The G20 summit: A billion-dollar waste of time

Why are we hosting a useless, money-sucking international photo op?

Adrien Veczan / CP

For a meeting that is supposed to make the world safer and more secure, the combined G8/G20 summit in Huntsville, Ont., and Toronto seems to entail an enormous amount of destruction and dislocation.

Ontario’s Muskoka cottage country has been turned into a walled security zone. The most valuable few acres of real estate in the country—downtown Toronto—will be isolated and protected for the benefit of 20,000 international dignitaries, delegates and journalists. And keep in mind the $1.2-billion price tag only represents taxpayers’ costs to host the summits.

The economic inconvenience to citizens and businesses will be many times greater. The University of Toronto’s St. George campus will be shut down for the duration. The CN Tower will be shuttered. Theatres will be cancelled due to lack of access to the downtown core. Banks and financial firms will move their trading floors to off-site locations. Some firms have told their workers to stay home. It’s like a hurricane is about to hit downtown Toronto, except the weather is nicer.

All this outrageous cost and bother might be defensible if there was evidence summits on this scale are absolutely necessary. If the fate of the world depended on bringing the leaders of 20 of the most important countries together for a weekend, then we’d be prepared to do our part. Unfortunately, there’s precious little evidence that this is the case. Consider how we got to this level of G-meeting madness.

The phenomenon began modestly in 1973 when George Schultz, the U.S. secretary of the treasury, invited the finance ministers of France, Britain and Germany to dinner to discuss international monetary conditions. It went so well that the next year Japan was invited to attend. The G5 was born. When France hosted the get-together in 1975, Italy was invited. Ergo the G6.

U.S. president Gerald Ford brought Canada to the table in 1976 to forestall European domination of the little club. And when Japan hosted the event the next year, it was decided seven was enough. For the next several decades, G7 meetings served to acquaint the leaders of the free world with each other, and to create a forum for solving their joint problems.

Concerted action—such as 1979 action on oil prices, 1985’s Plaza Accord to reduce the value of the U.S. dollar and a joint statement on Kosovo in 1999—was relatively easy when the group was small and all members shared a common belief in open markets and democracy. These get-togethers were also rather inexpensive. When Canada hosted the 1981 G7 at Château Montebello, the total cost ran $5.5 million.
After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Russia was invited along and the G7 became the G8. Then former prime minister Paul Martin made it his goal to turn summitry more inclusive, the result being the G20. The Toronto meeting will be the fourth formal assembly of the G20, which now replaces the G8 as the main international body for economic co-operation.

The new group includes China, the world’s second largest economy, as well as representatives from all major regions and perspectives: including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Africa, India and Brazil.
And yet to call it the G20 is actually an underestimate. Spain is not a member but will attend the Toronto summit, along with Malawi, the Netherlands, Ethiopia and Vietnam. The European Union is a permanent member. The heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank will be there as well. In the interests of inclusivity, the invite list keeps getting bigger and bigger.

This expanding scale of the G20 clearly presents its greatest obstacle to success. Besides the enormous cost of providing security and lodging for everyone involved, the opportunity for consensus is greatly reduced. While the G20 has had some early successes, these seem largely due to its novelty. Over time, the G20 looks set to turn into an itinerant version of the sclerotic United Nations. And who wants that?

A communiqué on financial issues from the G20 released last week, ahead of the Toronto meeting, revealed many divergent opinions on key issues. Most new members of the G20 do not share Europe’s fears of exploding debts and deficits, for instance. A similar split was apparent with a proposal for an international banking tax, which Canada opposed.

Most of the heavy lifting for international diplomacy and finance does not actually occur at leaders’ meetings anyway. The G20 communiqué came from Busan, South Korea, where the various finance ministers and central bankers had been meeting. But if most decisions can be made by underlings assembled in relative quiet, why even bother with a formal leaders’ summit? In other words, why spend a billion dollars on a prime ministerial photo op when the finance ministers can get the job done for a fraction of the cost?

