Editorial: G20 legal fallout: summits cost too much

The outrage over the G8 and G20 summits peaked last year with news of the so-called fake lake designed to showcase northern Ontario’s beauty to visiting journalists in Toronto who couldn’t make the trip to Huntsville, Ont. In the meantime, we had been learning about massive security costs estimated at $1 billion. But that’s not the end of it. As Michael McKiernan tells us on page 1 this week, the financial and legal reverberations continue, which some lawyers - quite legitimately, of course - will be cashing in on.

A host of legal proceedings means the public continues to pay for the summits, including the cost of criminal actions against detainees whose charges in many cases have now been dropped; the various inquiries and    reviews stemming from the G20; and the multiple lawsuits through both individual and class actions against government bodies such as Toronto police and the federal attorney general.

We don’t yet know who will win those cases, but the amounts plaintiffs are seeking as well as the need to defend them mean the public is potentially facing large legal bills. At the same time, governments have had to direct their own internal budgets and resources into addressing the G20 legal fallout.

A key question, then, is whether it’s worth it to have these summits in the first place given the massive upfront costs as well as the lingering legal fallout. On the face of it, the answer is no.

In the Toronto case, world leaders accomplished little on the economic file in June, while building the fake lake and setting up a massive security infrastructure in the face of looming protests during the summit made the event appear more like a contrived and unnecessary show. In the meantime, it inconvenienced people for no apparent reason.

The flipside is that such international meetings have shown their usefulness in the past. As the recent recession deepened, for example, governments gathered to pledge a co-ordinated global response through economic stimulus.

Many economists, of course, have credited those investments with preventing an even worse disaster that likely would have taken the world into a true depression. In Canada, while we certainly suffered, we emerged relatively quickly from a steep economic decline.

Similar global meetings since then have failed to continue that success, most notably through a lack of agreement on concrete measures to address government deficits and deal with new barriers to international trade. But overall, the response to the recession showed that such events can have value.

Nevertheless, it’s inappropriate to spend the kind of public money Canadians continue to shell out for the G20. As a result, governments need to find a way to have these meetings less expensively, perhaps at secure international facilities that don’t require such extensive temporary security preparations.

The G20, moreover, is just another example of the failure to do anything about the ballooning costs of running government. In Canada, at least, it’s clear that the public won’t tolerate it happening again.
- Glenn Kauth

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