Sunday, June 27, 2010

Are the G20/G8 Summits worth the hassle?

One billion dollars spent on security. A half dozen police cars torched. Damage to storefronts. Hundreds of arrests. Are the G20 and G8 Summits worth the headache and destruction they cause the host city? That is the question that many people asked this morning in Toronto as the city woke up with a definite G20 hangover.

Things turned ugly in the streets of Toronto on Saturday, when a renegade group of 'protesters' (hoodlums, and anarchists, the so called Black Bloc) split with the tens of thousands, mostly peaceful protesters, leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

Clashes between protesters and security forces are nothing new at G8 and G20 Summits. One could cut and paste images from previous summit clashes, and they would be eerily similar to what has been seen the last couple of days in Toronto. So is it worth it? What is the point?

What are the issues that the 8 or 20 most powerful people on the planet are discussing? Well it's the economy stupid. The President of the United States Barack Obama had this to say about the importance of these summits:

"We need to act in concert for a simple reason: this crisis proved and events continue to affirm that our national economies are inextricably linked." 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, this: 

"We all have a common responsibility for structural reforms ... the discussion was not controversial, but was based on great mutual understanding."

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, has used the G8 Summit to raise the issue of global women's health. A noble cause, if it weren't mired in an anti-abortion scandal (a story for a different day). Here is a statement from Harper:

"Canada led the way in mobilizing support among G8 and non-G8 leaders, key donors and private foundations for this initiative to reduce the mortality rates of mothers and their children. We have been successful."

(Quotes compiled by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Mario Di Simine) (link)

So there. Essentially, these are economic summits. The leaders of the 20 largest economies on the planet are sitting around a big table, vowing to work together to fix global the economic turmoil. The world's largest economies, they'll have us know, are intimately attached, trouble for one means trouble for all. Trouble for many, means economic meltdown for all. As to how a couple of afternoons of meetings are going to solve the plethora of global economic problems, which have taken years to develop, is anyone's guess.

Why the protest then? Is economic stability such a bad thing? What about women's health? Let's focus on the peaceful protesters' concerns. Those protesters that are clad in black, there faces covered, bent on destruction, not conversation, their concerns are made illegitimate by their actions. They will not be asked to sit at the adult's table, maybe they should go squash ants in the back yard. So who is legitimately protesting, and what is it that they protesting? Funny, I have searched for a quote from a 'legitimate' protester, but I can't find anything, anywhere. A conspiracy theorist might have you think that the voices of the protesters are being squashed. That there collusion between global leaders and big media. Who knows, it might be the whole never bite the hand that feeds you thing. Pure speculation. The sexy story however, is not the issues, whether it be from the global leaders, or the protesters, but the mayhem these summits brought to the streets of Toronto. The Black Bloc won the weekend. If only any of us had any idea as to what they stood for. Certainly it can't be as simple as mayhem, destruction, and anarchy, can it?

So again, what is the point? Why spend a billion dollars, minimum, for a summit that is little more than a meet and greet, a glorified smoozefest of the world's political elite? Nothing was resolved, no huge strides were made. Statements, and discussion points were developed well in advance of these summits. All of this could have been done in a sound studio, we'd have been none the wiser. Did this help the city of Toronto at all? Ask any citizen of Toronto if this was the sort of global attention they wanted, and I bet you a billion dollars, minimum, that they will say no.

At the very best these summits, might be a catalysts for change. Not in terms of global economics, or even women's health. These might be the summits that makes the world's most powerful nations rethink the importance of high profile, and large scale meetings. It  might be time for the world's leaders to learn how to network. The leaders of the economic mighty, might want to look into sitting in front of large pixelated screens, in the comfort of their own offices. I know that that sounds a little fair-fetched, but shock of shocks, that is what they do in the business world. If the world's great economies are as concerned about tightening their belts and controlling spending, as they would have us believe, how in the world can they justify the expense of these summits? The ends don't justify the means. 

Stay strong Toronto, it will all be over soon.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written again, Joe. The breakdown of the expenses are supposed to be released, but I can bet that it WON'T include the cost of operation lost for the businesses outside the security perimeter that were vandalized or forced closed. I'm waiting to hear from Mayor Miller & wondering if he'll recant his statement that the summit would be good for Toronto.

    One other point: the police presence was to keep the world leaders safe, and from this perspective, they achieved their goal.