Finally, small ad hoc efforts often seem to provide the most effective solutions when it comes to crises. Last year, Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne reported on the unprecedented international effort to curtail the global banking crisis (“Inside the meeting that saved the world,” Oct. 19, 2009). But it wasn’t the G20 that saved the world. It was the finance ministers of the original G7 countries, a group that technically doesn’t even exist anymore. The G20 has been a complete bust at preventing financial contagion.

Certainly the new economic powers of the world, including China, Brazil and India, deserve a say in global issues. With much of Europe and the United States in grave financial difficulty, these countries have become crucial to international stability and growth. The balance of world power is clearly changing and this needs to be acknowledged.

And yet the practicality of summitry is also changing. Meetings that began as informal get-togethers between like-minded friends have become unwieldy, expensive monstrosities. There’s no need to create a travelling mini-UN circus when less formal meetings can be much more effective. In the interests of sanity, we should make Toronto’s G20 summit the last of its kind.




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The G20 summit: A billion-dollar waste of time

  1. Its the cost of belonging, of doing business.

    • The cost, it would appear, is rapidly approaching that point where it exceeds the benefits.

      • Yup.

    • So we couldn't have hosted the meeting at Lake Meech or CFB Petawawa? Rather than bringing these high-risk individuals into productive areas of the country, why not isolate them where we already have protection?

      It's not the cost of belonging, it's the cost of a good photo op. Since when has the best interests of the nation stopped the government from making self-serving purposes?

    • The cost/benefit analysis is only good for those in the security industry; or rather, those with close ties to the current government. For most other businesses, the costs likely outweigh the benefits.

      I am hoping the costs to the current government will outweigh the benefits they wish for with this PR boondoggle.

      • I wonder if we'll ever see the the recipients of all those untendered contracts? With the venue change, it meant you couldn't plan ahead and have an honest tendering process. Sounds like they are shovelling money out the door.

        The amounts in this slush fund dwarf sponsorship many times over.

    • It is the cost of doing business, or to be more accurate, it's the cost of doing BS!

  2. The G20 is an extravagent & irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars. The average Canadian working in the private sector will retire in poverty. However the average government employee will retire with a multi million dollar pension. It is no wonder governments think money grows on trees.

    • Really, poverty? So I guess that means the rest of the world is really screwed, as Canada has the lowest elderly poverty rates in the G7.

      Really, multi-million dollars? Then it makes all of us working in the private sector morons, because we are selling ourselves that short if for similiar effort they are making/saving so much. And here I thought I was working for more money then I'd make doing the same job in the public sector with better benefits and RRSP contributions. Or has your company axed matching contributions to your future for some short-term profitability?

      • My company has mortgaged my home, axed all my benefits, and even my salary on occasion to create jobs. I am the CEO and Owner of a Canadian Manufacturing company founded in 1975. I wonder if the government employees responsible for the G20 would be willing to open up a line of credit with their banks and use their homes as collateral to ensure its economic success. Its time the government stops wasting our hard earned savings and gets serious about creating a future for Canadians. A video conference would have cost them next to nothing and that is the fundamental difference between the way government and business operate.

      • Are the elderly? Majority of elder do live in poverty you fool!

  3. London's G20 (a larger metropolis than Toronto) cost $33 Million. Pittsburgh cost $18 million.

    Stephen Harper and his fiscally irresponsible cronies spend $1.3 BILLION; and it is still climbing

    Even Conservatives are ashamed, as well they should be.

    • how was the security??

      People in this country would flip if anything went wrong. Spend money, you're dead, don't spend money, same result.

      It's rediculos. Just be happy we're in the G20.

      • What kind of sniveling, nation-loathing comment is that?

        Certainly, if anything should happen, we will be devastated. Which is why it would have made sense to hold the meetings in places where we already have a secure location–such as Meech Lake or the place in Quebec City (damn, the name is on the tip of my tongue but won't come out!)

        But if we're only tolerated to be in the G20 in order to foot the bill and entertain to vast excess–why do we want to be in the G20 again? Have some pride, man!

