The opportunity seemed to be too good to pass up: as many as 4,000 members of the world’s news media gathered in the same place at the same time. And for the arrival of those journalists in Toronto to cover the June 19-to-21 economic summit, Canada’s largest city was determined to greet them with a blast of self-promotion. Much of the unabashed boosterism is intended to showcase Toronto as a world-class city, attract more tourism and business—and enhance Toronto’s bid for the right to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Said a May 9 communiqué issued by the Provincial/Municipal Secretariat for the 1988 Toronto Summit, the joint Ontario-Metropolitan Toronto organization co-ordinating the city’s attempt to capture the media spotlight: “We have an important opportunity to convey a strong, positive and lasting image when Toronto is uppermost in the minds of international journalists.”
Debris: The organizers clearly planned to present the city in its best light to all those attending the summit. Under a special $50,000 program, clean-up teams were assigned five weeks before the summit to sweep up debris and remove graffiti and posters from city walls. The visitors receive free access to Toronto’s transit system and free passes to attractions such as the CN Tower. A fashion show was prepared for the wives of dignitaries, featuring 13 of Ontario’s top designers—all of them Toronto-based. But others were vying for attention. The Popular Summit Facilitation Committee, for one, a coalition of almost 100 groups including the Metropolitan Toronto Labour Council and Toronto Disarmament Network, were planning to capitalize on the event by holding rallies and other events to publicize social concerns.
At the heart of the city’s efforts to ease visiting journalists into a proToronto frame of mind is Summit Square, the media hospitality centre. On June 1, construction crews moved into the parking lot on Front Street across from the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre—site of the meetings—to transform it in a mere 17 days into a 6 Vi -acre tent-filled park for journalists. The plan called for a square complete with birch and pine trees, a waterfall, one live beaver in a cage, free refreshments, and broadcast facilities for foreign TV crews.
Officials said that they wanted to provide journalists with a pleasant atmosphere.
Moose: “We are not creating the moose-and-mountain impression here,” said Walter Tedman, assistant to Toronto Mayor Arthur Eggleton. “We are just creating a nice, park-like setting.” And they denied that the city’s approach is overly commercialized. Said Eggleton: “It is more of a soft sell—to create a greater awareness of Toronto.”
But soft sell appeared to be far from the minds of some organizations. Foremost among them is the Toronto Olympic Organizing Committee, whose chairman, Paul Henderson, said that the summit would provide him with a captive audience. “The fact that the summit is here at all solves an immense problem,” said Henderson, also a member of the advisory board to the provincial/municipal secretariat. “You would be surprised at how many people do not know where Toronto is. We are trying to give the media a feeling of the overall vitality, strength and sophistication of the city.”
To that end, visitors driving along the lakeside Gardiner Expressway will see the electronic message “Toronto ’96—meeting place on sparkling water” flashing on at least 16 billboards. A 10-foot-by-52-foot “Toronto ’96” banner was prepared to adorn the skeletal frame of the SkyDome—the sliding-roof sports stadium originally scheduled to be completed next spring, although that date is now under review because of construction strikes in Toronto. And on Summit Square itself, the Olympic committee organized a booth from which skiers Laurie Graham and Steve Podborski would promote Toronto.
Beer: At Summit Square, journalists may drink, among other beverages, free beer with the compliments of Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd.; eat free food provided by Shopsy’s, a division of Thomas J. Lipton Inc.; and listen to such Canadian musical groups as Blue Rodeo and The Canadian Brass. But as they make their way among the trees and waterfall, visitors also encounter signs and plaques that honor the 30 corporations—among them Noranda Inc., Imperial Oil and Canada’s five major banks—who contributed to the square’s officially estimated $2-million cost.
Those signs have added to the problems of the CBC,
TORONTO SUMMIT ’88
which, as the host broadcaster, provided summit TV transmission facilities. Indeed, David Knapp, executive director of the CBC’s host-broadcaster service, claimed that the corporate signs could ruin the classy image that Toronto is trying to promote. Added Knapp: “Broadcasters are not coming from around the world to do stand-ups with corporate logos behind them.” As a result, the CBC had to build raised platforms so that TV cameras would have clear sight lines.
