G7 Research Group G7 Information Centre
Summits |  Meetings |  Publications |  Research |  Search |  Home |  About the G7 Research Group
University of Toronto

Prospects for the 2010 Muskoka G8 Summit

John Kirton
Director, G8 Research Group

Paper prepared for a conference on "The 2009 G8's Sustainable Development Challenge: Initiative and Implementation," Aspen Institute Italia, Rome, July 1, 2009. Draft of July 2, 2009.


On June 25–27, 2010, the leaders of the G8 major market democracies will gather in Huntsville, in the Muskoka region of Canada, for their 36th annual summit. In attendance will very likely be Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, at his fifth summit and hosting his first, as well as Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi at his eighth, French president Nicolas Sarkozy at his fourth, Russian president Dimitry Medvedev at his third and U.S. president Barack Obama at his second. Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel will be at her fifth summit should she, as expected, be re-elected in September; it will be the second summit for Japan's prime minister Taro Aso should he win his close election in September; and British prime minister Gordon Brown will be at his third as leader should he unexpectedly prevail in the general election due in the coming year.

As of January 1, 2010, the Muskoka Summit will be prepared by the standard set of four or so meetings of the leaders' personal representatives, or sherpas, and by G8 ministerial meetings for finance, foreign affairs, environment, employment, terrorism, home affairs and perhaps also development, energy and agriculture. There will also be many more official level and multi-stakeholder events. Yet the Canadian hosts, who see the G8 summit above all as a leadership process and leaders' event, plan to mount fewer than Italy's 73 summit-related meetings for 2009 and Japan's 65 for 2008, and not many more than the 40 Canada used for Kananaskis in 2002. Canada also wishes to help prepare its summit through the G20 summit on September 24-25, 2009, in Pittsburgh and the one likely to be held in 2010 when the Republic of Korea holds the presidency of the G20, and with the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) leaders' meeting hosted by Japan in the autumn of 2010.

The Muskoka Summit will come at a critical time. The global community will still be struggling to recover from the worst financial crisis and economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It will still be trying to reduce the likelihood and severity of new such crises to come in a globalized world, and to install an improved system of global economic governance appropriate for the 21st-century world. The Muskoka Summit will also have to co-ordinate its work with that of the new G20 summit institution that the current crisis brought to life in November 2008, and which is continuing its work (Kirton and Koch 2008, 2009b). The summit must cope with the aftermath of the undoubtedly disappointing December 2009 Copenhagen conference to design a new, now effective, climate change control regime for a rapidly warming world, and the similarly inadequate results of the spring 2010 conference to review and render effective the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as North Korea, Iran and others acquire the bomb. It will need to address development at the start of the third and final period for delivering the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed to by all in 2000 for fulfillment by 2015. And the Muskoka Summit must confront its responsibility to deliver the 33 ambitious commitments made at the G8 summits since 1997 to achieve ten major objectives on health, development, the environment, security and good governance by 2010.

[back to top]

Canada's Strategic Vision

Canada's Conception of the G8

Canada's approach to confronting theses global challenges through G8 governance as host in 2010 flows from its conception of the G8's central place in the world and in Canada's international and domestic life. As a committed internationalist and as the least powerful member of the old G7, Canada has long highly valued the G8, Canada's role as host and the desirability of taking a long-term, strategic view of its responsibilities as host, including for its fifth time in 2010.

Harper (2009) outlined Canada's conception of the G8 in late June 2009 as follows: "For many years, the G8 has proved itself to be a highly successful group. It provides like-minded countries with the opportunity to build momentum to address issues that matter for millions of the world's people and marshal the resources necessary to tackle some of humanity's most pressing challenges. Canada greatly values the role the G8 has played in world affairs ... The G8 is an institution with a proven record of moving agendas forward, of drawing attention to overlooked issues and, perhaps most importantly, of being able to mobilise resources to meet global challenges."

[back to top]

Canada's 2010 Planning Process

In keeping with its long-term, strategic approach to G8 summitry, Canada began its planning for 2010 in November 2007, when an interdepartmental group first assembled for a brainstorming retreat about the approach and issues Canada could select as priorities for 2010. The group identified such possible areas of Canadian comparative advantage as energy, which the Russians has chosen as a priority in 2006, and the Arctic, which the G8 had never dealt with before. Subsequent meetings helped refine the list.

