From the Editors
Opinions / November 18, 2014
A new best friend for Harper.
By Samantha Thompson
Imagine my joy when Stephen Harper posted a selfie to Instagram on Nov. 15, that depicted him hugging a koala, with the caption, “With my new friend, Jumbelung the koala.” Harper seems to love animals, as he has also had his photo taken with cats, and pandas. Canadian politics, am I right? Imagine my further joy when I realized that many leaders of power-hungry, “developed” countries all had similar photos: Tony Abbott of Australia, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Barack Obama of the U.S. There were several thoughts running through my head–are koalas the new babies (turning scary politicians into lovable teddy bears)? Why was the photographer so good at capturing hilarious koala expressions (Putin’s looks terrified)? Why did these leaders gift the internet with such precious photos (Caption contests galore)?
Because, obviously, the internet loved it. Us internet-users freak out when there are funny photos for us to add our wit to. I love it as much as the next person. But, let’s remember where these politicians were when they found a bunch of koalas in a hotel: at the illustrious, highly controversial G20 conference being hosted in Australia (hence the down under animals).
The G20 is one of those conferences that discusses really serious issues, but somehow often turns itself into a bit of a joke. For example, when Canada hosted the G8 and G20 in 2010, everyone was laughing because Harper thought it was a good idea to spend $2-million to create an indoor lake and cottage scene for the summit. Because if there’s one thing Canada doesn’t have as a country covered in forests and outdoor lakes, it’s cottage scenes. And while these weird events are comedic, they are also severely problematic because it makes it easy for politicians to discuss crucial issues where everyone is off blogging about koalas.
The Canadian-hosted G20 summit brought out widespread protest movements, that resulted in many assaults against protesters. Resulting court cases continued years after the summit concluded. The Toronto G20 involved the largest mass-arrest in Canadian peacetime history, and Canada’s largest security operation. It is uncertain if we will ever figure out exactly what happened, but it was a disaster that was largely ignored by politicians.
At this G20 conference, Harper told Putin to “get out of Ukraine,” which caused quite the stir (Putin left early, perhaps because Harper wasn’t alone in his sentiments). They also discussed climate change and made a plan to increase global GDP growth by $2-trillion over five years.
The G20 is a group of countries that have “major economies” (see: lots of money), that come together with their bank governors and governments to discuss issues they think are important. The countries include China, Argentina, Brazil and the U.K., and their collective populations account for 75 per cent of the world (their gross world product is equal to 85 per cent).
There are many critiques of the G20, including a belief that it is a global government created to promote neoliberal economics and ideologies. This is in fact fairly accurate, as a lot of their decisions are made to help markets grow and remain stable, with little regard to actual people. They often choose corporations over populations.
The reason the G20 is worth talking about isn’t because of their stupid shenanigans that happen way too often. They’re worth talking about because we need to be critical of the fact that these heads of state gather to make decisions with global impact, with little regard to how their decisions are impacting actual human beings. Their actions and decisions should further incite us to be critical of neoliberalism.
Unfortunately, because of koalas and fake lakes, much of the media coverage and conversation end up covering the G20’s fluffy antics. It is an unfortunate time that we’re living in when we’re more interested in cute animals than in political decisions that have significant international impact.
But then, it worked for Harper when he brought us a couple of baby pandas — so why not try it again?