An artist's rendering of the so-called fake lake that will be part of a display promoting Muskoka in the media centre of the G8 and G20 summits. ((Lord Cultural Resources/Summits Management Office, Government of Canada))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended building a $1.9-million tourism pavilion at the G8/G20 summit media centre in Toronto that includes an artificial indoor pool to simulate Ontario's cottage country.

His comments came as the government scrambled Tuesday to correct the price tag associated with the so-called fake lake at the $1.9-million G8/G20 "Experience Canada" pavilion in Toronto's Direct Energy Centre.

During Tuesday's question period in the House of Commons, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff asked how Harper could instruct other countries how they should manage their own funds amid the government's "astonishing" waste of taxpayers' money on the summits.


G8/G20: Can the costs be justified?

The Liberal leader also questioned how much the public could expect to see at the end of three days of meetings, with topics such as climate change not even on the agenda.

"Canadians wanted leadership, and all they got was a fake lake," Ignatieff told the House.

In his reply, the prime minister accused the opposition of "throwing a bunch of falsehoods" about the cost of the pavilion and insisted the summits are a great chance to profile the region's tourist attractions to the world.

"In fact, it's a $2-million marketing project," Harper said, "We must not miss this opportunity."

The mock lake inside the centre will actually be a 10-centimetre-deep pool, built at a cost of $57,000, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House. It was initially reported the pool itself cost $1.9 million.

Liberal MP Mark Holland hit back, saying $57,000 is more than the annual income for 40 per cent of Canadian families.

The G8 is being held on June 25-26 in Huntsville, Ont., while the G20 is convening on June 27-28 in Toronto's downtown core. The dual summits are expected to carry a price tag of $1 billion for security alone.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the prime minister was setting a "poor example" on spending, saying the government's explanations about the costs of the summits "don't hold water."

Pavilion includes wine, food tastings

The temporary media centre will host all but about 150 of the estimated 3,000 journalists from around the world who will be covering the two summits.

A source at the summit management office told CBC that when the G8 summit was first announced, the marketing "message" was to bring Muskoka to the world. The original plan was to create something at the media centre in Toronto called the "Muskoka corridor." That's when the idea of the fake lake was created as part of that marketing plan.

In December, when the summit became a joint G8/G20 meeting, with the G20 gathering in Toronto,  the theme changed to a concept called "Experience Canada Alley," meant to promote the business and tourism of not only Toronto and Muskoka, but also the rest of Canada.

A firm named Lord Cultural Resources won the bid to develop the "Experience Canada Alley" concept. The same firm designed the Ontario House pavilion at the Vancouver Olympic Games.

The 3,700-square-metre pavilion inside the media centre includes areas promoting Muskoka's connected "lifestyle" and Toronto's industrial and investment sides, plus a reception area with refreshments from all parts of Ontario.

According to government officials, the "Northern Oasis" feature, which includes the pool, cost $208,187. The "bridge" linking the Muskoka promotion area with the city pavilion cost $218,000, while the price tag for the cityscape is $292,000.

Another $398,000 is allocated for labour, including setup and tear down of the pavilion, while Lord Resources received $407,000 for consultations, project management, design and fees, the officials said.

Reporters covering the summits will be able to get free beer and wine, plus coverage of soccer's World Cup on a large flat-screen television. Some 110 restaurants will be on display, with two food tastings each day.

"The Experience Canada space will host over 3,000 media and other guests, and will serve to highlight Canada's pristine natural beauty, as well as promote leading Canadian businesses and industries," according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.