  4. Except that they are even removing trees because they are "security risks!" I think it's horrendous that the federal government is spending over one billion dollars for three days of meetings. That money would be much better spent on all the things they are (or should be) talking about – addressing climate change, reducing poverty, improving access to water for everyone. We have the UN already established – it's there, it's got security and it's more representative, why not have summits there?
    One billion dollars is massive waste of money for three days of meetings. I say scrap the summits!

    • I don't mind the summits, but let's not hold them in populated areas. For $1.3 billion dollars, we could have built a runway and Convention Centre in Grand Bank, NL.

      The one positive side effect is parts of downtown Toronto are getting a good scrubbing. Can't look shabby for the photos.

    • I totally agree. These stupid summits are a monumental waste that bring minimal results. How typical of irresponsible politicians.

  5. capitalism and neo-liberalism is failing more and more — people should know that this is NO democracy when billion dollars of taxpayers money can be wastefully and undemocratically spent.
    all this security is only to militarily arm these failing ecnomic and political ideologies and private corps. (IMF,World Bank, Federal reserve) by whatever means necessary.
    we, the people, have the so-called right to demonstrate against hypocrisy and injustice but when we do…. we are BARRED out and violently dettered.

  6. I'd be all for shrinking the thing in size and formality, but in principle any occasion to engage in dialogue with other nations should be embraced if possible. Maintaining contact is one way to avoid needless confrontation, or to get early warning if confrontation is unavoidable.

    • Isn't that why we maintain embassies?

      • Yes, but heads of state generally aren't present at embassies, and the contact tends to be routine and low-level so far as I know.

    • I am reliably informed that videoconferencing infrastructure is in place around the developed (and even much of the developing) world.

      • I am one of those who will insist that there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. I think most in the corporate world would agree with me on this.

          • Sounds good to me. Actually that's kind of what I had in mind by "shrinking the thing in size" (no, not that thing…yes, I know it's cold in Iqaluit) "…and formality".

  7. It is the tendency of our Prime Minister toward dictatorship, megalomania and self-agrandisement,unfettered by the political opposition,who don't give a damn about the tax payer either,that allows this frivolous, almost criminal waste of OUR money.The summit could have taken place on a hired cruise ship at about 0.1% of the cost. Recognition-begging,irresponsibility,I-don't-give-a- damn attitude: take a pick,-the result is always Harper.And the Opposition sleeps,dreaming of forming a government,but not doing a thing about it.
    While Rom burnt, Nero sang.

    • gee, a boat's full of the 20 most influential people on the planet could never be attacked!!!!

      Solid plan!

    • You are 100% correct….

  8. Macleans is truly Canadian – comfortable, provincial and smug. One could have said, "What a ridiculous editorial".

  9. Personally I have voted for all the political parties at one time or another. But this one has to go. In our hard economic times and the state of our health care, or the or the spiralling cost of seniors pensions, with no thought of how to fund it. Harper and his cronies aren't high on pot they are high on suck up spending.

    • you realize canada's economies is one of the best on the planet right??

      P.S harper being an economist is probably a good choice right now (thanks for coming out)

      • Thanks to who? There are some things that PM Harper has done right, but give credit where credit is due.

        P.S. It is difficult to call PM Harper an economist, sure he has a masters degree in economics, but he has never held a position or title of an economist. It is the same thing with engineering, you may have an iron ring, but that doesnt make you an engineer.

    • Mr. Harper is well versed at making undeliverable promises so much for his commitment to balance the budget by 2016. I guess spending 1.3 billion for a 3 day event is what he meant by long term disciplinary spending in a time of recession and modest spending growth. Oh not to mention no increase in taxes but lets just harmonize the GST and PST.

  10. Hear, hear!
    Couldn't have said it better myself.

  11. This Summit could have been held at the WOODBINE RACE TRACK in Mississauga. lots of space for the armies of security to surround the grandstand and restaurantr facility..which is in excellent condition and huge…..Fairly isolated from the hustle and bustle of any city, near the Airport with LOTS OF HOTELS AND FABULOUS RESTAURANTS…JUST THINK..the area is perfect for the summit…just closed down everything there for three days and get it over with. Wouldn't be much loss of revenue to workers as most are employed in the travel uindustry anyway! Guess Haper and cronies just wanted to stick it to Toronto. Toronto should be smart and close down the TTC and hold the Harper Govt. hostage until they forked over the funds requried to give TO better subway cars, buses and funds to build subways 20 years behind the times…then open the service for the incoming entourages which will probably si inside thier compounds or use limos…worth a try!

