In keeping with Prime Minister Jean Chretien's edict, this year's Group of Seven summit in Halifax is a decidedly low-key affair. But that hasn't stopped many of the local citizens and businesses from succumbing to G-7 fever.
Locals are trying to be cool about it, but a visit to the port city makes it clear a large number of them are smitten.
The symptoms are frantic renovation of downtown office buildings and streets, a spiffing up of shops around the G-7 summit site and a slightly higher tilt to the heads of Haligonians at the thought of playing host to the leaders of the world's seven most industrialized countries.
When the summit kicks off June 15, Halifax will play host for three days to thousands of officials, sherpas, media and hangers-on. It's a daunting job, and one that few Haligonians expected to be given. That's why the summit fever hit the city so strongly, says Janice Manders, who heads the Downtown Halifax Business Commission.
Atlantic businesses, meanwhile, are jumping into the summit fray. ''Companies view the summit as a unique opportunity to promote their products and services to the world community,'' says Purdy Crawford, co-chairman of the summit sponsorship committee.
Some of the companies signed on to sponsor the summit are food giant McCain Foods Ltd., Wilson's Business World Inc., Jost Vineyards Ltd., Sparkling Spring Water Ltd., I.M.P. Group International Inc., and Milk Maritime Inc. - all Atlantic Canadian companies.
The sponsors will supply various products to the summit. McCain, for example, will donate food products to the media centre and other summit sites. I.M.P. is supplying Canadian flags for use during the summit, and Jost Vineyards is offering up a selection of its Nova Scotia wines.
The city itself and its business community that stand to gain the most from the summit and the attention drawn to Halifax. City Hall has spent $3 million spiffing up the downtown core and preparing the grounds around the summit site.
Business leaders, too, have spent the past 10 months making sure the summit event provides a long-term boost to the local economy. ''The summit has become an impetus for a lot of projects,'' Manders says. ''In fact, it's become a motivational factor for improvement.'' For example, the downtown business association has sponsored a $770,000 improvement program to fix up the facades of downtown businesses in the summit area. It's also thrown its support behind a ''super-host'' training program set up by the Nova Scotia Tourism Industry Association for local hospitality and service workers.
The downtown business commission began its summit planning with a definite strategy to make the most of the international event. ''We didn't want someone from Ottawa coming down here and telling us we need this when we really wanted that. And that didn't happen, thanks to our advance work,'' Manders says.
In fact, it was the business community that took over the role of creating the venues and services for the summit participants and the media.
''We were aggressive here, we barged right in and took over as much of the planning as we could,'' says Don Mills, president of Corporate Research Associates Inc. and head of the Metro Halifax Chamber of Commerce. ''We heard what happened in Toronto.''
In fact, the 1988 Toronto summit is seen as a cautionary tale for many Halifax planners. Toronto's summit square, a secure area set up on a parking lot next to the summit site in 1988, cost businesses and governments $2.4 million for three days, and resulted in very little spinoff for local businesses. And because it was shut off from the rest of the city for security reasons, local residents had no opportunity to participate in the summit.
So instead of a secure summit site, Halifax has opted for a ''summit odyssey,'' a series of venues that will be the servicing area for all participants and media for the Halifax G-7. The odyssey - which runs along the eight blocks linking the two main summit sites - will offer entertainment, food, commercial displays and showcase areas for the G-7 participants.
Unlike the Toronto summit, the $1.4-million budget for summit odyssey will be paid for through corporate fund-raising and donation of services.
Halifax is also taking a lesson from the Toronto summit in its efforts to involve the 330,000 local residents. Organizers say Torontonians were shut out of the 1988 event, and as a result saw it as nothing more than a downtown inconvenience.
''We know that citizens can't really get involved in the summit, there's no opportunity for direct participation,'' Manders says. ''So the city is trying to provide an opportunity for celebration in concert with the summit.''
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Revised: June 3, 1995
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