G20 Dispatches: Yes, Minister
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G20 Dispatches: Yes, Minister

Christopher Bird and Christopher Drost are Torontoist’s staffers accredited for the G20. They will be reporting on the inside for the duration of the summit; Torontoist’s complete G20 coverage, including reporting from the streets, is here.

Peter Van Loan (right) interacting with Technology.

Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan speaks really clumsy, grade-school French. Not being able to speak French isn’t anything new in Canadian politics, of course—many an Anglo pol can barely manage the bit of “Oh Canada” that gets sung in French before the start of a hockey game when the Habs are in town. But unlike most poor French speakers, Van Loan puts in an effort, stumbling through a reply to a Quebecois reporter before giving up when he can’t remember the French word for “risky” and switching back to English. Him trying to do something he knows he really can’t do for no good reason tells you a lot about Peter Van Loan.

20100625vanloan.jpg Van Loan knows what he has to do today, though, and what he has to do today isn’t show off linguistic skills; today, he has to stay on message, and he does so resolutely as he stands in front of a technology-and-industry-themed set of backdrops in the International Media Centre. It’s kind of like going to an exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre: there’s technological thingies and interactive widgets and even the opportunity to play FIFA 2010 on a big screen. The difference between this and the Ontario Science Centre, though, is that the majority of people here are not under twelve, and thus prefer to hang out at the open bar.
Van Loan’s presentation is exactly what you’d expect: after the standard Canada-is-awesome-you-guys speech he starts getting questions about Canada’s trade policy and jumps right into the talking points. Stimulus is good. Debt is bad. (He makes these two points in quick succession, managing to avoid the burdensome truth that stimulus typically creates debt.) Protectionism is bad, he tells a Russian reporter asking about Canada’s opinion of Russia, and then again extols Canada’s virtue as a free-trading nation, soon to be the only nation free-trading with both North America and Europe.
A Chinese reporter asks about China’s economic status with Canada, clearly fishing for a quote about China’s recent decision to begin floating the renminbi/yuan. This is no-risk territory for Van Loan: China floating its currency is something that’s unambiguously good for Canada and pretty much the rest of the world, and it’s recent, so he gets to show off how connected he is to important developing issues. That’s why it’s so weird when he doesn’t do that; instead he blathers some generic boilerplate about China being an “emerging power.” (Wait, China hasn’t emerged yet? When does China emerge? They’re the biggest exporter in the world, you know.) It takes a followup from a second Chinese reporter asking specifically about the renminbi situation for Van Loan to clue in and start the prepared spiel about how China’s decision to float is good.
After that, he stops taking questions and instead invites media to come along with him through the Science Centre exhibit, either looking amazed at all the technology or pretending to do so. It’s hard to be sure which it is, and either way it doesn’t really matter; Van Loan hasn’t said or done anything today, which was probably his job in the first place.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.