The G8 and the G20 summits took place in Ontario over the weekend and media reports focused on violent protests on the streets of Toronto. How you view the violence depends on where you reside. For most of the world, the protests took on a symbolic importance as anarchy in the streets surged into the vacuum created by the lack of consensus or effective action by the governments of the world’s largest economies – the images of chaos on Toronto’s normally orderly streets reflected the chaos people sense in the global economy right now. For Canadians, the demonstrations and the police response are more than symbolic: they are evidence of a failure on the part of Canadian governments – federal, provincial, and Toronto’s regional and local governments – to maintain peace and order.
Summit meetings produce results when the leaders attending share a consensus about problems and potential solutions. No such consensus is apparent as world leaders head to Canada this week to attend the Group of Eight (G8) and Group of Twenty (G20) summits in Ontario. Given the history of these global summits and divisions among the leaders who will be attending, Stephen Harper has done well in trying to position the meetings to generate modest positive results. Yet low expectations prevail for the meetings amidst a global economic crisis that Canada feels less than most of the countries whose leaders it will host.