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Jennifer Lewington, Jane Taber, Josh Wingrove, The Globe and Mail
November 18, 2009
The Prime Minister’s Office hasn’t announced the location, but Toronto’s hospitality industry is bracing for a last-minute blitz
With the G20 summit seven months away and its location unannounced, officials in Toronto are scrambling to consider whether the city can accommodate the premier, last-minute addition to its tourism calendar.
Sources say plans are in the works to hold the summit in Toronto and rumours of tentative hotel block-booking by G20 delegates are swirling, but the Prime Minister’s Office hasn’t announced the location of the event, considered by many to be too large for the Ontario cottage country resort town where it was first expected to be held.
The silence leaves Toronto and its 43,000 hotel rooms in limbo. The city is already hosting three conferences of 10,000 attendees or more next June. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the likely site of the G20 and home of the 1998 G7 summit, is booked for the month.
“The whole thing is in a state of flux until the Prime Minister decides what he is going to do,” said John Houghton, MTCC executive vice-president. “We would have to shift business around to accommodate anything.”
As Toronto’s hospitality industry braces itself for a last-minute planning blitz, Ottawa says the G20 site is still up in the air. “No decision has been made on the location. No announcement has been made. One will be made in due time,” said Sara MacIntyre, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The G20 summit will be preceded by the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., located within the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding of Industry Minister Tony Clement. The minister said he is still pushing to also host the G20 in Huntsville. A $50-million fund for G8 infrastructure has been used to pour federal money into Mr. Clement’s riding, including a number of projects that are far from the summit site.
“I’m still working hard to advance the case of Muskoka for the G20 as well as the G8. The latter is coming along nicely,” Mr. Clement said in an e-mail. “[For the G20] it all comes down to whether ‘we’ can actually pull it off in a secure & comfortable fashion. As you know, the G8 is more like a G15 & the G20 is more like up to 57 countries & institutions (IMF, WTO, etc). So all I can say for certain is that Muskoka is ready to welcome the world for G8, G20, or any combination.”
Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty had said he was warned weeks ago the G20 may be moved out of his region, but that he recently received an e-mail message from Mr. Clement, saying: “Don’t give up, we haven’t said no yet.”
The list of detractors to the plan includes RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, who said yesterday hosting the G20 in Huntsville would be “difficult if not impossible.”
Deerhurst Resort, site of the G8, has about 400 hotel rooms, with no more than 600 in the surrounding area. The G20 summit is expected to require more than 10,000 rooms.
“I don’t frankly think there’s enough room in Deerhurst [resort] for all the people would attend a G20,” Mr. Elliott said.
Sources say planning has begun on a Toronto summit, a prospect that excited Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“For me, it’s a great honour to be able to host the G20 and I am anxious to welcome them,” he told reporters, adding it would pose logistical and security issues. “Any time we have the opportunity to put our capital city of Toronto on the global map, it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Toronto Mayor David Miller released a statement saying there have been “no formal discussions” about a G20 site. But he also put in a plug for Toronto, citing its past success in staging major events such as the Pope’s visit in 2002, an international AIDS conference in 2006 and the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2007.
“If it [the G20] comes to Toronto, we will work with the federal government and all relevant partners to ensure this event is a safe and successful one,” he said in a statement.
“We know we can handle it,” city manager Joe Pennachetti added.
Across the Toronto region, officials in nearby Durham Region and Mississauga say they’ve received no overtures about participating in the event, suggesting the focus will be on the City of Toronto alone.
Though the MTCC is booked, planners may look to Exhibition Place. It is relatively quiet in the summer, and hosted the Pope’s 2002 visit with tight security.
“If the federal government were to pursue this, Obviously we would bend over backwards because it would be terrific for Exhibition Place and the city,” Exhibition Place chairman Joe Pantalone said about the prospect of hosting the G20.
Mr. Houghton said there are rumours, without official confirmation, that several delegations have booked downtown hotels and that rooms have been set aside at hotels along the airport strip near Pearson International.
The event would be a shot in the arm for the city’s tourism industry, Mr. Houghton said.
“It does not get any better than this … it would be staggeringly important,” he said. “You would do your best to do whatever you could do” to accommodate it.
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