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7 June 2010
Source: The Toronto Star
OTTAWA—A fake $2 million indoor lake by the Gardiner Expressway is the latest example of the Conservative government’s summit spending spree that some say could hit $2 billion by the time world leaders fly out of Toronto on June 27.
Dogged by the worst deficit in Canadian history, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is throwing around money it doesn’t have on summits in Huntsville and Toronto that are ironically devoted to coming to grips with huge government debt.
“This is supposed to be a meeting about dealing with the international debt crisis. We’re supposed to be leading the world in showing austerity and we invite them to our doorsteps to sit around a $2 million fake lake — it’s pretty ridiculous,” said Liberal MP Mark Holland.
Opposition critics on Monday raised several questionable expenditures in the House of Commons — from a new washroom dozens of kilometres away from the Hunstville G8 summit to paved roads to nowhere. Even though construction hasn’t started yet, it is the phony lake complete with Muskoka chairs, mocked-up canoes and changing scenery at the CNE grounds that captured the most attention.
“Whether we are talking about a $100,000 gazebo, a $200,000 welcome sign, a $300,000 toilet, a $400,000 steamboat refit, $20 million for fiddlers and flowers, or a sidewalk to nowhere that is 84 kilometres away, the wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money by the government for 18 hours of meetings is seemingly endless, Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner told MPs. “But now, la pièce de résistance, there is a $2 million phony Muskoka lake for journalists.”
“As Canadians continue to tighten their belts to deal with rising interest rates, as thousands remain unemployed, the Conservative government is blowing money on projects that in most cases have nothing to do with the G8 or G20,” Cuzner said.
The cost of the two Ontario summits continues to balloon. Total costs have now climbed to $1.1 billion, including $933 million for security for the three-day affair. Another $160 million will go for hospitality, infrastructure, food safety and extra staffing, according to available reports.
But, pointing to the fact that security costs are now six times higher than estimated by the government in March, critics say there is no way of knowing how big the final bill for taxpayers will go.
“I don’t find it hard to believe at all that the cost could rise to perhaps as much as $2 billion,” Holland said.
The government is hosting the gold-plated summits despite the fact that it is running the highest budget deficits in Canadian history. The Conservatives inherited a $13 billion annual budget surplus when they took power but the Harper government will have a budget deficit of $49 billion this year, part of budgetary shortfalls that will total $158 billion by 2014.
Industry Minister Tony Clement, whose Ontario riding includes Huntsville, defended the $50 million the Conservatives have spent just in his area since the 8 summit was first announced more than two years ago.
“We are proud of our country. We are showcasing that to the world with the G8 and the G20,” he said.
Peter Kent, junior foreign affairs minister and former TV anchorman, blamed the media for the fake lake in Toronto, accusing television networks of using make believe backgrounds for their stand ups and interviews.
“Every host country provides a media facility and . . . for a less cynical international media this will probably prove to be a benefit,” Kent said.
Because of tight security, the media centre for both the Huntsville summit and the G20 summit will be in Toronto. In the case of the G8, about 200 reporters are being bused to cottage country and back each day, leaving hundreds of others to cover it off television.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said the last thing Canada needs is an imitation water feature.
“We have a government here that has to create an artificial lake when Canada has more lakes than just about any other country in the world. It is the taxpayers who are going to end up at the bottom of the fake lake with a fake Muskoka behind them. How can the Prime Minister justify wasting taxpayers’ dollars this way? It is absurd,” Layton said during question period.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the lake “is one of the funniest things I have ever heard.”
Toronto councillor Adam Vaughan echoed Duceppe’s comment.
“If it wasn’t so serious, it would be hysterically funny,” Vaughan told the Star’s Robyn Doolittle. “The federal government refuses to compensate the businesses in my ward for damages, yet they’ll build a $2 million fake lake — across from a real lake. As far as I’m concerned, they can jump in that lake.”
Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, chair of the board of governors for Exhibition Place, said every year during the Toronto International Boat Show, organizers create a similar fake lake at Ricoh Arena.
“But there’s no way that would cost $2 million,” he said. “I can’t imagine how it could cost that much — unless they’re buying fancy boats and stocking the water with swordfish.”