Ottawa has vowed to pick up the security tab and keep disruptions to a minimum when the world’s most powerful leaders descend on downtown Toronto for what’s poised to be one of the city’s busiest summer weekends.
Despite ongoing concerns over traffic and the impact on local businesses and community events, the G20 economic summit will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, on the edge of the financial district, from June 26-27, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Friday.
“Toronto is a world-class city and is ideally suited to host this summit,” she said before unveiling the summit logo.
“(It) will also raise the profile of the city, the province and of the country and will bring spin-off benefits in tourism and economic activity.”
Arguably the event’s worst kept secret, the convention centre location was first revealed last week in a report by The Canadian Press.
The venue question has since become a thorny one for city officials who’ve been pushing Ottawa to host the huge summit at Exhibition Place.
The site was thought to be a better choice as it’s a few kilometres outside the core and would mean fewer disruptions for businesses and traffic.
A spokesman for Toronto Mayor David Miller said the city has conceded defeat on the matter and is prepared to work co-operatively with organizers.
“We accept their reasons, we understand their reasons and we’re absolutely committed to working with them to make sure (the event) is safe, secure and successful,” Stuart Green said in an interview.
The final decision was ultimately made by Ottawa. RCMP Chief Supt. Alphonse MacNeil said it came down to security.
“By having it here in close proximity to major hotels and things of that nature, our overall (security) footprint will be minimized,” he said.
“That’s important for security and that’s also very important for the citizens of Toronto who want to see the least amount of disruption.”
The bulk of G20 activity will take place on a Sunday, Raitt added.
“It’s not during the work week and that was a date specifically chosen by the prime minister to ensure little disruption to the ongoing working of day-to-day (life) here in the core,” she said.
While Toronto might consider kicking in some cash to promote the city during the event, G20 organizers assured Ottawa would cover all security costs.
Still, not everybody is convinced.
New Democrat Olivia Chow remembers when Toronto hosted the G7 summit in 1988.
The former Toronto city councillor, whose federal riding includes the convention centre, said the city ended up footing the bill for things like overtime policing costs. She said she’s most concerned about small businesses that may find themselves inside or near the security perimeter.
“They’re going to be hurt,” she said.
“Sunday is their prime business day, especially on the waterfront in the summer.”
She’s calling on Ottawa to ensure area businesses are adequately compensated for loss of revenue.
The Gay Pride festival, the dragon boat races and the Toronto Blue Jays should also be compensated with federal dollars as their events will be impacted by the summit, she said.
“The federal government must compensate the city before the April budget deadline,” she added.
“There’s no reason why taxpayers should pay.”
The meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations will take place just as Gay Pride week kicks off. The signature Gay Pride parade was already pushed back a week to accommodate the summit.
There’s also been talk of moving a Blue Jays game due to the proximity of the Rogers Centre to the convention centre.
A spokesman for the Blue Jays said there’s no immediate plans to change the schedule and Toronto police insist they’ll do everything they can to ensure the ball game goes off without a hitch.
“I wouldn’t like to see the game cancelled,” Toronto police Supt. Tom Russell said.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to assist patrons and pedestrians to get into the Rogers Centre.”
The head of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association is optimistic.
The G20 summit is expected to result in some 50,000 nightly hotel bookings at more than 30 hotels.
“It’s a good news story for us,” Terry Mundell said.
The G20, which takes place immediately after the smaller G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., is expected to draw tens of thousands of delegates from around the world.
Hundreds more media, non-governmental organizations and trade unionists are also expected.
Authorities are also bracing for thousands of protesters who’ve become mainstays at such events and have been known to cause security problems.