OTTAWA — The Conservative government scrambled Tuesday to mount a furious defence of its G8/G20 summit planning to douse escalating opposition attacks on the enormous cost of hosting the international gatherings.
Those attacks were threatening to swamp the substance of what the government wants to achieve at the summits while endangering the Conservatives’ hard-won reputation for economic management.
The opposition barbs were built around a decision to construct an artificial reflecting pool in the media centre in Toronto. Just don’t call it a fake lake, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the Commons.
It’s a well-planned “marketing pavilion” to promote Canadian tourism, he said.
The prime minister, his top communications advisers and more than a dozen tourism and private-sector executives were dispatched Tuesday to set the media straight.
Reporters from every news organization on Parliament Hill were given an hour’s notice to come to the Langevin Bloc housing the prime minister’s office and listen to a bid to defend the marketing pavilion and artificial pond the government is building.
“Our government will not apologize for marketing and promoting Canada to the entire world,” said Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s director of communications, kicking off the 45-minute pitch.
In the House of Commons, the prime minister made a similar pitch, refuting accusations that he was spending $2 million on a fake lake.
“In fact, Mr. Speaker, what there is, is a $2 million marketing pavilion,” Harper said. “There are thousands of visitors from around the world. This is a classic attempt for us to try and market the country.”
The federal Conservatives were under fire for the second consecutive day for spending $1.9 million on a display that includes an artificial lake, canoes, a dock, deck chairs, a bar, a place to watch soccer and a pretend Toronto Stock Exchange.
“The more you learn, the more ridiculous it seems,” said NDP Leader Jack Layton. “I don’t think you attract tourists with a fake lake or a big TV screen, I’m sorry. Canada has got more to offer than that.”
The display is part of the Toronto media centre Ottawa has set up for about 3,000 reporters coming to cover the G8 and G20 summits at the end of the month. The goal is to showcase the Muskoka region to reporters who will not be allowed to go to Huntsville for the G8 meeting and to highlight Toronto and Ontario to foreign journalists.