Show: Still, the event that promised to satisfy any craving for sophistication is the fashion show for the spouses of summit leaders and other special guests (Denis Thatcher, husband of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was not scheduled to attend the summit).
Lined up to be hosts of the black-tie affair at the Royal Ontario Museum on June 19 were Mila Mulroney, wife of the Prime Minister; Shelley Peterson, wife of Ontario Premier David Peterson; Brenda Eggleton, the mayor’s wife, and Margaret Flynn, wife of Metropolitan Toronto Chairman Dennis Flynn.
Nancy Reagan was among those expected to attend.
The show was designed to be one of the few occasions when nonofficials could socialize with visiting dignitaries. But co-ordinator Jennifer Dickson said that the guest list, limited to 300, “is becoming a political challenge.” She added: “We
have all these corporate sponsors and nowhere to invite them to. The fashion show is becoming the hottest ticket in town.” Those selected to attend with the summit celebrities—a mix of Toronto executives and fashion mavins—were promised an entertaining show. Toronto-based designer Pat McDonagh, who will be showing 12 one-of-a-kind items at the affair, said that “if the spouses were at a show in Paris or Rome, it is the sort of thing that they would expect to see, with all the whimsy of an international fashion show.”
Security: Heavy security arrangements for the summit left few, if any, chances for ordinary Canadians to see the summit leaders. And a special tactical team, trained at the Canadian Forces Base Borden near Barrie, Ont., and including members of municipal police forces, the Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP and federal security forces, was poised to protect the dignitaries from terrorist attacks. But some Canadians, among them members of Toronto’s estimated 300,000-strong Italian community, also planned to celebrate the presence of the summit delegations. Upon his arrival on the day before the summit opens, Italian Prime Minister Ciriaco De Mita and part of his delegation were invited to a reception at North Toronto’s Columbus
Centre, a social, cultural and recreational centre, and the nearby Villa Colombo, a home for senior citizens of Italian descent. “They will come out of symbolic respect to the people in Canada still most attached to Italy,” explained Palmacchio Di Iulio, executive director of the centre, before the event. “As Italians, we want to make them feel at home. As Canadians, we want to show off our country.”
But some people were clearly immune to summit fever. A source at the provincial/municipal secretariat said that some corporations had refused to donate to Summit Square because the promotions were too Toronto-oriented. Three weeks before the summit was scheduled to open, a blunt, spraypainted sign,“F— the summit,” appeared on a wall of one Mr. Submarine shop. Earlier, a civic employee had labored to remove the slogan “Cancel the economic summit” from the city hall itself. And some Torontonians are openly critical of the city’s preparations. Said Gary Betcherman, a freelance writer and a clerk at Pages bookstore, a popular local artists’ meeting place on trendy Queen Street West: “It is like Toronto is a debutante wearing high heels for the first time.”
Sheen: Indeed, some Torontonians said that they intended to knock the sheen from the summit celebrations. The Popular Summit Facilitation Committee planned to hold a demonstration at Queen’s Park on the first day of the summit to _ protest the policies of the seven Q summit leaders. “We don’t dispute that the need to reduce inflation is important,” said Ann Pohl, a committee organizer. “But military intervention, I homelessness, hunger and de9 struction of the environment are the end result of their policies.” And organizers said that they would try to serve the seven leaders with mock arrest papers for humanand environmental-rights violations.
But even some people associated with the committee conceded that, by hosting the summit, Toronto has a momentous opportunity to shine on the world stage. “It helps to put Toronto on the map,” said Jack Layton, a left-wing Toronto councillor and an active supporter of the committee. “It is a rare event.” Meanwhile, civic leaders counted off the days of preparation. Said Eggleton: “I just want people to understand Toronto for what it is—a world-class city with small-town civility.” And, it appeared, a strong sense of municipal promotion as well.
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