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The Globe and Mail

Most Canadians see G8/G20 summits as important: poll

A police officer stands near security fence for the June 26-27 G20 Summit in Toronto June 14, 2010.

MIKE CASSESE/Mike Cassese/Reuters

A fake lake, faux Muskoka backdrops and a $1-billion price tag are troubling but not enough to turn off a majority of Canadians to the benefits of summitry, a new poll suggests.

Three-quarters of respondents to The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll said this week's G8 and G20 summits in Ontario are important and worth the expense of their country hosting.

Some 76 per cent said the back-to-back weekend summits in Muskoka and Toronto were either very or somewhat important versus 20 per cent that said they were opposed.

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Survey respondents favoured their country hosting the 72 hours of talks by a 68-26 margin.

The Harper government has been under fire in recent weeks for the bloated cost of the summits, the vast majority of which is for security.

Ottawa spent $57,000 on a fake lake, a political sore point of the $1.9-million Canadian Corridor.

The government says the Toronto exhibit, part of the international media centre, is designed to sell Canada to the estimated 3,000 visiting journalists who will come to cover the Ontario summits that open Friday with the G8 meeting in Huntsville.

Most poll respondents didn't expect a lot of progress to be made on the core issues of the two summits.

At the G20, where the global economy is the focus, 66 per cent said they expected "a little" progress would be made, while 21 per cent said they expected none at all.

At the G8, where the Harper government has made improving the maternal health of Third World women a priority, 63 per cent said they expected a little progress versus 22 per cent that said they expected none at all.

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"They are important meetings, more for symbolism than productivity," said pollster Doug Anderson.

But the picture becomes somewhat more murky in looking at the 70 per cent of respondents who had heard something of the cost of hosting the meetings.

Of those polled who heard something about the cost of hosting the summits, 61 per cent said they were "too expensive to be worth it," while 32 per cent said the pricetag is justified.

"When it comes to the budget being discussed for hosting these two meetings," Anderson said, "the majority feel that the cost may be too expensive to be worth it."

Anderson said it is too soon to say whether voters are ready to forgive the Harper government for such lavish spending to welcome the leaders of the G8 and G20.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman gave an impassioned defence of the need for world leaders to be brought to together under one roof for face to face talks.

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"No solution can be found with a cookie-cutter approach" when there are disagreements on global bank taxes or other hard choices about economic policy, said Dimitri Soudas.

"You actually need leaders sitting around the table, having these difficult discussions . . . leaders sitting around the table, face-to-face, and not Twitter, Skype or video conferencing will eventually produce more results."

The June 10-13 telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

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