Updated: Surrey economic summit revisits 2008 financial crisis

Updated: Surrey economic summit revisits 2008 financial crisis

GUILDFORD — Several international politicians shared their countries’ experiences with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression at the 2014 Surrey Regional Economic Summit on Thursday.

CKNW personality Bill Good interviewed former prime ministers Ehud Barak of Israel, Julia Gillard of Australia and George Papandreou of Greece as part of this year’s international economic panel. The topics centred around how each politician handled the 2008 economic crisis that impacted financial markets around the world.

Before hundreds of attendees at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, Good questioned Papandreou about Greece’s government-debt crisis in 2008, triggered by the global economic recession. Papandreou bore the brunt of Greece’s problems when elected in 2009.

“When I became prime minister…our slogan was, ‘Either we change or we sink,’ said Papandreou.

“Greece was not a poor country, it was more of a mismanaged country. We had a mismanaged economy which meant that, because of the crisis, we had to take very drastic measures.”

Papandreou addressed the stress that came with handling more than $150 billion of debt.

“Everyday I would tell my wife, ‘I’m not sure I’ll be around as prime minister very much longer,’” he recalled.

“She’d say, ‘I think you’re exaggerating,’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t think I’m exaggerating,” he noted to laughs from the audience.

Good noted that Australia wasn’t impacted nearly as severely by comparison, but Gillard stressed that politicians around the world had to take lessons out of the 2008 crisis.

“We did not have a recession,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that there weren’t anxious moments…because the nature of the global contagion and the gridlocking financial markets meant that no one was immune.”

Despite the distance from North American and European markets that were hit hardest by the recession, Gillard said Australia’s geographic placement did not necessarily lessen the impact that her country felt.

“In this globalized world…you are kidding yourself if you think, as a business, as a city, as a country, that you can somehow shelter from global economic events.”

Barak said Israel handled the economic crisis well, though looking forward, he anticipated that further troubles could arise, referencing unrest in Ukraine.

“We had some worries and anxieties, but not real damage,” he said. “(But) I think we have to brace ourselves to look for other sources of instability.”

Gillard echoed the same cautious optimism, adding that countries have to be cognisant of new risks that may emerge.

Toward the end of the 70-minute panel, Good steered the conversation to worldwide environmental concerns, including drilling for liquefied natural gas. Papandreou noted that countries need to start researching methods of renewable energy.

“We will have to move in that direction sooner than later,” said Papendreou, pointing to innovations in Germany and other European countries. “Otherwise we’ll just be destroying economies for the next generation.”

Meanwhile, it’s not yet known how much policing cost for the event.

Surrey RCMP Sgt. Dale Carr said costs associated with events involving "internationally protected people" are generally "not dislosible," at least not without an Access to Information and Privacy Request, which can see more than a month pass before some kind of answer is provided. 

There was a considerable police presence there, but no crimes were reported.

"We were expecting there’d be some protesters," Carr said. "We were prepared for anything to go off the rails."

Asked how much the summit cost, and how much of it was funded by Surrey taxpayers,  Norm Stowe, of the event-organizing Pace Group, provided the following response.

"As you may know from previous years, the cost of speakers is not public, even though some media outlets have tried to guess at numbers. Our contractual agreement with the speakers does not allow us to share specific details of their speaking fees. However, as Mayor Watts and Councillor Hepner have already said, the summit’s speaker fees are covered through corporate sponsorships, with revenue from ticket sales used to pay event costs such as venue rental, sound and food and beverage."

— with files from Tom Zytaruk