It all comes down in a little over two weeks for the city of Toronto. The world squeezing ten-abreast through our town’s narrow doorway, kicking back and settling in, maybe knocking over a glass or two with its gigantic, mud-caked combat boots. Sound cannons, troops, security barriers; a veritable parade of paramilitary machinery rolling through downtown like some ultra-nationalist arms display. And for our down-to-earth, good-taxpaying-Canadians-don’t-like-you-snooty-artsy-types prime minister, a party beyond Steve’s wildest, sharky-eyed dreams: the most expensive, exclusive, and yes, elite gathering of powerbrokers to ever lock down Hogtown.
Imagine Harper’s glee, flipping the bird at this enclave of irked liberals. Already, barriers have sealed off the area running from Bay Street to Blue Jays Way, Wellington Street to the Rogers Centre. Those lucky enough to live or work behind the security perimeter have received applications, graciously provided by the Integrated Security Unit, to zip through police checkpoints in order to work or to go home, at whatever speed the ISU considers “expedited.” For those elsewhere in the G20’s hot spots, especially near Queen’s Park, the possibility of police marching around blaring an LRAD—a 146-decibel “communication device” commonly used against pirates on the high seas, or for blowing out eardrums in Iraq and Pittsburgh—remains a fun prospect. Your cell phone calls may get the wireless equivalent of a body cavity search. Even kites aren’t safe.
Last year: an infestation of garbage, no city services, and a surly populace. This year? A police state.
Daddy Government’s tough love, no doubt. But as evinced by much of the showcased Canadiana at this year’s Olympics, the government’s idea of what’s good for the country—much less our city—and our own can be two wildly different things. “Canada is hosting the most important summits back to back that we’ve ever seen in the country,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told CTV, “and we’re using this opportunity to be able to showcase Canada.” That means a fifty-seven-thousand-dollar artificial indoor pond at the Toronto media centre, rimmed with Muskoka chairs and canoes (in an ironically artsy display, we might add), with perhaps an open cooler here and there, to lure future investment.
It’s a spending spree by the self-proclaimed Holy Saviours of the Recession, and it confirms what many already knew: the Tory idea of our best interests, before any other consideration, can be reduced to dollar signs—even when the cost of a fake lake outstrips the salaries of individual Canadians. To invite twenty heads of state for a billion-dollar confab and not chain the dog, particularly when you’re keen to siphon as much of their money as possible, is a bad idea. It’s the state visit of all time, another opportunity for Harper to roll out his vision of Canada, and we’ll just get in the way.
Compared with other summits, however, this year’s figures suggest a different game with different motives. Harper’s notion of Canada being what it is, the record corralling of public funds for security at the G20 in a period of tenuous economic recovery offers an opportunity to match future policy with sufficient law enforcement weaponry. There’s also the fact that the Huntsville G8 happens in Tony Clement’s Parry Sound–Muskoka riding, a veritable auction of cottage-country votes for a long-sought majority. Theories abound, and when a government’s hallmark is the surgical precision of its message, with all the requisite omissions, those theories are going to verge on conspiratorial.
Speculation aside, however, let’s focus on the facts on the ground. The amount spent on security for the G20 exceeds that of previous summits in London and Pittsburgh by over nine hundred million dollars. It amounts to a billion dollars and then some, pumped into an apparatus to keep the city in check. And according to protest leaders, that process has already crossed an acceptable line, with security agents reportedly intimidating, harassing, and otherwise snooping on organizations known to oppose the summits. Local dissent seems to be regarded as an enemy of sorts. The cost spent on security is enabling a physical affront to democracy complementing Harper’s record of political malfeasance, and if it suggests a trend, no degree of concern is alarmist.
At the very least, Harper has shown us that his fiscal jitters are a thing of the past. So who remembers July 2009, with Google’s snapshots of a trash-laden Christie Pits and Harper’s warning, facing an energized opposition, that a recession was no time for an election? Something about the cost being too high, too unacceptable for a country of ordinary, hard-working Canadians teetering on the brink of economic collapse? There are ordinary, hard-working Canadians in Toronto, too, many of whom oppose this whole thing, and it’s costing the government over a billion dollars to sweep them aside, all in the name of something in which they had no say to begin with.
In 2008, on the other hand, it cost Canadians three hundred million to go to the polls. If it’s a dollar game, our best interests are a bargain next to Harper’s.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.