Careful what you wish for, Toronto

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Sun Media, Friday, June 25, 2010

If you thought driving to Muskoka from Toronto was a nightmare on Friday nights in summer, don’t even think about it this week with the G8 leaders descending on Huntsville for a sleepover.

As for Toronto and the G20 Saturday and Sunday, think of it as the country’s revenge on Toronto for its pretensions of being Canada’s world-class city. You want to be the centre of the universe, Toronto? You got it for two whole days. Beware of what you wish for.

Toronto residents had been warned for weeks that their lives would be disrupted. But the magnitude of the lockdown became visible last weekend with the completion of the high security fence and checkpoints around the perimeter of the summit. It looked like West Berlin, 1961, not Toronto, 2010. The Toronto cops running the checkpoint at the corner of Front and Bay Sts. were just the advance for a huge security force of 20,000 police and military.

Several blocks west, at the corner of Front and John Sts., is the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, site of the G20 meeting and Ground Zero of the combined G8-G20 security operation, which could cost more than $1 billion for three days. That’s not a budget, but how much has been authorized in treasury estimates, including all contingencies for serious incidents.

There are no guarantees that anarchists won’t try to provoke the cops and, after they’re dispersed with tear gas and truncheons, blame it all on police brutality, whereupon the opposition will demand a full public inquiry.

Even assuming all goes without incident, there’s no doubt that the good people of Toronto have suffered major inconveniences this week as they went about their daily business.

Toronto’s efficient and incredibly clean GO trains have operated mostly on schedule, but walking to work in the financial district has required a detour to Bay St. on the east side of Union Station.

Flying into Toronto Island? Porter Airways has suspended its popular free shuttle to the west door of the Royal York Hotel. You’ll have to cab it and consider yourself fortunate that the island airport wasn’t declared a no-fly zone, since on landing or takeoff you’d be flying right past the convention centre. If you see jets flying in formation over Lake Ontario, it won’t be the Snowbirds putting on a show for the leaders, but CF-18s making darn sure nobody flies a small plane into the convention centre.

Planning on seeing the Blue Jays, who were scheduled to be in town this weekend? Forget it. They’ve been sent on the road instead, since Rogers Centre is right next door to the convention centre.

Or you were going to take the kids to the CN Tower? Closed for the weekend, same reason. Were you going to call for a hair appointment at the Royal York? Sorry, maybe next week. You need delegation credentials to get past the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall. Need to stop at an ATM for some cash for the weekend? Not downtown, in the heart of the country’s financial district.

For the all the aggravation, dislocation and cost, it’s a fair question whether Muskoka, Toronto as well as Ontario and Canada get fair value for their investment in terms of reputational return.

It’s too soon to say. Meanwhile, thanks, Toronto, for taking it on.

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