The Bitter (Cold) End of the G-7by Adam S. Posen | December 24th, 2009 | 09:55 am
A colleague unlucky enough to have to attend reminded me that the potentially last G7 finance ministers’ meeting, or at least the last one that may matter at all, is scheduled for Iqaluit, Canada. In February. Iqaluit, which means a place of many fish in the local Inuktitut language, is according to Bloomberg home to a number of local guides who provide visitors with dog-sledding tours, caribou hunting guidance, and expeditions to ice floes. These excursions, however, aren’t available during deep winter months. Like February.
Where is Iqaluit?
Iqaluit is in Canada’s far north, a place where it is said that the ground never thaws and winter blizzards can last for days. It is the capital of the northern territory of Nunavut, 195 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It is on the northern end of Hudson Bay, across the water from the northern tip of Quebec. When the ministers and central bankers do arrive, after four hours flight from Montreal, they will likely be in the dark about more than the economic outlook – the outlook on landing will be limited to less than eight hours of sunlight a day.
My mother points out that when my father was doing oil exploration in the Yukon for Shell Oil in the 1950′s, and was thoroughly frostbitten, he was working at a lower latitude than Iqualit. Environment Canada reports that the Iqaluit average temperature in February is 29 degrees Celsius below zero, and that wind chill could be as cold as minus 50 degrees Celsius, “which means exposed skin would freeze within five to 10 minutes.” I have been told that the considerate hosts have taken sizes and orders from participants for official G7 parkas, warning that without them, guests may freeze to death.
We have reached the logical conclusion of the G7 process. Canadian officialdom is bitter that they will soon be irrelevant given the G20. Canadian officialdom is also bitter that they were successively dragged for prior G7 meetings to Okinawa, to an Italian earthquake site, and to St. Andrews in November rain storms to sate the then hosts’ respective domestic constituencies. So now the Canadians are using the G7 finance ministers to prove their point of sovereignty over their far north. In February.
We have long had mutual non-aggression on economic policies among the G7, even when peer pressure would have been useful. Instead, any constructive agenda setting is focused on escalating tit for tat in making the Finance Ministers’ meetings as unpleasantly located as possible while as politically symbolic as possible. We have reached the point where G7 summit sherpas are in need of real sherpas.
Bid the G7 a fond farewell. I had hoped it would become the rich democracies’ caucus within the G20, and in terms of pre G20-meeting phone calls, I have heard it kind of has. But more it has become the perfect international group to recognize today, on Festivus, the holiday whose main activity is the airing of grievances.