G8 and G20 a billion dollar boondoggle

Canadians are aghast at revelations the government is splurging more than a billion dollars hosting the G8 and G20 summits for three days. While most goes on security and of course flowers, there's also cash for a fake lake

Forgive me, but I thought the world was in a bit of a squeeze when it came to financial largesse, and that the requisite austerity measures many countries are grappling with to stave off bankruptcy were the focus of global financial gurus.

Not so when it comes to that exclusive band of brothers known as the ‘Gs’…the mighty G8 and its forced company G20. They all arrive in Canada later this month for oh-so crucial meetings that will cost Canadians more than a billion dollars for almost three days. This is a masterful lesson in do what I say, now what I do.

For weeks, since the cost of the summits was forced out of the government, Canadians have been aghast at the thought of the slashing and burning to cope with the country’s record $50 billion plus deficit, only to find their fiscally prudent elected representatives seem not to bat an eyelid when it comes to the cost of fêting the ever so important Gs – no strings attached.

Added to that genuine horror is the latest revelation that while the G8ers will be in what Canada calls “cottage country” – Muskoka in Huntsville, Ontario, home to the fabled Muskoka chair – the G20s will be confined to Toronto.

Some would say a lucky reprieve to be in the city rather than fighting the black flies that seem to infest dear old cottage country just when it is warm enough to ditch the thermals. Yet the government is so concerned about those G20s being confined to boring old big city Toronto it has splashed out (literally) another $2m to provide a cottage country experience, complete with a fake lake, Muskoka chairs, a dock, audio of the nation’s iconic loon bird, and of course the peaceful sound of water lapping – as it does in a large and expensive swimming pool.

Bear in mind this is a country that has more lakes than almost any other in the world, and not only that, the fourth largest lake on the planet – the great Lake Ontario – will be 500m from its country fake.

Not surprisingly, the Harper administration has been scrambling this week to justify in Parliament the ‘thinking’ (for want of a better word), and the spending on this. After all, the fake lake with its associated necessities to make it a complete marketing project, will be drained after three days. I would hope any self-respecting TV journo would give the old fake backdrop a wide berth when it comes to the venue-anchoring stand-ups that are apparently the trigger behind its design.

It is to be hoped this billion dollar boondoggle courtesy of Canada will prompt a general rethink about the indulgences host nations are expected to ply their guests with, but alas that really is a pig flying by.

Quite simply such binges cannot be justified for a few hours of meetings. No wonder some of these ministers, leaders and bureaucrats develop a sense of self importance. Most of the expenditure will be on security measures including an enormous fence which will keep the ‘important’ people in and the locals, general riff-raff and of course protesters out. Or so goes the theory.

Many locals will require passes to come and go to their homes or cottages and have been warned it will be up to police discretion as to who is allowed through. On the bright side a couple I know are mighty pleased with the sudden upgrade in roads and communication services to their wilderness retreat.

In Toronto, those who have businesses in the areas likely to attract most protest attention have been told they are responsible for any damage during the summits. In other words the billion-plus that the government is splurging on its showcase summit will not include smashed shop windows of ordinary small-business Canadians.

Well, the shelling out has to stop somewhere now doesn’t it? As for those with businesses inside the ‘zone’, there will be no recompense for lost revenue. This is not a charity, you understand.

So as for the agenda… it will be heavily focused on Europe’s debt burden, and given the gravity of that it is likely many of the other prescient issues of our time – financial reform, climate change and pesky old poverty in developing nations, will be sidelined. Think what a billion dollars could do for some of those issues... but let’s not get sidetracked.

Canada is also pushing ahead with its agenda to focus on maternal health, but steadfastly refusing to include addressing the issue of abortion in developing countries that receive aid. Why stop at fake lakes when you can also have, for no additional financial cost, a fake reality for women and families who need access to all options when it comes to maternal health, not just the ones that are on show for a particular conservative constituency?

Come June 28 when the Gs wind up, what will Canada have to show for its lavish disbursement of taxpayer funds?

Probably very little – surprise, surprise.

It has already succeeded in convincing enough countries to reject an American-led initiative for a global bank tax with a rather persuasive argument that, put simply, was: Why should a country like Canada, whose banks did not fail, be forced to shell out into a global slush fund to compensate banks who go belly up in the future?. Difficult to argue with that.

Will a tumble in Toronto be the new battle in Seattle? Quite possibly, given protesters don’t have to leave the big city for cottage country as they were going to have to do before the G20 was tagged on to the end of the G8.

Is it global government? Of course it is, the irony being it is about to happen in a country dubbed the darling of the international financial world precisely because it did not go along with the lemming-like behaviour of global financial regulators.

That does not mean it has such a shiny halo it can be excused from going on such an impression spending spree. Harper and Co. need to realize that it is just plain wrong. His ministers may insist that their fake lake is really a reflecting pool (no kidding, they do), and while they are at it could take a little time to reflect on the folly of such a gross overspend as a backdrop to lectures on austerity. Fat chance.