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The Globe and Mail

Ottawa defends $1.9-million taste of Muskoka at G20 media centre

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks at the Direct Energy Building in Toronto, which will house a replica of a lake for reporters at the G20 summit this month.

Sheryl Nadler/The Globe and Mail

Getting to Muskoka from Toronto takes about 2-1/2 hours, unless you have $1.9-million.

That's the price tag on an indoor pavilion planned for the media centre at the G20 summit in Toronto, where an indoor lake and dock, complete with Muskoka chair and the soothing sounds of calling loons, will be built to give visiting journalists a taste of Canadian cottage country.

"We're trying to make a memorable impression," said Michael Lawley of Muskoka Tourism. "Is it expensive? Well, that's the cost of doing business."

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Officials stress that the $1.9-million cost is split between the federal and provincial governments.

Dubbed the Canadian Corridor, the 20,000-square-foot exhibit will be built in the Direct Energy Centre at the Canadian National Exhibition before the G8 meeting in Huntsville on June 25 and 26, and the G20 in Toronto on June 26 and 27. By comparison, Bill Gates' new mansion comprises about the same amount of living space.

About 2,000 reporters from around the world are expected to arrive in Canada to cover the summits, but only a pool of about 200 will travel to the Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka.


The rest of the international press will be sequestered at the CNE, where a showroom will be divided into three sections: one that will recreate the Muskoka region and another, dubbed CityScape, which will showcase a replica of the Toronto Stock Exchange and other city landmarks. The third area is called "the Bridge," and will host local experts and visiting dignitaries who will address the media.

Toronto-based Lord Cultural Resources, which recently created the Ontario pavilion at the Vancouver Olympic Games, was awarded the contract to create the media centre.

Mr. Lawley said the Muskoka section is an "effort to recreate a dock experience," for the thousands of journalists who will attend the summit. A reflecting pool and dock will be positioned near a 10-metre screen showing a video loop of cottage fun.

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David Harris, who runs the website Huntsville Online, attended the unveiling of the pavilion design on Sunday and said he is disappointed with the plan.

"I'm sure it's quite lovely," he said. "But what the hell?"

Mr. Harris said it is "laughable" to think any journalists will see Muskoka. Even the ones who accompany the G8 leaders to the region will only see the inside of a single resort, he said.

"Why even pretend to showcase the region?" he said. "It's a gong show."

Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, defended the program on Twitter.

"Calm down. It is a reflecting pool!" he wrote on Sunday. "People: promoting tourism & Cdn business as a result of hosting Summits is a valid & legit aim & program."

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In Toronto, the Canadian Corridor will be open and staffed 24 hours a day, and journalists will also be given special edition BlackBerrys loaded with promotional material.

There will also be an artist-in-residence program and the entire event will be catered by Savour Muskoka, which will feed journalists recipes created from regional produce shipped down from the area.

The cost of hosting the two back-to-back summits has been estimated at close to $1-billion, with much of the money going towards security preparations. But the government is also shelling out for a variety of projects intended to impress dignitaries, media and locals.

The Canadian clothing icon Roots had created a few hundreds limited-edition leather bags for heads of state and their delegates. The bags will feature the G8 logo and a Muskoka logo inspired by the art of Group of Seven member Tom Thomson.

With files from The Canadian Press

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