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Ottawa steered clear of corporate sponsorships for G8-G20 Add to ...

The federal government did not seek out corporate sponsors to offset the nearly $1-billion cost of the G8 and G20 summits, despite fielding offers from at least two major Canadian companies.

Both Toronto-Dominion Bank and Research In Motion offered to participate in the global get-together, with the bank inquiring about corporate sponsorship and the tech company offering to provide complimentary BlackBerrys for visiting journalists.

Private-sector partnerships have played a major role in previous summits, including the G20 in Pittsburgh last year, where more than $1-million in cash was kicked in by companies that also paid for an array of summit-related expenditures, from food for the media to city beautification projects.

"It was done at other summits, it was done at the Olympics, so I can't fathom why they decided not to do it here," said Mark Holland, Liberal critic for public safety and national security. "Particularly when all their costs are so egregious, you'd think they would be desperate to offset their costs."

Mr. Holland said the infamous "fake lake" - a $57,000 water feature being built in Toronto to give visiting journalists a taste of Muskoka - could easily have been adopted by a corporate sponsor. In all, the Canadian Corridor, an event space that will promote cottage country and Toronto landmarks to the media, is costing taxpayers $1.9-million.

The Summit Management Office confirmed there are no corporate sponsors, and bureaucrats familiar with the preparations say there was no request from the government level to initiate a private-sector partnership. The offer from RIM was politely declined, while TD was asked to fund My Summit, a youth delegate event held during the leaders conference.

"We're sponsoring a luncheon as part of the youth summit, which will be taking place at the same time as the G20 summit," confirmed Mohammed Nakhooda, a spokesperson for TD Bank Financial Group. "We believe our sponsorship will help contribute to the important dialogue among the youth delegates."

Brian Smith, of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, said his organization would have been interested in a sponsorship role at the G20, where leaders are expected to discuss the global economy.

"Had there been an opportunity we certainly would have looked at it," he said. "Given that the summit is meant to highlight the strength of Toronto's financial system, it's an obvious place for us to get our message out."

In Pittsburgh, private companies played a major role in preparation for the city's G20 summit last September, according to Catherine DeLoughry, of the Pittsburgh G-20 Partnership.

More than 18 "underwriters," such as Bayer and United States Steel, provided cash donations of more than $35,000, and everything from the transportation of journalists to translation services and welcome banners were provided by corporate sponsors.

Aluminum fabrication company Alcoa even stepped in to do a last-minute repair of the Fountain at the Point, a Pittsburgh landmark that had been out of commission. "It was incredibly important to people to have that fountain on," said Ms. DeLoughry. "They said fine, let us take a look at it. They stepped in and got it done."

The last time Toronto played host to a summit - the G7 in 1988 - corporate sponsors were brought on board to fund Summit Square, the media facility that housed 6,000 journalists.

Trevor Eyton, then president of Brascan Ltd., and Senator Jerry Grafstein rounded up more than $2-million from 38 companies, including General Motors, Imperial Oil and the CIBC, and $2.3-million in donated goods and services ranging from limos to ballpoint pens.

Bell Canada and Northern Telecom Canada Ltd. provided communications facilities, and Ford Motor Co. of Canada lent 125 Lincoln Continentals to ferry foreign dignitaries.

At the time, minister of state for finance Thomas Hockin said corporate contributions saved the government money on the $20-million summit.

Reached at home Thursday, Mr. Grafstein said he received a call from someone involved in planning the summits several months ago, inquiring about the sponsorship program in 1988. Mr. Grafstein said he offered to help set up a similar initiative, but said no action was taken.

"I just don't know why. I'm a frugal guy and I always believe that you don't mess around with other people's money, especially taxpayers'," he said. "This is the time to do creative things and frugal things. I think the private sector should have played a much larger role."

John Kirton, who is now the director of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, helped put the corporate partnership together in 1988.

"Back then, all the blue-chip companies headquartered in downtown Toronto pitched in. The hat was passed and it defrayed the cost," he said. "This time I'm just not aware of what's been done."

He believes that time may have been a factor, but said it is also possible the government avoided corporate sponsors for PR reasons.

"It could have given rise to another complaint, that the G20 summit is just being done for big business," he said. "I think [Prime Minister Stephen]Harper has some aversion to big business being seen to buy big public events."

But Mr. Kirton said the lack of official advertising space is working out well for him. He writes briefing books that are published at G8 summits, distributed to all participating delegates and journalists. And demand for advertising space has been fierce, he said.

"My publisher is purring," Mr. Kirton said. "They kept asking me to get more and more editorial content to balance all the ads that were flowing in."

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