Skip to content

Is a fake lake really the biggest issue in the G20?

In the list of ridiculous expenditures at the G20 conference in Toronto, the one that seems to be getting the most attention is the fake lake installed in the media centre.

In the list of ridiculous expenditures at the G20 conference in Toronto, the one that seems to be getting the most attention is the fake lake installed in the media centre. Part of a tourism pavilion, the shallow body of water is intended to promote Ontario's lakes, though most of the headlines it's generating surround the costs of the project. At $1.9 million dollars, that cost is not small, no doubt, and it's a bit frivolous all things considered, but it seems like a case of focusing on something ridiculously minor.

Here's the problem, other things related to the G20 summit are going to cost a lot more than a small advertising venture. The fences erected around Toronto for security reasons are being pegged at $5.5 million. That's twice what the lake cost, and part of a massive security budget that is pegged at over $1.2 billion. While the G20 attracts protests like honey attracts adorable cartoon bears, CSIS reports that there is a low risk of terrorist activity during the summit. So, while there's naturally a need for security, the need for one billion dollars worth - a number significantly higher than what was spent at the previous summit - is questionable at best. Also questionable is the need to close off downtown Toronto with a 3.5 metre high concrete and metal fence, which is at best overkill.

Just look at the summits in the last few years, and how they compare to the one in Toronto. The G20 summit in London in 2009 spent $30 million on security. That seems a bit small, so how about the G8 summit in Japan in 2008? $381 million total. It's not like Canada is any more vulnerable than London or Japan, so why must we spend so much more than they are on security? Why, for that matter, must we spend way more than we do on our own border security? In 2008-09, the Canadian Border Services Agency spent a mere $477.2 million, under half of the security budget for the summit. Yet, even knowing those numbers, people still bring up the silly little lake.

Even in the context of poorly thought out spending by Ontario's tourism board, the fake lake really doesn't compare to their astonishingly awful ad campaigns, the centre piece of which was a series of Olympic ads so annoying that I decided to avoid Ontario for the foreseeable future. I'll admit that I do not have figures on those particular ads, but they did spend some money on them, and all they did was make some long time Ontario residents I know deeply ashamed of their province. The lake, at the very least, looks somewhat presentable, and I'm assuming doesn't have a terrible jingle associated with it. So, silly as it might be, it's not the worst thing that could be done by Ontario tourism.

I'm not saying that there should be no security, or that the tourism pavilion isn't a bit ridiculous, but I think if we're going to examine poor spending, the focus should be placed squarely on the security budget for the conference spiralling madly out of control, not an ad campaign which represents a fraction of the budget. If London can keep the G20 leaders safe for $30 million, why do we need over 40 times that amount to do the same thing in Toronto? That's the question which should be asked about this summit, not how someone decided to go a little ambitious on an ad for lakes.