The run-up to the G8 and G20 summits has provided a rare moment of satisfaction for Canada on the world stage.
Constantly yearning to punch above their weight, the summit hosts have for decades struggled to be heard. Yet the Canadians were in the vanguard of a successful pre-summit campaign to derail a US and European proposal for a global levy on banks to finance future bai-louts.
Stephen Harper, the prime minister, has also persuaded his fellow leaders to sign on to an initiative to improve maternal health in developing countries. “The prerogatives of hosting are really quite pronounced,” says John Kirton, director of the G8 research group at the University of Toronto.
The Canadians have spared no effort to impress their guests. As part of the summit preparations, Jim Flaherty, the finance minister, has shown his colleagues and their advisers parts of the world’s second biggest country that few Canadians and even fewer foreigners have visited.
The G8 ministers and central bank governors met last winter in Iqaluit, the tiny capital of Nunavut, a federally administered territory that straddles the Arctic Circle. The summit sherpas donned thick, bright blue parkas last month for a preparatory meeting in Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories.
The venues for the summits themselves are more conventional.
The G8 leaders meet on June 25 and 26 at a resort in Muskoka “cottage country”, a three-hour drive north of Toronto. The lakeside cottages – many would be more aptly described as mansions – offer a refuge for well-heeled city residents on summer weekends. The ambience could not be more tranquil, except for hordes of blackflies that let rip on exposed human flesh, especially in the evening.
However, the logistical challenge of ferrying 20 leaders and their entourages to a rural retreat persuaded the Canadians to hold the G20 meeting in Toronto’s downtown convention centre.
The arrangements have not been without controversy. Critics have questioned the estimated C$1.1bn ($1.08bn) cost of hosting the summits, especially the C$933m security budget, six times higher than the original estimate.
The largesse showered on Huntsville, the town closest to the G8 venue, has also drawn fire. The government has spent an estimated C$50m on projects in Huntsville, some more useful than others.
The town now boasts an ice-hockey arena, originally conceived as a summit media centre, and a slew of other sports facilities.
Rodger Cuzner, an opposition member of parliament, told the House of Commons earlier this month that “whether we are talking about a $100,000 gazebo, a $200,000 welcome sign, a $300,000 toilet, a $400,000 steamboat refit, $20 million for fiddlers and flowers, or a sidewalk to nowhere that is 84 kilometres away, the wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money by the government for 18 hours of meetings is seemingly endless”.
Critics have been quick to point out that the local member of Parliament is also the industry minister. The summit has all but guaranteed his re-election.
Those who live and work in central Toronto have less to be grateful for. Several blocks around the convention centre will be cordoned off by a three-metre-high security fence.
The authorities have set aside a park for protestors more than a kilometre away from the summit venue, but some activists have warned that they have no intention of being corralled.
Many city-centre businesses, including banks and law firms, have encouraged workers to stay at home in the days leading up to the G20.
The Art Gallery of Ontario and two of the city’s biggest theatres said they would close, and the Blue Jays baseball team has moved its matches over the summit weekend to Philadelphia.
But public opinion has so far been inflamed less by anti-summit protestors or disruptions than by the construction of a C$57,000 artificial lake in the main media centre, located in a cavernous exhibition hall on the fringe of the city centre.
The lake – in reality, more like a pool – is part of a C$2m Experience Canada tourism pavilion featuring mock canoes, lakeside armchairs and a big screen showing images of cottage country.
The government has justified the exhibit on the grounds that only about 150 of the 3,000 journalists expected for the summits will be bused from Toronto to the G8 venue each day, leaving most to cover the event from the media centre. The fake lake will provide a scenic backdrop for TV reports.
Mr Harper has defended the pavilion as a marketing project. “We must not miss this opportunity”, he told Parliament this month.
More broadly, Mr Harper and others see the summits as a springboard for Canadian successes.
“Strong at home, Canada can say no to an international bank tax and others will listen”, concludes a recent report by the Canadian International Council, a think-tank set up Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Ontario-based Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry.
“This should serve as a jumping-off point for a Canada that aspires to global leadership in other areas as well. We want the world to see beyond moose and Mounties and think of Canada’s dynamism.”