John Kirton and his summit scholars gear up for G20

June 5, 2010

The first picture you see on John Kirton’s office wall is a small reminder of how much the world has changed in two decades of watching G8 summits.

In it, the curly haired political science professor is shaking hands with former Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kirton has just helped him pull off the 2006 G8 meeting in St. Petersburg.

A decade before, it was Kirton who decried the country’s entry into the world’s most influential club, worrying that the collapsed Communist superpower would distract from more serious matters demanding urgent attention.

“There was some doubt about whether Russia had made a one-time-only commitment to becoming a democracy,” Kirton says, acknowledging there are still critics today who knock the country’s authoritarian tendencies. “But at a certain point, the evidence was there — at least in my mind — that it had.”

Now, just as in 1988, when the University of Toronto professor founded the G8 Research Group, Toronto, and Muskoka, are preparing to host the world.

That means Kirton’s team of summit scholars and researchers is running at a frantic pace to live up to its reputation as the unofficial memory and information vault of the globe’s most powerful club.

Hostilities are rising between North and South Korea, Israeli commandos have just stormed a Turkish ship carrying aid for Gaza, killing nine people, a global climate change agreement is outstanding, and economists are fretting about the world’s finances.

What’s more, French President Nicholas Sarkozy is late with a column for Kirton’s summit magazine, which is the official program for the events in Huntsville and Toronto at the end of the month.

The printer’s deadline is fast approaching.

“These students are always asking for extensions on essays,” the tenured Munk Centre professor jokes.

by Allan Woods

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