Financial Post G7 Record

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[Financial Post G7 Record]

Financial Post, Weekly edition, Thu 08 Jun 95, page 19

Keywords: International finance Economic summits History Halifax

G-7 SUMMITS HAVE TURNED INTO COSTLY PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES: They're a good chance for journalistic buddies to catch up on the gossip

Allan Fotheringham

The most remarkable post-McLuhanite event ever mounted in Halifax opens next week.

Some 2,000 journalists from around the world will cover a happening they will never see, to report on meetings they will never hear, and will go home with no idea of what really went on.

This, of course, is the celebrated G-7 summit, a 20-year-old good idea that has completely got out of hand and is merely an expensive photo opportunity - and a great place for an expense account.

The G-7 palaver has become a bit of a joke and an embarrassment among serious financial thinkers. Any gathering in 1995 of the ''seven industrialized nations'' that includes little Canada and not China cannot be taken too seriously. With poor Boris Yeltsin sitting out in the hall.

As anyone who has covered these over-packed meetings knows, the final communique that will be released by the seven leaders on the final day, June 17, is written long before the sessions begin.

This one, as a matter of fact, was crafted in late May by the personal reps of the seven leaders at the Millcroft Inn outside Toronto. It has now been leaked to NDP MP Nelson Riis, who thinks he has discovered the keys to the kingdom but would draw yawns from veterans of these affairs. What the G-7 is, essentially, is a convention of journalists, not too much different from the annual gatherings of Rotary or the Loyal Order of Moose.

We will meet our old buddies from Washington, catch up on the gossip from Fleet Street. Even down a vodka or two with refugees from Moscow. Reporters will interview reporters, since they are not allowed anywhere near the brass, and millions of words of conjecture and surmise and predictions will be filed back home. Facts will remain elusive.

It seemed a good idea when Henry Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of state, suggested a multilateral summit of the major western powers to define a new international monetary regime.

France's Giscard d'Estaing, when he became president in 1974, took up this idea of ''a very private meeting among a very few people'' to address the monetary and economic issues of the capitalist countries.

The mob scene that prevails today produces the essential hupocrisy at the root of the three-day event. The politicians want the media publicity of being seen to be doing something - but don't want the media to know anything.

As a result, Jean Chretien's handlers, flacks and spin masters - after each closed session - will brief Canadian reporters on how masterful and eloquent the host was. Leaving aside the fact that he is near-incomprehensible in either official language and one feels pity for the poor translator who must turn his mangled syntax into Japanese.

In another building, Helmut Kohl's loyal minions will explain to the German press how their man dominated. While the American media - who ignore the other six leaders completely - will be swallowing every adjective emitted by the slick and very professional explainers of Bill Clinton. It's all like the three blind men running their hands over the elephant.

In 1981, the Canadian authorities devised the almost-perfect scheme: putting the summiteers in the wooded resort of Montebello halfway between Montreal and Ottawa while the press, like lepers at a ball, were not allowed to leave the capital. The further away from the action, the better. This was surpassed in the same decade by Venice, where the bothersome media were sent by boat to one island while the seven leaders floated by twice a day for picture opportunities.

There must be a reason why only 2,000 of the media, as opposed to the 3,000 who were in Naples last year, are headed for salubrious Halifax. Perhaps it is because their almanacs told them the only other time the town has made news was through the 1917 explosion and the 1945 riots when V-E Day troops wrecked the town.

They should have looked a little further. Halifax has more pubs per capita than Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, the previous record-holder. Reporters at G-7s always have a lot of time on their hands.

DNOTE (Ed. note) Allan Fotheringham is a weekly columnist for Maclean's magazine.

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Revised: June 3, 1995

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