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The Globe and Mail

Jim Flaherty lets dogs out in bid to get G7 'back to its roots'

Traditional sled dogs run in the gang line near Churchill, Man., on Hudson Bay on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty begins meetings with his G7 counterparts later this week in Iqaluit on a dogsled.

That's Friday's activity. And there is so much more. The dogsledding is followed by intimate and informal fireside chats about the future of the Group of Seven; the dress code is comfy sweaters and sealskin coats. No suits and ties will be seen.

The ministers and central bank governors from the world's richest nations can also eat seal meat - but southern food is being flown up, too, just in case.

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This was the picture painted today by a senior Finance official as Canada attempts to bring the G7 back to its roots - a small, informal group that can freely and frankly trade ideas and thoughts.

Canada has a pretty big voice around the G7 table and it wants to continue to have that voice as the more unwieldy G20 - which is now the acknowledged premiere forum for economic co-operation - threatens to overpower it.

So, this is the context in which the G7 ministers will meet in Iqaluit on Friday and Saturday.

Indeed the Finance official, who is not being named as per the rules of the background press briefing, said it is "no accident" that Nunavut in February was chosen as the venue.

"The signal is the G7 is changing," the official said, noting that it is "adapting." Canada sees this meeting as "very much as an opportunity to take the G7 back to its roots" in a smaller, more intimate setting.

He called it Canada's opportunity to "refresh" the G7. He said it will be smaller; the discussions will be more casual, giving ministers and governors a chance to share experiences, challenges and their thinking.

It is doubtful that there will be a communiqué issued at the end.

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Usually, a statement of so-called deliverables and achievements is issued at the conclusion of these summits, but so much time and energy is devoted to dotting the "i"s and negotiating the language that it takes away from more important discussions.

The participants will be discussing issues around helping Haiti as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement last week that he wants to make maternal and child health a key priority for the G8 meeting this summer in Muskoka.

In addition, there will also be discussions around the global economic meltdown and how to ensure that there are no roadblocks to recovery.

The official said there was no "hidden agenda" to this meeting - bringing Europeans to a community where the seal hunt and seal meat are part of the culture has raised a few eyebrows. The meeting is taking place, after all, on the eve of the European ban on seal products.

Rather, the official said Iqaluit offers an opportunity for these senior ministers to get away from the distractions of the big city and bright lights.

He said "Canada is not trying to prove something" about the seal hunt. He said he has heard no complaints from the Europeans about having to sit in sealskin chairs, for example, in the Nunavut legislature where the meeting will take place.

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(File photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

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