I’d calmly planned to write on the Toronto G20 summit in two weeks, when it unfolds. But it’s making me crazy now. It’s like the second coming of SARS, the last time Toronto took a turn on the world stage: a lesson in ways to turn a fairly vibrant town into a desert.

Shut off the traffic and impede the pedestrians. Shopping dies, business dies. People are afraid to go to work, either due to the checkpoints or the fertilizer bombers. Cancel the components that make cities attractive — the art gallery, theatre, the university. Friends of friends postpone their wedding on the Toronto Islands, because their visiting parents may have trouble reaching their hotel inside the security barrier. Special-education kids won’t get bused to school even though it’s outside the dread Zone. Everything dies by proximity to security.

At least the SARS shutdown could be blamed on a virus. But this is definitive proof that we live in the new age of the security state. It ruins everything, even the return of former Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. It usurps press coverage — they aren’t allowed to go up to Huntsville for the preceding G8; instead they have to sit around a fake lake out at the CNE.

I want to be clear (as a lake). It isn’t the fake lake that bothers me, it’s the fake leadership. Why are we enduring this? So our precious leaders can deal with the wretched economy that their previous policies bestowed on us. And what have they already decided to do? Nothing, based on “leadership” provided by the summit host, our own PM. Here’s what I mean:

The banks and financial sector caused the Great Recession and the current unrecovery. It would have made sense for them to pay part of the cost of their own bailout and the accompanying wreckage.

Maybe not a Tobin tax, which would put a minute charge on banks per transaction but, since they’ve been inventive at slicing, dicing and multiplying transactions, could add up. That wasn’t even on the table for the G20. Instead, a small, universal tax to create a fund to help pay for the next set of bailouts, was. It had to be universal since otherwise, bankers could simply move their money till they found a country without such a tax. It’s this tepid initiative that Stephen Harper helped scuttle for the coming summit in favour, heh, heh, of separate national standards. Canadian bankers have since said demurely that, sorry, but they don’t think it will work. So nothing will be done. This kind of inaction is what we’re paying $1-billion to protect.

If they’re going to do nothing, why not stay home and do it? Or is the point to impress us with the security itself? Then why not skip the leaders and send the security?

At any rate, rising government deficits will now have to be covered not by the financial culprits but by ordinary citizens via spending reductions. This has become a virtual – sorry, I mean a real — mania among national leaders. They seem far more comfy with it than with the brief faux Keynesianism of two years ago. It will take the form of public-sector layoffs and slashing of public programs from isotopes to EI. All this is counterproductive, since it means tax revenues will fall further, leading to further cuts. But don’t ask me to explain it; ask those who spent money on a fake lake.

I’m sad to report that a global icon of this inhumane moment in history is our own Paul Martin — for his brutal attack on social programs in the 1990s, in a quest to balance the budget. (When he later tried to morph into nice Paul Martin, providing child care and aboriginal restitution, he lost power.) He’s in demand all over the world. Maybe they should have built a fake Paul Martin to put in “Experience Canada Alley,” instead of the lake and chairs.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.