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'The BP Journalism Tent'? Not at this G20 summit

Karen Palmer of Oxfam Canada inspects a Stephen Harper papier mache head at their Toronto office, on Monday, June 14, 2010. Barack Obama's ear is chipped, but his and other world leaders' giant papier mache heads have arrived in Canada otherwise intact.


No booze, no bands, no fun and absolutely NO corporate sponsors. International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan says this week's G20 summit "isn't that kind of summit."

Where Brian Mulroney's G7 summit in Toronto in 1988 was a big party - at least that's what Mr. Van Loan says, and he was a volunteer there - his government's G20 is a "workmanlike" affair with a focus on the economy.

"The party is over," Mr. Van Loan said in a recent interview on CTV's Power Play. Of the Mulroney-era summit, he said: "It was a great party. There were music bands playing all the time; food and drinks were flowing."

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Mr. Van Loan remembers driving home a band member from Blue Rodeo to his home in Toronto's Annex.

At that summit, corporations helped to defray some of the costs, including $2.3-million in donated goods, from limos to ballpoint pens.

Summit Square was the headquarters for 6,000 journalists and it was sponsored by businesses.

But as Mr. Van Loan pointed out, Summit Square is no more because "they built the CBC on Summit Square."

"And we're into a new era now. Our focus is on the economy and a workmanlike perspective."

The Harper government is being criticized for the high costs of the G8 and G20 summits that begin Friday in Huntsville, Ont., and move to Toronto over the weekend.

A story in the Globe and Mail last week noted that a couple of corporations had offered to help with costs but they were turned down by the government.

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Security alone is estimated to cost nearly $1-billion .

But Mr. Van Loan says this is no "showcase for businesses"; it is not a corporate event.

"This is a disciplined focus of world leaders."

Liberal finance critic John McCallum noted that the summit in Pittsburgh last September also took advantage of corporate sponsors so that taxpayers weren't stuck with the entire bill.

"I think it's totally incomprehensible," Mr. McCallum said of the lack of sponsorship.

His NDP counterpart, Thomas Mulcair, however, sees it differently. While he says that there has been a lot of "improvisation" when it has come to planning these summits, likely driving up the costs, there is a question of principle.

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"There is, I think, a decent message to be sent that this is nation states coming together to take decisions that will affect markets and I don't find that it's necessarily a bad thing that nation states are saying … 'we don't necessarily want people using it as a trampoline to advertise.'"

"The last thing we would have needed was the British Petroleum Journalism Tent," Mr. Mulcair said.

The future of the G8

The Harper Conservatives are working hard to ensure the G8 remains vital and is not swallowed by the much more robust G20.

That's because Canada is a big player at the G8, not overshadowed by the breadth and depth of the G20, and able to garner valuable face time with the American President.

Not surprising, then, Conservative strategists issued a series of talking points to their supporters over the weekend, playing up the importance of the G8.

The talking points came as Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon released a new G8 report card Sunday, giving Canada an " A" for following through on past G8 commitments.

"G-8 accountability is a priority for Canada," says the Conservative document. "If the G-8 is to remain credible, it must demonstrate that it is delivering on its commitments."

The memo also plays up the government's record on "delivering on G-8 commitments in health, education, food security, peace and security."

"We can all be proud of Canada's leadership on accountability and our record of delivering on our promises," it says.

Get breaking news and analysis from the Globe throughout the G8/G20 by signing up for our free text message alerts or texting G20 to 123411. (Standard msg/data rates apply.)

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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