    • Woodbine is no where near Mississauga ….. check a map

  12. Isn't there an old military base next door to the Iqaluit airport? Big enough runway, remote, the yahoos would be discouraged from schlepping up with their Molotov cocktails, a few million spent on security, an economic boost to a remote community with minimal disruption in daily life. I guess that's why I am not in government…

  13. But how else will elected leaders from around the world get a chance to get together, slap each other on the back (or in the case of 'W' give Angela Merkel a shoulder rub) and reassure each other that they are all doing a great job?

    Hopefully, Mr. Harper isn't in the bathroom again when the photo op takes place.

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

    • $10 says they do their job better than you. (if you have one)

      • Just out of curiosity, would you be proud of your government if they'd spent 20 billion? 2 trillion? 200 trillion? Is any amount a point at which you'd say "whoa there, don't you think you're going a bit overboard?" If so, I'd love you to tell us what that point is for you.

    • Never challenge "worse". This is a waste of money and time. But if there's a way for our man Stephen to waste more of either, I have every confidence that he'll find it. Surely, at this summit they'll discuss climate change, about which Mr. Harper has refused to do anything (20% reduction in 30 years? Idiot.) He'll take credit for the Canadian banks and economy that didn't suffer as badly through the recession, which was due to things that Paul Martin had done and put in place. And I have no doubt that there will be some mention of our Canadian talent in the arts (after canceling millions of dollars worth of Canada Council grants for recording). Part of me hopes that all of these attempts by Mr. Harper to pat himself on the back, blow up in his face. Unfortunately, if he looks stupid to the rest of the world, what does that say about us a country that we kept this fool in office for this long?

  14. Although the idea behind the G20 is a good one, what actually happens or comes out of it is quite different. It is, in essence, a major photo op and nothing more. Discussions between governments rarely lead anywhere (just listen to the double talk given in response to ANY question after the event is over). If something concrete were to come of this I think the world would come to a rather abrupt stop.

  15. two words: video conferencing

  16. They can't have their wine and women, to put it mildly at a video conference. What a fucking waste of our money.Governments are corrupt organized mofia.

  17. huh, it's weird that protestors complain about the cost. THis would be awfully cheap if they didn't have to trash every single summit.

    • Wrong! Most of the money is spent before the protesters show up. That's why the protesters are there! Their money has been wasted by frivolous do-nothing politicians and there pissed.

    • What's even weirder is that it isn't just the protesters that are complaining. Unless, of course, you think all those annoyed people in Alberta will be flying down to protest the summit?

  18. Perhaps one way to avoid all this cost to taxpayers would be to have the summit(s) heldin Ottawa at the government buildings – what's the reason they have to meet 'offsite' at a location that involves so many dollars to provide security, temporary housing for law enforcement, hotels for dignataries – geez – wouldn't that be the solution to all this 'cuffuffle' in holding these sessions offsite??? Video conferencing is another option. My goodness gentlemen…what a good idea to meet in Ottawa and use the security that's already there!! There's not a lot of positive comments coming up here!!

  19. Why are we having it? Because we are obliged to. It's our turn. It's very medieval. The Monarch used to keep his barons on the hop by bankrupting them with visits. This is no different.

    • Why we are having it isn't the problem. Why are we having it there? That's the question.

  20. Do they know about Netmeeting???????

  21. The fundamental problem with all these summits is that they are undemocratic and lack in transparency. If we had true democracy, the participative kind, where more actor groups were represented at the table, it wouldn't be necessary to have such extreme measures taken. Issues like climate change, child mortality, and access to clean water are too important to sit back and accept as "side shows" Mr. Harper. The pressure needs to be kept up until governments address these issues in a serious and comprehensive manner. I hope it is apparent after billion dollar expenses like this that Mr. Harper isn't fiscally conservative, but rather has select financial priorities. These expenses usually surround his militant complex and are typical of neo-conservatism.

