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25 Jun, 2010 20:02

Summits hit Canada

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has arrived in Canada. There, in the small town of Muskoka, world leaders have gathered to take part in the G8 summit, and then the subsequent G20 summit in Toronto.

Financial worries are expected to take center stage during the summits.

World leaders have gathered there to map out ways to tackle the aftermath of the global economic downturn.

Terrorism and nuclear proliferation are also on the table.

The second largest country in the world after Russia is famous for a lot of things: Maple syrup, hockey and Celine Dion are just a few stereotypical points. But one of the things Canada takes pride in are its lakes.

The pond, already dubbed by some as "Lake Fake,” was built specifically for the journalists covering the G8 and G20 summits taking place in Toronto. Not many will have the chance to visit Muskoka, where the G8 leaders meet. And as the proverb goes, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain – or in this case, the lake and the views – have come to the press.

Traditional Muskoka chairs, beautiful scenery on a screen, and electric logs you can plug your laptop into make up the scene.

But how much does this little paradise cost?

“It’s a very expensive puddle. I was a journalist at G8 summits, I know it’s not exactly fun to listen to press conferences for a week,” Toronto councilor Adam Vaughan admitted. “But this lake, it will just underline the cynicism of those opposing the summits. It’s a shallow gesture.”

Vaughan hit on a sensitive nerve in Toronto – taxpayers are not at all happy to be footing the bill, with costs for security alone standing at $1 billion. Ironic, for a summit that wants to focus on battling the global economic crisis.

“Paying this much money for putting up fences and other irrelevant things, it makes it all look like a charade,” Vaughan stated.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has already compiled the list of things the money could have been spent on. For example, the calculated sum is enough to feed the whole country with maple syrup for a year, or provide every student in Canada with an iPad.

Bill Graham, Canada’s former foreign minister, says that despite the financial costs, the summits are important for the country.

“I think our citizens understand that Canada is a country that has responsibilities. It’s a big issue for us to host the G8 and the G20,” he noted.

“None of us is coming here for hospitality, believe me,” Graham told RT. “It’s not about that. This is a great opportunity to say, ‘What are your core issues?’, to have time to sit down and talk about them. The summit also gives them opportunities to talk about a lot of issues on the sides. People say, ‘Why can’t you just have a conference call?’ You can’t build confidence like this. You build trust with one another when you have these conversations.”

Many believe that such huge expenses take the focus away from the work on the G8 and G20 agendas. The G20, in particular, will direct its attention to pressing issues like international terrorism, financial security and nuclear non-proliferation.

The input of not 8, but 20 member states is thought by many to address global concerns better.

Alan Alexandroff, co-director of the G20 research group, told RT that “the G20 has a lot more influence and can achieve a lot more good, because it’s a lot more diverse and can collaborate better.”

Ella Kokotsis, from G8 Research Group, University of Toronto, would not agree. First, the G8 and the G20 intend to deal with different problems.

“What we have seen this year is that it is going to be a divide along two very different tracks. So the G8 is going to be focusing very specifically on the developing agenda of Africa, on the political security side of the agenda, with the G20 being focused on the economic side of the agenda,” says Ella Kokotsis.

Another argument Ms. Kokotsis draws on is the G8 accountability report.

“It is really an indication that the G8 is taking into account the fact that following up on its commitments is serious business and they want to continue doing that. So I think it is a testimony to the fact that the G8 does have strong power and it will be in business for at least the next few years.”

However, the massive aid pledges made at previous G8 summits has drawn widespread criticism. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the group has only fulfilled approximately 60% of the commitments they have made. In addition, even when the G8 does stick to its promises, there is skepticism about how efficient the aid is.

Professor Michel Chossudovsky from the University of Ottawa calls the financial aid by the G8 “fictitious money”, because all that happens is that the money ends up paying the debt the poor countries owe to the very same developed partners.

“The G8 want to make a commitment to reducing poverty. They make this commitment in the form of aid. What they don’t state, of course, is the fact that these countries are so heavily indebted. So the extent of the money they get in terms of aid is balanced out through debt services,” believes Professor Chossudovsky.