Friday, June 25, 2010

G20 in Toronto

I generally side with those who say this summit is too expensive, more or less a waste of money since there was a G20 not long ago, and another is scheduled soon, and the fortress downtown is a real drag, and does economic harm, for the city.

Hence Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe:

The whole G20 operates without a secretariat, whereas one could be useful in bringing some pre-summit order. Countries cannot constrain themselves, so the host country loses control of overall numbers and costs. Security trumps common sense. Tourism officials let boosterism cloud judgment. The leader of the host country sees domestic political glory.

And so we get a Toronto-style extravaganza, a downer never to be repeated.

Of course, there are alternate views.

But long after the fake lake has been drained and the $1-billion in summit expenses has been paid, business leaders say Canada will benefit from the weekend of disruption. As an example, about 250 of China’s top business leaders joined President Hu Jintao for a state visit Thursday in Ottawa.

When I read David Olive's piece in the Star, I thought he must be sucking up to Harper--bucking for a plum posting, maybe even Governor General.

The entire point of the G20 is finally to have rich and developing-world nations at the same table. Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in the world: almost half our people are foreign-born and they speak more than 100 languages and dialects.

Heads of state will have no difficulty finding the appropriate ethnic-themed sports bar to cheer their teams, no matter who’s still standing in the World Cup contest this weekend.

No question, the city will be disrupted by this jamboree of world leaders and the demonstrators making their case for greater resolve in fighting everything from global poverty to global warming.

But for the likes Donald Coxe, the market sage who made his career in Toronto and later Chicago, this is a time of celebration. “Canada looks so good in comparison,” writes Coxe, strategy adviser at BMO Capital Markets, whose latest Basic Points report forecasts growing strength for the loonie due to debt woes in the U.S. and Europe.

“Toronto’s exemplary qualities will be on display at the G20 meeting. What great timing for Canada to get the world to look at it in detail. The $1 billion cost that so many Canadians are grumbling about is trivial in terms of what is going to happen to the valuations of Canadian financial assets as a result of this show. It’s worth so much more than winning a hockey title.”

How many restaurants will delegates eat at if they have to leave the compound to find some variety? If talking about banking is good, and Canada's financial system is now a good model, why does the conversation have to happen in downtown Toronto? I keep thinking location should make little difference in a digital world.

My suspicion has been that Harper hopes to push up his polling numbers with this event. He supposedly stands for fiscal restraint--he rode to office, as Tories often do, on the suspicion that the Liberals have been wasteful with taxpayer dollars. On the other hand, he is probably a slave to anyone who briefs him on security or law and order. There are lots of things to be afraid of, just as Colonel Flagg always said on the TV show MASH.

1. Maybe the threats are all or mostly all real--it would be foolish not to take precautions, exactly as the security people say.
2. Siding with the cops is good politics for Tories.
3. If you don't side with the cops, there is occasionally a threat that they will go direct to voters, over your head: "the bastards aren't doing enough to protect us."

Massive spending on a summit is good Keynesian stimulus spending? Overtime for cops?

Simpson again: In preparing for this summit, hoping to manage the message and the politics, Harper stupidly stirred up the abortion issue; even if doing so modestly was part of his plan, it seems to have gone too far; he has led on the bank tax issue; but otherwise he has very little to show to the very few people who even follow the summits, and can't really keep his promises from last time.

There is something small in Harper, including his anger over small matters, that seems to limit his judgment. As long as the Liberals are at 25% in the polls, he can probably keep going with only 35%. But he is not loved.

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