OTTAWA — It’s just a fake lake, but it’s creating waves across the country.
The Council of Canadians says the artificial indoor lake that G8 organizers are building inside their Toronto media centre deserves a name.
The protest group is applying to the Geographical Names Board of Canada to have it named “Harper’s Folly.”
“This lake must have an appropriate name, and who better to name it after than Prime Minister Stephen Harper who approved of this expenditure as well as another $1.1 billion to be spent on three days of meetings,” the group says in its application to the names board.
The lake is part of a $1.9-million display called The Canadian Corridor, meant to expose reporters to what Canada has to offer. It’s supposed to give them the feeling of being in the Huntsville, Ont., area where the G8 summit will be held at the end of June.
The lakeshore is lined with racks of canoes donated by Muskoka residents, as well as deck chairs and a fake dock that camouflages several recharging stations for Blackberrys.
On the horizon, a giant screen portrays the real Muskoka, with its lakes, forests and rocky outcrops.
In reality, very few of the thousands of reporters covering the G8 will get anywhere close to Muskoka’s cottage country. Only a small pool of about 200 reporters will be allowed to cover the G8 summit in Huntsville, and the rest will have to rely on a broadcast feed of the event fed into the media centre in Toronto.
That’s precisely why the government chose to create a “Northern Ontario Oasis” at the media centre, said Peter Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs for the Americas.
“Every host country provides a media facility and I think that ... for a less cynical international media this will probably prove to be a benefit.”
Kent said it was part of the host country’s responsibility to provide adequate facilities for the media of the world.
“At every G8 and every G20 there are facilities provided for the media and they can chose to use them,” he said.
Industry Minister Tony Clement tweeted a similar tune on Sunday.
Muskoka is part of his riding, and he is defending the display as legitimate promotion of the area.
“We’ve got up to 3000 int’l journalists in the media centre for 3 to 5 days. We should be condemned if we didn’t promote!” Clement said in a Twitter response.
The federal Tories have been harshly criticized for budgeting $1.2 billion for security, hospitality and infrastructure to host the G8 summit in Huntsville and the G20 summit in Toronto.
But the lake project is well worth it, Clement said.
“Calm down. It is a reflecting pool,” he urged critics.
“People: promoting tourism & Cdn business as a result of hosting Summits is a valid & legit aim & program.”
Officials stress that the $1.9-million cost is split between the federal and provincial governments, and that the bill is not just for the lake. It’s also for a replica of the Toronto Stock Exchange, and other presentations that showcase the City of Toronto and tourism in Ontario.
That didn’t stop opposition parties from criticizing the plans.
NDP leader Jack Layton wondered who made the decision to create the lake and said taxpayers should be outraged at the expense.
“If there was one thing that we didn’t have to create artificially in Canada, it would be a lake,” he said. “We’ve got lakes everywhere.”
Huntsville tourism and business leaders were consulted for the design of the pond.
The aim, officials say, is to give reporters the tools they need to put together knowledgeable pieces about the Huntsville area.
The effort is in stark contrast to the approach the federal government took to promoting Canadian tourism at the Olympics.
Ottawa dithered on whether to build a Canada pavilion for so long that, when the call was finally made to go ahead, organizers had to scramble. They hired an American firm. The result was a structure that was widely condemned as ugly, for the cost of $10 million.
The G8 organizers have hired Lord Cultural Resources Planning and Management Inc. of Toronto to design and build the Canadian Corridor. That’s the same company that took charge of the Ontario Pavilion at the Olympics, to much acclaim.
Despite the presence of canoes, reporters will be discouraged from going out for a paddle between news conferences. The fake lake is quite shallow, and lifeguards will not be on hand.