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(Roy MacGregor/The Globe and Mail)
(Roy MacGregor/The Globe and Mail)

G8 Preparation

Huntsville revelling in $50-million worth of G8 summit largesse Add to ...

They are calling it "The Great Wall of Huntsville."

Unlike its Chinese namesake, this one dates back only a few days, not to the 5th century BC, and will mercifully disappear shortly after the June 25-26 G8 summit is over - but for the moment it sets a world standard for ugly.

No one is quite sure what the fence is for, only that it begins at the very edge of Highway 60 and winds its way across fields, swamps, hills and bush until it has fairly wrapped itself around the entire Deerhurst Resort area where the leaders of the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy will meet for a few hours later this month before heading for Toronto and the G20 summit.

Some think it is to keep bears out, as there are no berries yet and not enough cottagers around to satisfy the dump bears.

Some think it's just more silly spending on a security bill that is said to be in the billion-dollar range - only months after it was supposed to come in at less than $200-million.

Why the soaring costs, people want to know. Where's mine, others ask, as in the letter-to-the-editor this week that wants to know "just who is making money off the G8."

Some are. Just try to rent a car in the general area. And someone has to be getting paid for laying all that pavement and building that hideous fence.


Yet the G8 summit has certainly not gone the way it was once expected, with the full world leaders' gathering scheduled to be held here and Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, Dmitry Medvedev, Naoto Kan, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Silvio Berlusconi spending enough time here to get sunburned or bitten alive.

The dreams of renting out cottages on Peninsula Lake for $25,000 a week are long gone, though there is one house in town with a homemade sign out by the sidewalk saying "House for Rent G8" and hoping for $1,000 a night - which is all the G8 summit is now.

And this, interestingly, is just fine with everyone. The shorter, the better.

In fact, things are working out rather nicely for this little town of 18,000. For the first time in recorded history, the bugs are not worse than last year. So much for the "Blackfly Summit."

The town is revelling in $50-million worth of government largesse that is sure to guarantee Industry Minister Tony Clement an easy ride next election and has many in town laughing up their sleeves at what they're getting for what they trust will be a quick, safe (thanks to the fence) overnight stay.

Take the media centre, for example. They don't even call it that any more, given that the only media that will be around will be the pool reporters shuttled in from Toronto. The huge building is also an Olympic-size hockey rink - booked solid, they say, for the next year.

There's also an upgraded swimming pool, an indoor track, a new sports field, a gym, a centre for seniors and even a university (Waterloo's new research facility) - all for putting up with an overnight pit stop on the way to Toronto.

Well, that's not quite accurate. Some 1,700 people will require annoying passes to come and go for several days. Some, in fact, will not even be allowed to keep their own cars on their property but will be ferried about by police if they need to make a milk or beer run. The local health unit is advising everyone to stock up on groceries, as you never know…

But there is little fear to be found, despite the firebombing of that Ottawa bank that saw some radical group threaten to continue their campaign at the G8 and G20 meetings. And no one thinks the discovery of body parts the other day not far from Deerhurst - as well as two other isolated spots in Ontario - means anything other than weird.

No one seems particularly worried any more about protesters. A special "Free Speech Area" has been designated on the old Higgs farm, far, far away from Deerhurst and not within shouting distance of the town. If no one hears free speech, is it worth much?

The town is slowly becoming an armed encampment. There are bored soldiers in fatigues picking through the 2/$10 bin of bad movies in Wal-Mart. There are now two local gravel pits filled with trailers for police.

"In Vancouver, they put the police on cruise ships," says town Councillor Mike Greaves. "We're putting them in sand pits."

Greaves, a staunch supporter of the summit from the start, thinks the federal government has done "a crappy job" of explaining the high security costs, which were also high but not an issue in Vancouver.

He thinks, as do a great many others, that Huntsville lucked out on this deal: tens of millions spent on facilities intended for a much larger summit, the headaches now far more likely to befall Toronto and its massive gathering of world leaders and on-site media than on Huntsville and its scaled-back "Coffee Summit."

"The City of Toronto is pulling newspaper boxes off the streets, anything that can be thrown," says Greaves. "The town of Huntsville is planting flowers and putting out hanging baskets."

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