ITQ goes to the G20: Stephen Harper's summit post-mortem

Liveblogging the PM's press conference in London

Stephen Harper4:47:08 PM
Agh! This convention centre is officially *too big*, y’all — I’m currently hurtling down the middle of it, hoping against hope that I don’t show up too late to get a spot for the PM’s post-G20 show. It could be standing room only, you guys.

4:50:19 PM
Ahhh, made it – and a front row seat, even. Just in time for the soundcheck. Whee! Which the staff does in English and French, noting “We’re bilingual”.

It’s a wee tiny briefing room, as limited in seating as the notice implied. It’s also surprisingly empty at the moment – well, not completely, there are a dozen or so reporters, plus camera crews. That may also be due to the fact that the European Union is holding a competing briefing – wait, we’re all friends; a *synchronized* briefing, then – in the big room next door. I’m sure there will be a robust turnout from Team Canada, although if they’re operating on the assumption that the PM will be late — which, in fairness, he normally almost certainly would be — that may prove to be a fatal error.

Oh, there’s the cavalry — or is it the calvary? I always get those confused: Bob Fife, Keith Boag, Brian Laghi. Now it’s a party. Or at least a briefing. I have a sudden urge to sing O Canada, which I will make every effort to restrain.

5:00:27 PM
And here’s Dimitri! He is busily taking names — I wonder if the four question rule is still intact.

5:02:28 PM

Okay, according to BerryTime, he’s now officially late. This is not helping your version of the events surrounding the Incident earlier today.

5:04:25 PM
And we have a one minute warning, ladies and gentleman.

5:05:03 PM
Here he is! Wow, I’m in the front row which means he’s much, much closer than usual. That’s kind of – discombobulating — not him, personally, but the proximity in general. Happily, he’s doing his usual French first then the whole thing in English thing as far as the opening statement, which is giving me time to acclimatize.

5:07:04 PM
And now, the part of his statement I can liveblog without risking egregious translation-induced error. He gives a much shorter recap of the meeting, and the pledges, focusing on the IMF announcement, and notes that “this really is unprecedented, coordinated, fast action” by the international community, and he believes markets should take comfort from the actions. The will is strong, markets.

5:09:16 PM
First question – Reuters – if the figures are as grisly and horrifying as the latest reports show, how can he be even the teeniest bit positive? The PM notes that he’s not in the prediction business — which is lucky, as it turns out, because – oh, there, I broke my rule not to be awful. Anyway, Canada is in better shape than much of the rest of the world – he even acknowledges that he’s said this many times, but there’s no danger in repeating the fact that our banks are made of pure awesome.

5:11:12 PM
More happytalk on Canada’s “economic assets” — well, relatively happy, or at the very least not as dire and horrifying as it *could* be. As long as we don’t lose these strengths, we should be well positioned when this unpleasantness draws to a close, and everyone around the table today agreed. Hurray!

5:12:45 PM
And on to the French question, which I’ll try my best not to hideously mangle: it seems to be about the best approach for responding to the recession, and the PM reminds her that stability is key, and then goes into a fairly lengthy defence of his – and the world’s – actions to date. I’m betting he’s also reminding us that our banks are strong, but that’s just more playing the odds.

5:15:30 PM
Keith Boag gets the third question, and notes that Brown began his remarks by saying that “the old Washington consensus” is over; what, he wonders, does the PM think he meant? Harper, interestingly, says that he thinks Brown was referring to the historic position of Washington in the post-Cold War environment, and not the Washington G20 meeting. He’s also not sure if he agrees, since he’s always believed in the importance of trade and all that good stuff, as have many other countries. “We’re back to where Canada has been all along,” he says, trying – but failing – not to sound overly smug.

5:18:56 PM
The final – at least, I think it’s final – question, which is in French, of course, also seems to be a broad based “oh, that economy” sort of musing, which produces a similarly expansive, but not terribly specific reply from the PM. He actually looks surprisingly calm considering the rage that has likely consumed him since that unfortunate incident this morning – which you’ll notice none of us asked about, probably because we didn’t want him to call the whole thing off.

5:21:00 PM
And – hey, another question! RIP, four question rule. Bob Fife is up, and — oh, he did. He asked about the photo op, but as an add-on to his main question, which was on the failure to get a commitment from other countries, like Germany, to boost their respective stimulus efforts. Harper denies that this was his position – “I have to be frank” – and praises the efforts by Europe so far. He also touts the strengthening of international financial institutions, as announced today.

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever liveblogged a press conference with this PM. How is that possible?

5:23:36 PM
And finally – he was “detained in consultations with officials”, which led him to miss “the photo op”; he notes that he’s been around long enough to know that there will always be another photo op

5:25:25 PM
Another question – yes, *another* one, and from a Canadian reporter, even, not the foreign press. It isn’t a terribly interesting question – that wasn’t a slam, it’s just hard to ask a new question given how narrow the subject is – and it once again gives the PM an opportunity to boast about *his* – or rather Canada’s plan – including reducing tariffs, bringing in more trade agreements, that sort of thing. We’re setting a good example, he notes – and in terms of Canada’s achievement here, today, it is our contribution to the working group on regulatory reform, and – wow, he then gives a shoutout to the bureaucrats involved in putting that report together. Who is this smiling man who doesn’t loathe the bureaucracy, and what did he do with our PM?

5:28:35 PM
Another question about recovery – CBC Radio again – and Harper reminds us that back in the fall, we had an economy in freefall – the worst, he says, is behind us, and as these measures kick in, things will get better. But that wasn’t a prediction – he doesn’t make predictions. When will you people stop making him make predictions? Damnit, Jim, he’s an economist, not a Magic Eight Ball!

5:30:30 PM
Why yes, I *am* feeling a little punchy. Why do you ask?

5:31:42 PM
Finally, a Canadian Press question about – hey, how G20Voice-friendly; what about the countries that aren’t on the list? How will this help the developing world? The PM assures him that this will, in fact, help all countries recover and grow and thrive, and notes that the real crisis in not addressing this crisis is the possibility that an international peace and security crisis will arise.

5:33:17 PM
And *another* question. This is — downright unprecedented. BNN wonders about protectionism, particularly from the US administration and the PM reminds her that *all* countries – even Canada – have pockets of protectionism.  He thinks it’s historically untrue to blame the US for the current imbroglio, and heaps praise on the Americans for their pro-trade policies. They have been ‘an impediment’ in the past – oh, who hasn’t, really – but he’s been around the table, and they’re not the main culprit.

5:35:41 PM
The Toronto Star’s Les Whittington wants to know how today’s meeting will effect Canadians, and the PM – who really is in an almost unsettlingly good mood – assures him that he knows the question was meant to be genuine, but points out that Canadians are sufficiently sophisticated not to have expected all the leaders to come out and announce an end to the recession, complete with oversized novelty scissors and Mission Accomplished banner. He comes out of this meeting “optimistic”, but not – you know, that thing beyond optimism that gets you in trouble if things go horribly wrong.

5:39:31 PM
Last question from the Globe’s Brian Laghi – what about that protectionism? And the PM’s efforts to get — something, I missed a moment there — on asset-backed commercial paper. The PM reminds him that Canada doesn’t actually have quite the same problem with ABCP — we haven’t had to bail out any banks, after all — which means we’re not really in the best position to provide recommendations on how to fix a toxic system.

And — that’s it. Wow, that was more intense than I expected, actually.

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