[back to top]

The Summit Site and Date

The winning selections, along with the summit site and date, were announced by Harper on June 19, 2008, three weeks before Japan's G8 summit on July 7–9, 2008. Speaking in Huntsville, a city of 15,000 in the Muskoka vacation region of Ontario, Harper announced that the 2010 summit would be held there on June 25–27, 2010. He said the site of Huntsville, just north of Canada's largest city of Toronto, had been chosen to showcase to the world the natural scenic beauty of the Muskoka region.

In June 2009, Harper (2009) elaborated upon his choice of the summit site:

I am delighted to welcome the world to Muskoka next year. Muskoka is quintessentially Canadian — a landscape that has inspired generations of poets and painters. Several thriving First Nations communities call it home. It has a bounty of natural resources, including vast forests and more than 600 lakes, bounded by rocky shores, and all just 200 kilometres north of Toronto, our largest urban centre. Not surprisingly, Muskoka has long been a peaceful refuge for city dwellers and is now a centre for eco-tourism. My hope is that in this tranquil setting world leaders will find renewed inspiration to tackle the many pressing global issues before us.

The leaders will meet at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville. They and their core delegations will stay at the same hotel, and another right next door, in a fashion similar to Kananaskis in 2002 and at Canada's first summit at Montebello in 1981.

To maximize security and minimize disruption to Canada's daily lives, G8 leaders are expected to arrive and depart at the airfield at North Bay, conveniently located a little to the north of Huntsville, and well equipped as the site of an airbase constructed for the North American Aerospace Defence Command during the years of the Cold War. Canada's Summit Management Office and perhaps also the international media centre will be located in downtown Huntsville, in facilities being constructed and expanded as part of Canada's stimulus spending to combat the economic crisis of 2008.

The date selected for the summit is a traditional one for Canada's, which has long preferred to host its summits in June, rather than July. Canada will thus welcome to Muskoka the president of Spain who assumes the presidency the European Council from Sweden from January 1 to June 30, 2010. It is also a time when Muskoka's visual splendour is approaching its finest, and just before the July 1 Canada Day national holiday weekend clogs its roads with those journeying to their cottages in Muskoka from the many large cities to the south.

[back to top]

The Summit Priority Themes and Agenda

On June 19, 2008, Harper identified as the substantive focus of the 2010 summit the three themes of open markets, global warming, and democracy, human rights and the rule of law. A year later he elaborated further: "Next year's Muskoka Summit will be a tremendous opportunity to advance the G8's work: to advocate for open markets and free trade at a time of economic turmoil, to insist on truly global action against global warming and to champion freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In my view, there are four broad areas where the G8 can continue to move the agenda forward in 2010: the global economy, climate change, development and democratic governance" (Harper 2009).

This most recent articulation of the core themes showed that Canada remained focused, as usual, on the same few core themes that it had set from the start. The expansion of open markets to include expansive "free trade" in the context of the current economic crisis reflected the eruption of the financial crisis in the autumn of 2008, the growing systemic threat of a global protectionist spiral led by America's and China's comprehensive "buy national" policies in the summer of 2009 and Canada's status as one of the most trade-dependent G8 economies — and one that was uniquely liberalizing its trade bilaterally and unilaterally in these crisis-ridden times. The elaboration of global warming to highlight the need for "truly global action" gave prominence to the longstanding core Canadian objective, endorsed by the G8 and implicitly by the 16-member Major Economies Meeting (now known as the Major Economies Forum, or MEF) at the Hokkaido-Toyako Summit in 2008, of having all major carbon-producing powers commit to controlling their carbon as part of a beyond-Kyoto regime. The addition of a fourth issue area — development — reflected in part the important fact that the financial crisis of 2008 had quickly become an economic and then, above all, a development one, meaning that the 2010 G8 would once again have to highlight this theme that it had consistently advanced as a priority since 2001. The evolution of democracy to "democratic governance" represented a focus on Canada's traditional constitutionally grounded key concept of good governance and a recognition that strong domestic institutions were the key to development, as development specialists increasingly affirmed.

