One day last year I started working on a blog post about Canada, having just learned the answers to a couple of questions about Canada’s history that had always puzzled me. But then something else came up that I wanted to blog about, and again the next day, and that blog post never got written. I told myself that I’d work on it when Canada came up in the news.
I’m sure Canada has been in the news a number of times since then, but it was an article I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that got my attention. Why are the G-7 finance ministers meeting in a city so small (population of 7000) that it doesn’t have a single traffic light? (The traffic does pile up three times a day at the four-way stop sign, but with only 700 taxpayers, Iqaluit would have trouble paying for a traffic light.)
The article doesn’t mention why this remote capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut was chosen for the event, but I quickly thought of a reason. For years I have read about the protests – ranging from merely disruptive to openly violent – that meetings of the G-7 (or is it G-8?) attract. (One novel I read last year had the U.S. host its foreign dignitaries on a cruise ship to avoid those problems.) Situating the event in the far north, where access is only by airplane (except in the summer and early fall when the ocean thaws and boats can approach), will keep most if not all protesters away.
A column in Tuesday’s WSJ confirms my guess – and also points out that “The benefits of keeping these officials far from their normal levers of power even for just a couple of days would be well worth the effort.” I hadn’t thought there was anyplace that global telecommunications could not keep one in touch these days, but apparently a phone-rental system has to be set up for the meeting because “the area lacks coverage for popular GSM cellphones.”
I would think being out of touch with the daily crises back home might be a welcome break for stressed world leaders. So long as they’re dressed for temperatures that can drop to 40 below zero, they can enjoy the wild beauty of the land and the respite from crowds, noise, and traffic (except three times a day). Certainly their Canadian hosts are hoping they will appreciate the adventure of dog sledding (except the German finance minister, who uses a wheelchair).
One question this article brought up in my mind has to do with calling this a G-7 event. For a long time I used to see news about the G-7, and then it was the G-8, and here it is the G-7 again. And didn’t I read something about the G-20? After finding Wikipedia much less helpful than usual (the G-7 article distinguishes between G-7 and G-8 as two distinct groups; the G-8 article says it used to be G-7, and then refers to it as G-7/8), I found a good explanation at the University of Toronto’s G-8 Information Centre. It depends whether Russia (the newest member of the group) is participating.
Just in case I wasn’t yet convinced that I should learn some more about Canada, I find out that this G-7 event is just the beginning of Canada’s leadership of international events this year. Canada will host the Olympics this month and the Paralympics next month, then the G-8 and G-20 summits in June.
So if you start seeing a number of blog posts about Canada here, that’s why. Time to learn more about our neighbor to the north.