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Harper defends marketing value of fake lake

An artist's rendering of the Experience Canada Alley, or 'fake lake,' being built for the G20 summit in Toronto.

It's a lake. It's a bridge. It's a suspended city!

The Harper government is working hard to get out the message: That $1.9-million fake Muskoka lake being built at the Toronto media centre for the G8 and G20 summits is actually much more. It's a whole "Experience Canada Alley."

The installation is in three parts, symbolizing the two summits: the G8 in Muskoka and the G20 in Toronto. A "Northern Ontario oasis," including the fake lake with docks, a canoe sculpture and Muskoka chairs; a stylized "bridge" in the middle; and at the other end, a "cityscape" of boxy urban towers suspended in the air.

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Taking a political beating for spending millions on a fake lake, the Prime Minister's Office organized a press briefing to insist it was more, and worth every penny. The project, PMO officials said, will send 3,000 journalists home with a better impression of Canada.

Because of the heavy security, only a fraction of the number of journalists covering the event will be able to go to Muskoka for the G8, so the Muskoka lake was intended to evoke the experience they wouldn't have. The cityscape of Toronto was added when a G20 summit was tacked onto the schedule and the event was too big for cottage country. At the end, the whole thing will be dismantled.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to the media centre on Tuesday as a "marketing pavilion." His opponents called it ridiculous, and scoffed at the idea it will sell foreign journalists on Canada.

"It's on the shore of Lake Ontario," Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said. "You bring journalists over and say, 'It's not here. We'll make you some décor.' "

The project is being built by the Toronto company Lord Cultural Resources, which specializes in museum-style exhibits.

Its project-management services, for consulting local groups in Muskoka and Toronto, designing the project and subcontracts, will cost about $407,000. Labour on the project will cost $398,000. And then there are materials for the three parts: $208,187 for the oasis and lake, $218,000 for the bridge and $292,000 for the cityscape.

EXPERIENCE CANADA ALLEY PRICE TAG

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Materials for each section

Northern Ontario Oasis. Faux cottage country, with the mini-lake, a canoe sculpture, Muskoka chairs, and docks. (Canoes donated by cottagers, shipping paid by taxpayers.) Cost of materials: $208,187

Cityscape. An area where models of office towers hang above visitors' heads. Cost of materials: $292,000.

Bridge. A stylized bridge area joins the fake Muskoka (the G8 site) with fake Toronto (the G20 site). Cost of materials: $218,000.

Labour, including installation and post-summit dismantling Cost: $398,000.

Design

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Lord Cultural Resources, a Toronto firm, consulted local groups, designed the project and managed subcontracts. Cost: $407,000.

Audio-visual production Cost: $147,000

Plus

Graphics, uniforms, and miscellaneous expenses. Cost: about $200,000

Total cost: $1.9-million

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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