  22. Why Toronto? Plainly because Harper hates Toronto and this is another one of his way to punish us for our lack of support. Did anyone notice the megabucks that are poured into Tony Clement's riding – improvements, buildings and additions that will benefit the people of the area for years to come. What does Toronto get for all the money spent here? Nothing good — only disruption of workers and transit, destruction, downtown businesses losing money, home owners fearing their safety, lost of income and the list goes on. Come election time lets all show Harper just how much we appreciated this.

  23. The G20 should have been held at a military base where security is already in place, the cost may have been a few million but not billions. Perhaps the politicians should have a reduction in their benifits to offset the cost of the G20. I wonder just how many politians would run their own business in the same way as they squander the publics money.

  24. This is a waste of time nothing is accomplished at these shindigs… Well that's what they are. All these so called "dignitaries" are living it up in luxury when you are probably working well only if you live up town as the downtown workers and small businesses are getting screwed due to the closures. In this day an age I don't understand why these meetings aren't done through tele/peer-peer video conferencing??? It's funny how many people don't care about this. This affects everyone.

  25. Isn't it ironic that the people that are protesting the high cost of the summit are the reason why the cost is high. It is the security that is driving the cost up so much. Security that for the most part would not be needed if not for the protestors.

    • Right on CanGal!! the only opinions allowed to be expressed at these pricey exclusive confabs are those of the ruling elites. How dare individual citiz….sorry… peasants express their thoughts on the implementation of economic policies that have only served to decrease their share of the financial pie. The average working person has seen their relative income fall considerably since these summits started to be held in the 1970s but if you have a problem with that some brainless thug with a club and sheild will beat you into submission for kicks and a pay bonus, one world one vision, lovely isn't it?

    • Those damned, dangerous protestors, always on a murderous rampage…

  26. the canadian GOVERMENTJust loves to waist TAX PAYERS MONEY and always will and g20 is just another way of saying to tax payers WE DONT CARE !!! this is to impress other goverments thats all it is , the G20 is meant for talks NOT walks there NOT here for a vacation , this is just showing the tax payer , watch how we WAIST YOUR MONEY !!!

    • You said it that is exactly what is happening the Government could careless how irresponsible they are with the taxpayers dollars. When they run out of the funds from their extravagant spending they just tax us some more. It does not end! I hate the Government and its corrupt Politicians with a passion.

  27. It is a very prestigious event, yes. It will also make Toronto one of the most watched places in the world for couple of days. But too much money is spent on that, that is true. As you rightly point out, what do such summits even solve? What was, for instance, the Copenhagen climate summit good for? Well, not much. We spend way too much money on nothing.

  28. I am totally outraged as a Canadian citizen and taxpayer!! The 1.3 billion and counting could have been utilized in a much better manner where is Harper's priorities here??
    * health care ..more doctors in smaller communities
    more nurses
    * senior citizens need help they are hardly making ends meets
    * education

    I truly do not get it!!!!!!

  29. Seems that we all against the high cost of the G20 but is anybody listening? Toronto residents already overburden with various extra costs: David Miller's land transfer tax, garbage collection cost , vehicle registration cost to say the least. Why should Toronto take more on to host this summit at a billion dollar price tag? We have enough already.

  30. A billion dollars to protect world leaders from the people they supposedly lead. Democracy is failing.

  31. I absolutely agree with the last statement-”we should make Toronto’s G20 summit the last of it’s kind”,
    IT’S GETTING OUT OF CONTROL !
    and it’s us taxpayers that have to pay the damn bill ! !

  32. I absolutely agree with the last statement-”we should make Toronto’s G20 summit the last of it’s kind”,
    IT’S GETTING OUT OF CONTROL !
    and it’s us taxpayers that have to pay the damn bill !

