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From Rafe’s desk

Every Monday on the CBC (Early Edition, Rick Cluff at 7:40) I do a short political panel including Moe Sihota, president of the NDP and Erin Chutter, a well known Tory.

Last Monday I got roundly criticized for pooh-poohing the advantages of the G8 and G 20 conferences in Toronto. Moe and Erin thought they were hugely important and here’s why I dissented.

I’ve been to a great many important conferences especially in my days as BC Cabinet Minister Responsible for the Constitutional Affairs and I know how they work.

To start with, most of the work has been done behind closed doors by senior bureaucrats whose main concern is that their leader doesn’t look bad. The communiqué from the meeting is all but set before the conference begins.

Is the following what happens?

“Gee, Mr. President, we never thought of that, please tell us more!”

“Will do and thanks Prime Minister, we’re proud to have your support and I must say that your ideas on taxing fat cats fits neatly into our plans”.

“I want to thank both of you and say that this raising of new issues tells our citizens how willing we are to being fresh ideas to this most important conference”.

Any who think this is what happens should stop smoking that illegal stuff!

In fact each leader has been thoroughly briefed and knows the positions of every delegate down to the minutiae through minutes only bureaucrats can create and politicians repeat.

It is true that leaders, in closed meetings, can speak freely but the main debate is how they can sugar coat their differences which remain unchanged so there will another such meeting and do so in terms that make them look good or, in some cases, don’t look as bad as they are.

Having said that, do these conferences do no good?

In fact they do some good in the same way speeches in the UN do good. They keep the issues alive using Churchill’s aphorism that “jaw jaw is better than war war”. The issue is whether or not these hugely expensive extravaganzas are worth it and I say that if they are judged by the yardstick of giving leaders a chance to get to know one another they may be. If, however, the judgment is whether or not new ideas are discussed and deals are made the answer is a resounding NO.

What you can be absolutely sure of is that every head of government is most concerned about how it will all play at home and every position he takes reflects that.

In fact the UN analogy is a good one – the main advantage of both is that issues are prolonged rather than physically fought over.

One Response to “From Rafe’s desk”

  1. Kim says:

    Reading this after seeing the results of this debacle makes me feel depressed about the costs we will bear for the loss of trust, not to mention the financial costs of this failed summit. What did they agree to actually accomplish? From what I can see, the goal reached here was the erosion of civil rights and the arming of the police forces in major Canadian centres of progressive thought. Period.

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