The summit-by-the-sea was an immense personal success for Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and a considerable achievement for his ''senior Canadian government officials'' as we were constantly reminded to describe them at G-7 briefings.
As chairman, Chretien didn't let pressures such as the escalation of the Bosnian conflict and the U.S.-Japan trade row deflect progress on the planned agenda. The solid groundwork his officials had laid down on key issues such as reforms to international financial institutions also kept things on track.
The result was that this summit - the 21st - produced some real substance along with the rhetoric. The nuts-and-bolts of several directives still have to be worked out. However, arrangements to handle international financial crises will be improved - ''this is big time (as summits go),'' said professor John Kirton, University of Toronto summitologist. There's also a forward-looking plan for reforming the UN and streamlining its agencies. This could lead to eliminating certain of them. Actually naming some that should be chopped was remarkable politically.
A jobs conference set for early next year in France may not lead to much again, but it will give the international business community another opportunity to press its case against over-regulation, over-taxation, and other issues restricting the private sector from hiring. Some useful steps will be taken to combat the alarming spread of ''transnational'' - cross-border - crime. The gradual pulling in of Russia into the West has been moved a bit further forward, although there's no way the erratic Boris Yeltsin will become a full member of the club yet.
Communique language on more open trade and investment was in the end encouraging. It gives government officials of the world's major industrial nations the go ahead to push for more open trade in financial services and telecommunications, issues left over from the Uruguay Round. There is also a commitment to get on with more liberalized investment rules. These thrusts express exactly the game plan that Canadian officials took into the summit.
Also significant was the way Chretien won over Jacques Chirac, the new French president, as a friend of Canada as well as bonding him into the G-7 process. Chirac's resumption of nuclear weapons testing, while viewed with dismay, was not allowed to back him into becoming aloof from the group. He has agreed to sign a test ban next year. Chirac, host of next year's summit in Lyon, obviously enjoyed himself in Halifax, a city from which Canadian convoys have left twice this century to help liberate France. He spoke with feeling in thanking it and Canada for ''a very warm welcome.'' There was a time when France didn't even want Canada at the summits. Chirac will also be more aware now of the sizeable francophone presence in Atlantic Canada and its strong cultural influence. His wife attended a festival of Acadian music.
In this and other ways, Chretien's choice of Halifax as the site was brilliant. It kept numbers down, allowed him to disperse with grand ceremonial occasions - even traditional toasts - and turned dinners into working sessions.
What made this summit so very special, though, was the way Nova Scotians made it a community event. School kids drew and painted individual welcome cards to include in each delegate and media kit - mine from Chris Burris will go on our frig. Thousands thronged the streets at night to enjoy the entertainment and give the leaders a friendly reception. The alternate ''People's Summit'' made its point but there were none of the violent demonstrations that have characterized some past summits or the shield-carrying riot police needed to cope with them.
''I have never been so proud to be a Nova Scotian, said a local broadcaster covering the summit's final-night ''ceilidh'' when 50,000 showed up for a down-home outdoor musical celebration at the historic Halifax Citadel. This was certainly a summit with a difference.
(Ed. note) Neville Nankivell is The Financial Post's editor-at-large, based in Ottawa.
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Revised: June 3, 1995
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