  33. Why Canada has to spend that much of money for the G20 SUMMIT. Is it going to be worth or just a big waste.
    Pretty sure Canada want to be unique and break the record.

    • Even that much money been spent let hope no bad happen.
      Next thing the election will be coming and whoof the prices will go up…….TAX PAYER

  34. Being a diplomatic partner, Canada must share responsibility in the G8/G20 summit. Without global talks, there would be no resolution to issues of global significance. It is imperative that Canada continue to be a global partner and bring issues of a free country to the forefront. Otherwise, there would be no voice from a democratic country such as Canada.

    Those who are protesting this summit have lost what they are all about and have turned it into a discusting display of no value. A true Canadian perspective on this summit would see no violence. Those who disagree should perhaps come forward for the media and all Canadians to see. Those who do not, are considered as anarchists and are viewed by society as being nothing but radicals of no value.

    Peace

    • >" It is imperative that Canada continue to be a global partner and bring issues of a free country to the forefront. Otherwise, there would be no voice from a democratic country such as Canada. "<

      What Country are you living in? Canada has become far from a democratic Country. It is slowly becoming a dictatorship Country. Further more Canada should be taking care of its poor before they spend TWO BILLION on G20 summit and to add insult and injury to the poor and homeless paying TWO MILLION for a man made lake is disgusting and unconscionable.

  35. Why hold the G20 in the centre of the most busy city in Canada? STUPID! Hold it in a Prison, half of them belong there anyway… you know that is the truth. The idea to turn Toronto into a concentration camp for three days for a meeting is the stupidious & Stupiderrr thing I have every heard hahahaaa.

    It's horrendous that our federal government has spent over one billion dollars for three days of meetings. We have Marshal Law in full effect in our finical centre of Canada. Harper and Miller will be fired over this. Canada is not a Banana Republic, political heads will roll. What are we heading towards…a New World Order? #@!& Harper and Miller, and %#@^%^ the G20! Nice PR job G20, turning Toronto into a Concentration camp.

  36. I find this ridiculous expenditure (likely well in excess of 2 billion dollars if we were to see all the actual costs) extremely unpalatable especially considering it is taking place mere days before a tax hike that will see the cost of doing my job increase by about 6 percent. Obviously the actions of some idiots under the guise of being protesters is deplorable but I have to ask why we the taxpayers are required to foot the bill for giving them the opportunity to engage in their activities. There are thousands of businesses that have offices in multiple cities and are able to conduct their business without all getting together in one location. They have meetings via conference calls and video conferencing. I see no reason why these world leaders could not hold their meetings in a similar fashion. This would not only deprive the "anarchists" of a target but also allow the money spent to actually be used for the Canadians who paid it.

  37. What about Skype! They know skype right? Or maybe not….

  38. Canadians need to pull their heads out of the sand and have a look around as to what is really going on. The majority of our Politicians are totally corrupt and waste your tax payers dollars like useless paper thrown into the trash. For example the man created lake for the G20 summit. Then they have the balls to tax you some more to pay for their useless spent thrift ways. Where does this absolute lunacy stop. We quickly being coming drones to work paying a majority of our earnings in taxes to cover Governments waste and total disregard for our hard earned tax dollars. Anyone notice that our freedom of speech is also gradually been taken away? Why are people kept away by Police when they wish to question these same Politicians on their agendas? The Politicians are not being held account for zip and there is something seriously wrong with this picture. Appears we have no say in this lovey country Canada the Politicians rule it and us and it appears to be getting totally out of hand. I am throughly disgusted!

  39. Aren't all you Canadian tax payers sick and tired of the all Government waste and no accountability to anyone? The Government continuously blows your hard earned dollars and then digs into your pockets for more and more taxes. When and where is this insanity going to stop? Isn't it about time that the tax paying public took the Government to task and hold them responsible for their totally irresponsible, non-nonsensical spending habits? The Government have you were they want you…… just a bunch of stupid tax paying sheep and I personally hate it with a passion. Could it be time for a revolution???? 2 MILLION DOLLARS SPENT FOR A MAN MADE LAKE Give me break!!!!!!!!

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