Financial Post G7 Record

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Financial Post, Weekly edition, Tue 20 Jun 95, page 17

Keywords: Politics Economic summits

BLAND LEAD THE BLAND AT HALIFAX: Bizarre and arcane rules of the Geriatric Seven

Allan Fotheringham

At last! As the final Amex card melts and the 2,000 swivel servants, groaning from lobster overkill, lift off in their 747s, there has been found a use for the G-7 summit.

In an organization where they take such care as to write the final communique a month in advance, everyone knows the gathering is an anachronism.

The Group of Seven leaders, who aren't really the leaders of the world these days, are being exploited by other, shrewd forces.

The Chechen rebels - who can read - waited until the seven guys in suits gathered here and then embarrassed Boris Yeltsin with their daring raid on Russian soil.

Yeltsin had barely time to sample the Canadian brand of whisky before they had to warm up his plane at CFB Shearwater in case he had to make a quick return trip.

The Bosnians, who can also read, waited until the seven were here and then captured world headlines with the long-awaited effort to lift the siege of Sarajevo.

Even the shameless participants among the seven - since nothing really went on here save pretty TV shots of Halifax harbor - could not resist using the non-event for their own purposes.

The Americans, as they do before almost all G-7 palavers, picked a fight with Japan over a 100 per cent tariff slam on luxury cars - a fight that obviously will be solved but was a great hit back home among Bill Clinton's voters.

Jacques Chirac, sticking it in the ear of Jean Chretien and everyone else, wanted to prove he was a big boy by waiting until G-7 week to announce France was resuming nuclear tests in the South Pacific.

So, we see, the Geriatric 7 serves a useful purpose after all: 2,800 reporters who have nothing to cover suddenly have to cover the reaction to things that are happening in Chechnya, Bosnia and will happen in Tahiti and California car dealerships.

The bizarre and arcane rules of the game multiply the fuzzifying of the muddification. Since all the meetings are closed, the hungry hacks can receive information only from subsequent ''briefings'' from sherpas who cannot be identified. And can only talk about their own peerless leaders. Thus, a ''senior German spokesman'' cannot say that Helmut Kohl thought Chretien was a dolt as chairman. A ''White House official'' cannot drop the word that the Italian prime minister fell asleep while they were discussing his country's financial problems.

And so it goes, the blind leading the blind or - as they used to say about Ike Eisenhower's eight years in power - the bland leading the bland.

One thinker who has tried to find a solution to this goofy system is Professor John Kirton of the University of Toronto, a confessed summit junkie.

He recruits bright kids who are similarly inclined and, using Financial Post credentials, sends them to all the briefings - using their language skills - and thus can sort out who is lying the most, who is bluffing, who can tell fibs the most artfully. He had some 20 moles here, furiously taking notes from ''senior government officials'' and mixing them in a blender in an effort to come somewhere near the truth of really what went on.

Heather Ferguson, 35, was a serious type in the horsey field, rather like Christopher Reeves, and spent two years in an English equestrian school until one day, shovelling manure, she thought she had had enough of this - and went to Ryerson journalism classes. ''Now,'' she laughs, ''I'm still shovelling it.'' She's a fund-raiser in Toronto.

Patrick Cirillo is doing a PhD at the University of Geneva. This is his eighth summit. Like the rest of Kirton's kids, he pays his own way to these things. Twelve of them are sleeping in a hostel.

Sachiko Shimizu, a U. of T. grad, works with a Japanese trading company and has the G-7 on the Internet. Ella Kokotsis, a PhD candidate, covered the German camp. Carla Angelone tracked the Italians.

Ramine Shaw, with a master's degree in Russi and and East European Studies, is off to study in St. Petersburg. Sister Sabrina worked with Sylvia Ostry at the Institute for International Studies. The third sister in the group, Zaria, is going to work for the new World Trade Organization.

And by the way, Boris quite liked the whisky - according to ''a senior Canadian spokesman.''

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

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Revised: June 3, 1995

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