schmooze in earnest – and produces no public statements. It also features heavy security, much to the annoyance of those who live nearby (a local paper reported that some residents will have to show photo identification in order to reach their homes).

Mr. Wall told the CBC that he is looking forward to speaking with Mr. Kissinger, the former U.S. secretary of state, as well as various corporate leaders, including Mr. Weston, whom he has not had a chance to meet. “Although you wouldn’t think we need to go to England to do that,” Mr. Wall said. “That’s a discussion I want to have.”

With a report from Eric Reguly in Rome.

Follow on Twitter: @jslaternyc

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