[back to top]

The Priority Issues


The first priority, the economy, began as open trade. Free markets were added in the context of the current financial and economic crisis, and fiscal stimulus, sustainability and employment. In June 2009, Harper (2009) outlined his 2010 summit's economic priority as follows:

The level of international co-operation following the 2008 economic crisis has been unprecedented. Through G8 and G20 working together, governments acted quickly, and in concert, to stabilise the financial system and stimulate slowing economies. They collectively committed to resist protectionist pressures. Although Canada's financial sector was clearly sound, we undertook significant economic stimulus measures to counter a broader global slowdown. And Canada went farther, by unilaterally cutting tariffs and pursuing an ambitious programme of free trade and economic partnership agreements. It is my expectation that by the summer of 2010, when world leaders gather in Muskoka, the global economy will have begun to turn the corner and renewed growth will be in sight. Nevertheless, economic issues will be front and centre at the Muskoka Summit. Leaders will need to co-ordinate actions to lift some of the temporary policy responses put in place to deal with the crisis. Leaders will also have to look for ways to speed recovery, particularly on employment. Canada will use its G8 chair next year to generate momentum to support sustainable recovery.

This articulation reflected Harper's well-defined approach to G8 and G20 summitry, starting with the need to put first things first. His view, shared by many, was that financial regulation in general and issues such as offshore tax havens and hedge funds in particular were neither the cause of for the crisis, nor the cure, and they could be left until after the central problem had been addressed and solved. With resolving the credit crunch and restoring bank lending as the critical focus, the need was to raise confidence through stimulus and macroeconomic management that was credible in the long run. Issues of financial regulation and supervision and reform of the international financial institutions could best be left to specialists in the G20 and to the Financial Stability Board (FSB). G8 leaders could best deal with trade, fiscal stimulus and sustainability, and, as democratically elected politicians, with the need to produce real jobs for the new economy ahead. Efforts to create a legal global code or charter for moral finance were secondary or even unnecessary. The key challenge was not to codify or consolidate rules further but to mobilize the political will to implement the many such codes that G8 members and the global community already had. This approach was very much driven by a practical, down-to-earth, epistemic "first thing first" conviction of a leader with an advanced degree in economics, rather than any effort to protect the interests of national financial centres benefiting from a light regulatory touch, such as London or New York.

[back to top]


The G8 had long been central to Harper's overall approach to climate change control. In the campaign manifesto that had united his party and propelled it to power for the first time in the election of January 2006, Harper had pledged to address climate change "in concert with" the major industrial powers (Conservative Party of Canada 2005). He consistently argued that for an effective global solution to this genuinely global problem, America needed to commit to control its carbon emissions, as did all other major carbon-producing powers, now led by China, the world's first-ranked global greenhouse gas emitter. As Canada could do little unilaterally at home or abroad to solve the problem, its national and international policy was dedicated to bringing this needed new "all in" global regime to life. At the 2007 and 2008 summits, Harper and Canada played a useful brokering role in bringing Europe and the U.S. closer to help the summit host build a joined-up regime. At Toyako in 2008, all the G8 members, and more tentatively and implicitly the MEF members, agreed that they would commit to controlling their carbon levels in the new regime that would replace the failed Kyoto one.

Harper (2009) outlined his approach to the 2010 climate change priority as follows:

The international negotiations in the United Nations on climate change will culminate in Copenhagen this December. Canada is working actively and constructively to achieve an ambitious and comprehensive new agreement, one that covers the vast majority of global emissions and includes binding commitments by all major economies. At the same time, a successful agreement in Copenhagen must also support and enable sustainable growth, including through the expansion of secure and affordable global supplies of clean energy. Achieving this goal will require leadership from Canada and its G8 partners, as well as from the other countries participating in the US-led Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate. A new partnership will be required among major developed and developing countries if real progress is to be achieved in the coming months. The MEF provides an important new process in this regard, one designed to provide political momentum to the UN climate change negotiations while also deepening global collaboration on the development and commercial deployment of clean energy technologies.

