Halifax Hopes Tourists Will Replace Summiteers
Quebec City lost the privilege to have the G-7 summit and its publicity by refusing to fly the Canadian flag
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
THE party is over for Haligonians - the residents of this city of 110,000. Bill Clinton and the other leaders of the Group of Seven industrial democracies have left town after their annual summit. So has Boris Yeltsin, who hopes to make the G-7 the Group of Eight some day.
The fireworks show has been held. Free concerts by folk singers and jazz bands no longer boom across the Grand Parade, the prettied-up park next to City Hall.
Will there be a legacy to this provincial capital from this "Chevy summit," as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien dubbed it in reference to the relatively small sum of $36 million (Canadian: US$26 million) spent on the affair and the absence of fleets of limousines and lavish banquets?
Yes, says Walter Fitzgerald, the genial and voluble mayor. For one thing, the federal, provincial, and city governments spent about $9 million sprucing up the city. For example, after years of not being used, the streetcar tracks on Hollis Street downtown were torn out and the street properly paved. In the winter, a taxicab driver noted, the frost would break up the pavement and cars would slip all over the exposed track.
Another heritage was a small technology center and a "Discovery Center" for children, located in what had been a store.
But unlike many Olympic cities, Halifax did not build a new stadium or other costly athletic facilities that remain after the event. Nor was it like Paris or London or other major cities usually chosen for summits where any spending left little impact. The heritage the mayor welcomes for Halifax was the positive and valuable publicity around the world.
"We hope for substantially more visitors," Mr. Fitzgerald said in an interview. "People now know where we are."
Tourism has been growing rapidly - about 10 percent a year, according to one estimate. And city officials hope the summit will push tourism revenues over $1 billion this year.
The mayor welcomed and accepted interview requests by the news media, including three from German journalists and three from Japanese television networks.
"The Japanese seem to like Halifax," says Fitzgerald. Some 35,000 Japanese a year arrive at the Halifax international airport to travel north to Prince Edward Island where the cottage made famous by Lucy Montgomery's book "Anne of Green Gables" has become a major tourist attraction. "We love to see them stay here a day or two," he says. "Every country is a potential customer."
Halifax is one of the smallest cities to have hosted one of the annual G-7 summits, and the heads of state and government relished a warm, relatively uncritical welcome as world celebrities. Despite tight security, President Clinton a number of times plunged into a crowd of Haligonians to shake hands.
Afterward, a young woman gushed in front of a TV camera: "He is more handsome in person than on TV." Another said: "His suit was so nice. He was so friendly."
"In a number of cities," the mayor noted, "people now think of a summit as a nuisance because of the inconvenience - traffic disruptions and so on. Haligonians loved it. They don't understand why people in the states don't like Clinton. They were pleased and proud to have these leaders as guests and visitors. They were real, live people roaming our streets. I even got goose bumps on my neck."
The mayor was one of the official greeters at the airport for the leaders. Recalling meeting Boris Yeltsin from Russia, Fitzgerald said: "He shook and shook and shook my hand." And both John Major of Britain and Jacques Chirac of France remarked on how friendly the people were.
The local newspaper, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, welcomed the summit with several pages of coverage each day, and on Friday a 16-page special section. The paper had 85 staff members accredited. "It is blanket coverage," said business editor Roger Taylor. The paper, one of the few in Canada not belonging to a chain, benefited from advertising relevant to the summit by advocacy groups and businesses.
The summit, Mr. Taylor said, "has energized the place. Everybody was skeptical when they first heard of it. But it has created a renaissance of downtown Halifax."
With about 9 percent unemployment, Halifax would certainly welcome any job-creating tourism. "We aren't a rich people," said the mayor. "We are used to hard times."
Mr. Chretien might have given the summit to Quebec City. But the separatist government there refused to fly the Canadian flag.