A Letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

A Letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Dear Mr. Harper:

I’m not your number one fan. Okay, I’m not really a fan at all. Okay, let’s dispense with the niceties…I think you’re an ass.

However, I must acknowledge that your office is faced with difficult decisions. Decisions like, where to hold the G20 summit, for example.

One possibility would be to select a relatively small, self-contained town with adequate infrastructure and facilities to support each country’s representative, their staff, the reporters, and anyone else who would need to attend the event. The event itself could be held at nearby conference facilities, and adequate security could be placed not just around the event, but the town itself. Canada has a lot of towns that meet those criteria. No, I mean a lot of towns.

If the town were enclaved during the event, it seems to me that the resulting revenue would be a boon to all the local businesses, and security threats could be kept to a minimum through management of the small, sparsely networked area. Adequate entertainment of the level “required” by the thrifty *cough* delegates could be brought in, further spreading cash around.

But that’s just me.

Another possibility is to hold the event in, say, Toronto. Not just Toronto, but downtown Toronto. This is a city home to well over two million people, with a further 2.4 million who come in and out for work every day. A city whose daily trade directly affects the fifteen million people that live on its fringes. A city that houses the headquarters of the nation’s largest banks, commuter highways in a constant state of expansion, a massive amount of daily trade, and a long-established network of roads and transit systems that allow unrestricted access for countless people to move into and out of just about any area.

That’s another possibility, yeah.

Image courtesy International Business Times

Of course, in the summit’s aftermath, holding the summit in Toronto doesn’t seem to have been the wisest course of action, does it? In fact pretty much anyone with an ability to look through a decision to its consequences could have predicted the outcome.

I would like to know the total cost of this decision. I’m not talking about the $1.1 billion it cost in one-time costs to host this event (G-20 summit: ‘$1 billion boondoggle?’). I don’t care about the fake lake (G20 fake lake revealed) you had built during a summit on fiscal responsibility. I’m talking about the fallout costs. All project managers (I suspect you might even have some on your staff) are familiar with this concept. These are the indirect costs of a decision or action. For example, the decision to host the G20 in Toronto has resulted in the following costs not covered in the already outrageous sum of taxpayers’ money it took to pay for this event:

How much did those costs add up to, Mr. Harper?

There’s been a lot of attention on the vandals this weekend. But that’s another issue. See, this behaviour follows these summits around. Everything that happened over the weekend, while unfortunate, has already either been attempted or actually happened at other summits in the past. It’s a known risk, and blaming the violence on “thugs” suggests a random aspect to the violence. Kind of like saying, “oh gee, we didn’t see that coming”.

Recent examples of summit violence:
1999 – Seattle – World Trade Organization (WTO Protests in Seattle, 1999)
2001 – Quebec City – Summit of the Americas (Black Bloc blamed for Quebec summit violence)
2001 – Gothenburg – EU Summit (Protests during the EU summit in Gothenburg 2001)
2001 – Genoa – G8 Summit (Media Missing New Evidence About Genoa Violence)
2003 – Evian – G8 Summit (Anti-G8 Protests Flare before Evian Summit Opens)
2007 – Heiligendamm – G8 Summit (German City Rocked by Violent Riots)

I’m just curious, Mr. Harper, what more did you need as supporting evidence that summits are violent affairs?

Of course, other summits have deliberately opted for more remote locations, and gee, look at what happened…NOTHING.

2002 – Kananaskis – G8 Summit (The Kananaskis G8 Summit: A Case Study in Interagency Cooperation)
2004 – Sea Island – G8 Summit (Gathering on Sea Island: The protests; At Summit, Police and Delegations Outnumber the Demonstrators)

Even during the horrific terrorist attacks on Londoners in 2005 during the remote Gleneagles G8 summit (Terrorist Attacks on London Fail to Stop G8 Climate Talks), the violence happened in London. Not Gleneagles.

Of course, you did see it coming, didn’t you? I take as evidence to that point the fact that your security budget to hold the summit is larger than any comparable budget in the history of ever (thanks to Public Intelligence for that chart). But perhaps that has more to do with your decision to hold the summit in DOWNTOWN FREAKIN’ TORONTO, I don’t know. It seems to me, as others have realized, that a simple change in venue to a more easily controlled location would have substantially reduced the impact of the vandals, and the opportunity for vandals to damage anything in the first place. The economic implications: the closed businesses, the disruption to traffic, commerce, industry….all would have been absent.

I want to just recap your statement so I’m clear…on why you deliberately chose downtown Toronto as the venue of choice for the G20 summit. According to your announcement on December 7, 2009, “RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said [Huntsville] is just too small to host the G20 summit, despite tens of millions in expenditures to bring the area up to world standards”. I’m sorry, you didn’t notice that before you coughed up $11 million in airport upgrades?

“Hosting a G20 summit implies finding at least 10,000 hotel rooms and providing air-tight security for more than 30 international delegations. Huntsville has 1,000 rooms at most.” Okay, granted. I still doubt I’m the only one who sees a big disparity between “Huntsville” (population: 18,280) and “Toronto” (population: 2,503,281)?

Between Huntsville and Toronto, how many cities of a suitable size were you unable to find? When I look on a map, I see lots (and lots) that could have met the above criteria. Instead of spending close to one billion dollars on policing, perhaps some of that money could have been spent on building additional accommodation for the delegates…accommodation that could have benefitted the economy of the town in question–a legacy, if you like. Perhaps Huntsville couldn’t sustain the additional hotel rooms after the G20 left, but please don’t tell me there were no other options.

Do note the date of this letter, Mr. Harper. Please note that some people (like myself) will remember your decision to set the city of Toronto up for a fiscal, security, and media mess. I know that there are short memories in politics. But after you’ve finally left office and gone back home to Alberta, I really don’t want to turn on the television and hear you spout, “well, we tried Ontario as a venue for the G20, and clearly they’re not cut from the right cloth to handle something so cosmopolitan”. This fiasco was your decision, my friend. And I will happily pull this letter out to remind you on some future date when people have forgotten.

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.