Harper's approach derives from his longstanding determination that climate change control not come at the expense of growth, a condition all the more important to many now with the global economic crisis striking in such devastating force. His emphasis on the integrally connected component of clean energy supply reflected his proclaimed status of Canada as a clean energy superpower, and the hard fact that American citizens under Barack Obama still placed energy security as a policy priority and climate change in the 20th and last spot on their list. Harper's highlighting of the MEF, which Obama adopted from its inventor, George Bush, with only the name slightly changed, showed how Harper was counting on this forum to help America and the emerging powers accept an "all in" approach. It also implied that Harper was likely to invite the MEF leaders to the 2010 G8 summit, for the third year in a row.

[back to top]


Development was a late addition to Canada's planned priority agenda. It came because the financial crisis had become a development one, but also perhaps because powerful constituencies at home and abroad wanted Canada again to advance development as it had so consistently and effectively at the summits it had hosted in the past. This was also an area where a host committed to improving G8 accountability in fulfilling past promises needed to confront the G8's many still unfulfilled health and development commitments due for delivery in 2010.

Harper (2009) outlined his concept of the 2010 development agenda as follows:

The G8 has long played a leadership role in international development. It includes some of the world's largest donors, which account for approximately two thirds of official development assistance. The G8 has also provided about 80 per cent of This all funds for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and 50 per cent of all funds for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (including 98 per cent of all national contributions). In the short term and in the context of the global economic crisis, the G8 can help free up resources for development to restore the economic growth that is essential for sustained poverty reduction. The G8 can also continue to maintain international attention on the social dimensions of development — health, education and the critical areas of maternal and childhood well-being.

This approach began with the overall official development assistance (ODA) capability, and implicitly the responsibility, of the G8 states. It was a comfortable starting point for Canada, which was well on track to meet the G8's 2005 commitment to double global ODA by 2010, thanks to Canada's regular annual 8% increases in its aid spending. Indeed, in early 2009 Canada had become the first G8 member to fulfil the commitment to double aid to Africa by 2010, and was proud to have done so more than one year ahead of time.

Harper's approach to development then quickly focused heavily on health, long a Canadian priority, with particular reference to the high-profile diseases of AIDS, polio and tuberculosis. The statement made no reference to the role of science and innovation in health, where initiatives from Canadian scientists to adopt an initiative in this area were underway. Nor did the statement single out the traditional Canadian concern with strengthening cross-cutting healthcare systems. However, its concluding emphasis on maternal and childhood well-being had a comparable effect. This focus on mothers and children usefully targeted one of the most critical MDGs due for delivery in 2015, and the one most likely to have the biggest and broadest popular political appeal throughout the G8 citizenry and beyond.

The inclusion of education reflected an emphasis from Kananaksis in 2002, and a priority theme from St. Petersburg in 2006, the first G8 summit Harper had attended as a freshly elected first-time prime minister. Education was safely placed in a development context, thus avoiding suspicions from Canadian provinces that jealously guarded their constitutional jurisdiction for primary and secondary education at home.

Another development issue likely to appear on the 2010 agenda was food security. This was a follow-on from the treatment of this subject in Toyako and L'Aquila. It was also an area where Canada's sherpa, Len Edwards, had considerable expertise from his former experience as Canada's deputy minister of agriculture.

[back to top]


From the start democracy was the core thematic priority that served as a frame for the summit's political security agenda, and potentially much else. Harper's original phraseology in June 2008 was reminiscent of the language employed at several summits past. It also evoked the mission statement for the institution from the first summit in 1975 at Rambouillet, France, where its purpose was defined as the global promotion of "open democracy, individual liberty and social advance." For Canadians, Harper's initial articulation was a repetition of the quadrumvirate of values that had repeatedly been offered by his government from the start as the basic values guiding its entire foreign policy — freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This phraseology, which appeared in identical authenticity in Harper's June 2009 article on Canada's priorities as 2010 host, emphasized, accurately, the fusion between Canadian foreign policy and the G8 as its primary instrument and international institution.

