A flood of foreign leaders began landing in Toronto on the quarter-hour and heading north to Huntsville, Ont., for a G8 summit they hope will deliver billions of dollars in aid for poor women and children in the developing world.
The day and a half of meetings get underway today with G8 countries dividing their time between a private huddle and meetings with larger groups of developing country leaders.
They're staying at the Deerhurst Resort, surrounded by lakes, forest and a golf course, but ringed in by large security fences watched by thousands of guards.
Their spouses are staying in a strangely somnambulent Toronto, dining on food from the Muskoka region and learning about cottage-country art and culture.
The usually traffic-choked streets of downtown Toronto are free of much of the usual motorized noise. Many companies told their employees to work from home and regular tourists have been driven away. Protesters were launching publicity stunts and arranging demonstrations in advance of the weekend summit meetings.
At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Ottawa Thursday in advance of the broader G20 summit on Saturday and Sunday.
China's co-operation at the summit is crucial. Its currency regime and trade agenda are key determinants in how well the world economy functions, analysts say.
It's the first time the G8 and G20 summits have been held back to back, prompting many questions about the necessity of having two separate meetings, especially at a cost to taxpayers of $1.24 billion at least.
Harper has gone to great lengths to keep the G8 focused on peace, security and international development, arguing that the small group of rich countries is like-minded and has a common history that allows them to address poverty and peace effectively.
The G20, Harper says, should keep economics and finance as its top priority.
But not everyone sees the division that clearly, especially the emerging countries that are in the G20 but not the G8, says Andrew Cooper, distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
Korea has succeeded in pushing development on to the G20 agenda, he says.
The G8, meanwhile, appears to be acting like "a caucus and a staging ground for the United Nations," Cooper says. The group is making recommendations on Iran for the UN Security Council, and taking action to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals through the maternal and child health initiative.
In the end, the need for funding for that initiative will force Harper to open up the G20 agenda to development, Cooper added.
That's because so many of the G8 countries are strapped for cash post-financial crisis that they are a hard time coming up with enough money to make the so-called Muskoka Initiative meaningful.