Image: Charles Michel/Twitter

For years I’ve argued against the G7, G8 and G20 summits.

I’ve highlighted numerous concerns including that they are undemocratic, deeply neoliberal and that the security measures imposed on host communities have infringed on our right to free speech.

But a key point has always been their exorbitant cost.

For example, the final cost of the infamous G20 summit in Toronto and G8 summit in Huntsville on June 26-27, 2010 was nearly $858 million according to documents tabled in the House of Commons.

The subsequent G7 summit on June 8-9, 2018 in La Malbaie reportedly cost $605 million. The CBC reported at that time, “Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for at least $21.6 million for every hour that our visitors are in town.”

Nine years ago, I wrote, “The prime minister must now also acknowledge that a billion dollars could be better spent on any number of urgent international priorities, such as providing access to clean drinking water worldwide.”

I further argued, “The place for national leaders to meet is not in behind barbed wire fences in small groups of eight or 20, but rather [as the G-193] in the General Assembly at the United Nations. That’s what the United Nations was created for, and it has the buildings, infrastructure and appropriate security in place for gatherings of world leaders.”

My argument to scrap the summits seemed like a reasonable and defensible proposition, but, of course, not taken seriously by those in power.

Now, the awfulness of the coronavirus pandemic is confirming for us that ideas that once seemed outlandish are in fact doable.

Witness the extraordinary meeting of the G20 on March 26.

CNN reports, “Like most of their citizens have been doing in the era of self-isolation, the G20 leaders met over video. Photos from the session showed leaders all beaming into the session from their offices or homes … Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is self-quarantining after his wife tested positive for coronavirus, appeared from home.”

The extraordinary G20 leaders’ summit statement on COVID-19 arguably demonstrates a comprehensive discussion and concludes with the lines, “We stand ready to react promptly and take any further action that may be required. We express our readiness to convene again as the situation requires.”

The leaders pledged to inject $5 trillion in fiscal spending into the global economy to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic.

So, as it turns out, billions of dollars and severe police repression aren’t needed for the G20 to meet to discuss how they plan to tackle major world issues.

The next G20 summit is scheduled for November 21-22 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Let me humbly suggest at this time that if that meeting must happen, that it be done over video again.

Here’s a further suggestion to the G20: Follow through on your September 2009 pledge to “phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest.”

Billions of public dollars are wasted in this way.

Oil Change International has highlighted that G20 governments are “providing support to oil, gas, and coal companies to the tune of $444 billion per year, between direct national subsidies, domestic and international finance, and state-owned enterprise investment.”

Furthermore, The Narwhal has reported, “According to a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) report, Canada subsidized the fossil fuel industry to the tune of almost $60 billion in 2015 — approximately $1,650 per Canadian.”

Just think about how these billions of dollars could have been used over the years on strengthening public health-care systems so necessary at this time.

That may seem unlikely and our “leaders” will undoubtedly tell us that it isn’t possible. But, then again, they would have told us there was no alternative to spending billions on 24-hour G20 summits. Now we know for sure that’s not true.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. You can find him on Twitter @CBrentPatterson.

Image: Charles Michel/Twitter

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...