In that article, Harper (2009) outlined the 2010 democratic governance priority as follows:

Advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law have been at the G8's core since its inception at the Rambouillet Summit in 1975. Major G8 initiatives on democracy have included the 1984 Declaration on Democratic Values, the 1990 Political Declaration: Securing Democracy and the 1997 communiqué's section on democracy and human rights. Shared values have been at the heart of the G8's success. They have helped make it an effective body that is capable of taking action quickly and in a co-ordinated fashion. These values will be a key theme of the Muskoka Summit because we believe they form the foundation of just and stable societies. And we think that improved governance more generally can go a long way to strengthening fragile states at risk of failure.

This statement was an authentic articulation of Canada's and Harper's concept of the essential character and value of the G8 — as a club whose shared values led to quick, co-ordinated, effective action. The seminal, proactive, Rambouillet expression of these values was reinforced by the causal concept that they form the basis for stable and just societies everywhere.

The judgement that good governance was a key contributor to "strengthening fragile states at risk of failure" evoked in the first instance the long, ongoing war in Afghanistan, a continuing G8 preoccupation on which Canada had long taken the lead. With Canadian forces due to end their offensive combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011, it was understandable that Canada would want to use the 2010 G8 summit to ensure that Afghanistan was well on the road to political stability, so that Canadian forces could depart from the country's longest war in its history, in victory rather than defeat. With the new Obama administration mounting a major American troop surge in Afghanistan, with all G8 allies doing more militarily in various ways, and with the G5 partners of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa quietly offering practical support, the emphasis of Canada's 2010 summit was properly on the political priority of helping Afghanistan's government provide security and other core government services for itself. This was a focus distinct from the duel Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that was due to dominate the G8 leaders' discussion of Afghanistan in 2009.

Improved governance for fragile states was also an issue of broader relevance, embracing countries such as Haiti, where Canada had a major development and security investment as well. It was equally applicable to Zimbabwe, Somalia and Guinea Bissau in Africa, and many other states. It highlighted the fact that even as Canada and other G8 members met their commitments to double ODA by 2010, for that aid sent from the global economic North to be effective in the South, it was important that the recipient governments in the poorest and most vulnerable countries develop strong institutions and good governance of their own. It was also directly relevant to the G8's approach to counterterrorism, where fragile states at risk of failure were the safe havens, homelands and breeding grounds whose political reform could help stop terrorism at its source.

[back to top]

The Other Issues

Political Security

Beyond this list of priorities, there were very likely to be additional issues dealt with at the 2010 summit. The most likely was nuclear non-proliferation. This included the acute ongoing threats from North Korea and Iran, the need to strengthen the global NPT regime, assistance to Canada's superpower neighbours — the United States and Russia — in reducing their own still formidable nuclear arsenals, and nurturing the Global Partnership Against Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, largely in Russia, which had been a centrepiece achievement of the G8 summit Canada hosted at Kananaskis in 2002. As Canadians had long been proud of having a lightly militarized country that was the first nuclear weapons–capable state to have renounced the bomb, they could be counted on to applaud their government's effort to advance the G8's non-proliferation agenda with particular force.

[back to top]

Summit Architecture

The 2010 summit offers an important occasion for some important decisions about the institutional architecture of the G8 summit-centred system of global governance as a whole, and is thus highly likely to be called upon to make such decisions. These included the outreach question of who should be the G8 members and participants, the "downreach" issue of involving civil society in the summit process, the accountability issue of improving the monitoring and implementation of G8 commitments, the management of the extended Heiligendamm Process of topic-specific structured dialogued among G8 and G5 members, and the G8's relationship with a G20 that has now become an ongoing summit-level institution of its own. In all these respects, Canada's "first things first" starting point is breeding a "form follows function" approach, leaving such institutional issues and details to be defined later on.

