One of the questions on my recent public management exam asked students to resolve the logistical conflicts between the G-20 Summit, scheduled for June 26-27 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and baseball games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies at the Rogers Centre next door. The Phillies’ pitcher at one of those games would almost certainly be the Jays’ former ace Roy Halladay, in his first and only return appearance this season.
The question assumed that the federal, provincial, and municipal governments wanted to reconcile tight security for the summit with the personal freedom of baseball fans, and so the games would go ahead. As we learned earlier this week, the Blue Jays management concluded that those concerns were irreconcilable, and so the games will be played in Philadelphia instead.
Consider, first, the exam question. What would a logistical plan for holding the games at Rogers Centre have involved? Here are the elements I was looking for. First, restrictions on automobile access and parking near the stadium. Second, access to the games primarily by public transit from Union Station and St. Andrew’s, with clearly designated walkways to the game, likely avoiding Front Street. Third, strong military and police presence in the vicinity. Fourth, baggage and body searches of fans closely resembling the practice at airports. Fifth, very clear and repeated communication with fans so they know what to expect and prepare themselves accordingly.
As this wasn’t the outcome, let’s consider the decision to move the games. Whose decision was it? We don’t know how much prior consultation there was between Blue Jays management and any of the three levels of government, in particular the feds, but it was Blue Jays management that announced the decision. My strong suspicion is that, whatever their role in the decision, the government didn’t want to announce it themselves. For government, it’s a bad news story, and they are happy to let the team take the heat.
Life imitates art. In preparation for my book on narratives and public management, I have recently been watching back episodes of The West Wing. One of the episodes I watched yesterday, “The Women of Qumar” involved a series of decisions that represented defeats for the Bartlet Administration. The communications strategy involved announcing them all in a short period of time, with the announcements to be made, not by White House spokesperson C.J. Cregg, but by a number of departmental spokesmen at departmental offices rather than at the White House. Conclusion: distance yourself from the bad news.
But can government, particularly the Harper Government, distance itself from this particular item bad news? Governments want to host G-20 summits to showcase some aspect of their society. But does downtown Toronto really need to be showcased? It’s probably the most high profile urban venue in the country.
The Harper Government has a GTA problem, and would like to win some Toronto seats to contribute to a parliamentary majority. Perhaps the decision to host the summit in Toronto (rather than Muskoka, as had originally been planned) was an attempt to raise Toronto’s profile in the world and thus the government’s profile in Toronto.
But the G-20 summit is turning out to be a logistical disaster, as more and more aspects of normal urban life and personal freedom are being restricted on a weekend at the start of the summer. The residents of Toronto are being asked to turn over downtown to visiting politicians (who will only be visible on our television screens), the global media, and a massive military and police presence. Will this make the skeptical citizens of Toronto more likely to vote Conservative? I think not.