Hogtown versus the world: how does Toronto’s G20 compare with previous summits?
The G20 summit has mostly wound down, and the result is pretty mediocre: for billions in spending and a few torched police cars, we got a statement that’s almost Zen in its blandness. The G20 leaders agree to work toward financial stability—but each one gets to decide what that means. They’re committed to economic growth—but different countries need different strategies. They agree on a bank tax—except for Stephen Harper and a few others, so not every country will have one. Reuters calls it a “do-little summit.”
Given that so little of importance has been settled, how does Toronto stack up against previous summits and global meetings?
WTO meeting, Seattle, 1999
Remembered for how dramatically it collapsed after protests kept delegates from meeting, most people don’t remember that the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle was at the edge of failure before crowds starting swarming. While the protests sealed its fate, the fact that developing countries were kept out of important discussions between the U.S. and Europe didn’t help matters.
Winner: Seattle. Nothing in Toronto over the weekend came close to changing the entire discussion around globalization the way Seattle did. That said, in Toronto, the delegates at least all made it to the same place at once.
Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, 2001
The Third Summit of the Americas is an event that is almost entirely remembered for the security precautions and the protests that ensued, because if the G20 is a waste of time, then the SOAs are even more so. The only thing that anyone remembers from any of them is when Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama met briefly in 2009, and hilarity ensued. As for Quebec City, while nobody remembers any of the issues, the protestors had a pretty rough time of it.
Winner: Toronto wins on two counts—it’s slightly more likely to be remembered five years from now, and the police seem not to have run quite as amok as they did in Quebec City.
Shamrock Summit, Quebec City, 1985
Not only did it set up the push for the incredibly divisive Free Trade Agreement in 1988, but it closed with Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” making Canada appear bizarrely sycophantic.
Winner: Toronto. It would have been interesting to see a mash-up between a Stephen Harper Beatles tune and a Barack Obama rendition of Dionne Warwick, but whatever the criticism of this G20, nobody described it as “the single most demeaning moment in the entire political history of Canada’s relations with the United States,” as Jack Granatstein did.
G7 Summit, Toronto, 1988
Rather than have the G20 summit at the exhibition grounds, Harper and the feds insisted on having it downtown. That’s where it was held 22 years ago, and maybe some of the Tory lifers wanted to see if they could find their old rooms. It’s like trying remember a locker combination at the old high school reunion.
Winner: Um, Toronto wins. And loses. Fun fact: Calgary got the Olympics the same year Toronto got the G7, and this year, Vancouver got them when we hosted the G20. But this is getting old.
Our final verdict is that next time, Toronto can get the Olympics and some western city can get the riots and security lockdown.