[back to top]


As of late June 2009 it was an open question of what additional leaders would participate in the Muskoka Summit beyond those of the G8 and the European Union, including Spain as president of the EU Council. For Canada this was an issue in last place. Canada's pragmatic approach meant that only when the substantive results sought had been identified would it be decided who should the necessary participants should be to achieve the intended result. Behind lay the minimalist instincts of Canada, and especially Harper, as far as G8 membership and participation were concerned. Harper himself strongly preferred smaller numbers for the high-quality interpersonal exchange they allowed, and valued the commonality and capacity for quick, ambitious decisions that came from a democratically devoted, like-minded club. Other G8 minimalists, led by Japan, were concerned about how G8 expansion would dilute the relative position of their country, reduce their time to speak and be heard within the G8 club, and erode the group's sense of shared responsibility to provide needed but expensive global public goods (Aso 2009).

Yet given the G8's 21st-century pattern of outreach and Canada's choice of priority themes and topics, it was highly likely that several other leaders would be there to participate in some of the sessions. The most obvious were the G5, with greater involvement — but not yet full membership — in the G8 club. A second likely group was Indonesia, Australia and Korea, the other members of the MEF, with the latter as chair of the G20 in 2010. It would also be difficult for Canada to resist inviting the core African leaders and the heads of the traditional multilateral organizations, especially with development now robustly on the agenda. The final decision would depend in part upon how L'Aquila and the Heiligendamm Process went, and the thought of France and the U.S. as G8 chairs in 2011 and 2012.

[back to top]


A second dimension of institutional architecture was downreach, or the inclusion of civil society in the summit process. Canada had long been an enthusiast and innovator here, with such events as an annual sherpa–civil society dialogue before the summit next year. It was thus likely to support the accumulated events in the lead-up to the summit, including the gathering of global faith leaders in Winnipeg just before the summit's start.

[back to top]


Canada has long been an enthusiast for improving G8 accountability, taking initiatives in this regard dating back at least to its hosting in 1995. In 2008 it identified accountability as a priority for its 2010 summit and devoted resources, including extensive contact with non-governmental organizations, about how this could be done. It has been a leader in the 2009 process in working for far-reaching moves to improve accountability. Its goal for 2009 is to put in place a general G8 process that could be improved in 2010. It ambitiously seeks not just accountability to leaders but also to citizens through reporting in at least a quasi public way. It insists on accountability not just with general G8 commitments, which can hide a lot, but with clear country-specific ones.

[back to top]

Heiligendamm Process

A fourth institutional issue is the Heiligendamm Process, due to be extended at the 2009 L'Aquila summit, probably for another two years. Muskoka would thus receive an interim report from the participants. As L'Aquila is likely to give greater flexibility the four existing dialogue pillars of investment, intellectual property, development and energy to add component issues and adjust their boundaries, Canada is likely to take maximum advantage of this opportunity to fine-tune the process.

[back to top]

Relationship with the G20

The fifth and final institutional issue is the relationship between the G8 and the new G20 summit. Harper's Canada strongly believes that the G8 is the sole source of leadership for the G20 and that the latter newcomer will not replace the tried and true, time-tested veteran club anytime soon. But it does want to co-ordinate the work of its G8 summit with the G20 summit likely to be held when the Republic of Korea chairs the G20 in 2010, and with the APEC leaders' meeting hosted by Japan in the autumn that year.

[back to top]


Aso, Taro (2009). "For Better Global Governance,"in John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds., G8 2009: From La Maddalena to L'Aquila. London: Newsdesk Communications Ltd.

Conservative Party of Canada (2006). "Stand Up for Canada: Conservative Party of Canada Federal Election Platform 2006," Conservative Party of Canada, Ottawa, January 13.

Harper, Stephen (2009). "The 2010 Muskoka Summit," in John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds., G8 2009: From La Maddalena to L'Aquila. London: Newsdesk Communications Ltd.

Kirton, John and Madeline Koch, eds. (2008). Growth, Innovation, Inclusion: The G20 at Ten. London: Newsdesk Communications Ltd.

Kirton, John and Madeline Koch, eds. (2009b). G8 2009: From La Maddalena to L'Aquila. London: Newsdesk Communications.

Kirton, John and Madeline Koch, eds. (2009b). The G20 London Summit: Growth, Stability Jobs. London: Newsdesk Communications Ltd.

G7 Information Centre

Top of Page
This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Libraries and the G7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to: g7@utoronto.ca
This page was last updated June 27, 2018.

All contents copyright © 2023. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.