ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The word on everyone’s lips at this year’s G20 summit is Syria, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper is signalling his intention to keep his focus on global economics.Even before Russian President and host Vladimir Putin greeted leaders at the opulent Constantine Palace on Thursday, Harper had already thrown a challenge to other G20 nations.His government is committing to a debt-to-GDP ratio of 25% by 2021 and encouraging others to follow suit with their own targets — despite earlier G20 pledges this year to favour growth-oriented policies over austerity.The Canadian target seems to include some wiggle room. A year ago, the Finance Department forecast a ratio of 23.8% by 2020-21 in a report on the aging population.“The leaders decided back in November 2008 in Washington that the G20 would be the primary economic forum for world decision-making,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters.“We need to maintain that. This is a world economic forum. It’s fundamental that these kinds of decisions and discussions on important policy issues take place at G20 meetings.”Flaherty framed the debt-to-GDP ratio target as a question of balance, rather than austerity.“We are spending money on job creation and on job training, very substantial long-term infrastructure projects, so that’s one part of the balance,” Flaherty told reporters.“The other part of the balance is making sure you’re back to balanced budgets and addressing the debt-to-GDP ratio in the medium term.”How countries can find that balance, as some struggle with staggering unemployment rates, is one of the dilemmas facing the G20. When finance ministers and central bankers met in July, they agreed to bolster growth before turning their attention to lowering deficits and debt burdens.But Harper has consistently staked his ground in the debt-reduction camp. He was a key driver behind a commitment made at the Toronto G20 summit in 2010 to reduce debt around the world and has made deficit reduction his top domestic priority leading up to the 2015 federal election.Governments aren’t the only players weighing in.Farah Mohamed, president and CEO of the (G)irls 20 Summit and an official civil society representative at the G20, said slashing social programs to keep deficits down will catch up with a country.“That’s going to have to come from somewhere, and it’s usually from the social profit side, the NGOs that are delivering services,” said Mohamed, whose group advocates for the economic empowerment of women and girls.“If you cut and cut and cut, at some point society will suffer for that, whether it’s in education, health care, social benefits — there are a whole bunch of factors that have to be managed when you’re trying to reduce your deficit.”Within the G20, Canada has been urged countries to commit to hard targets for debt reduction. At a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors last April, it found support from Germany and the United Kingdom, but not from other big players such as the United States and Japan.Russia has also been a supporter of fiscal consolidation — the reining in of stimulus and reduction in spending as the global economic outlook improves.Flaherty said he can’t predict whether Canada and Russia would end up agreeing on at least economic issues during the summit. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird just a day earlier criticized Russia for its “intractability” on the Syrian question.Baird and other foreign ministers will conduct side meetings at the G20 to discuss the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people two weeks ago.U.S. President Barack Obama will be seeking support from other G20 leaders for a strike against Syria as a response to attack. Putin has said such action without United Nations sanction would go against international law. read more

DARTcritics started as a class blog but has grown to fill the void of local arts criticism. They call themselves critics with class.But more than being clever, the student writers behind the DARTcritics website are providing theatrephiles with thoughtful, arts criticism about performances in Niagara and beyond.That wasn’t always its purpose, however. The two-year-old theatre review website, which was recently relaunched with a new look, started as a forum for Dramatic Arts Prof. Karen Fricker to post standout assignments by students in her theatre criticism class. But it soon became apparent the site served a larger purpose.DARTcritics picked up where slashed and shrunken newsrooms left off with their arts coverage. Other than a handful of metro and national dailies, few newsrooms boast a dedicated arts and entertainment reporter anymore, leaving a void to be filled.“What we discovered was that in some instances, the reviews that we published were among the only, if not the only, review response that productions would receive, because there is so little arts criticism in Niagara,” Fricker said. “This was a startling and empowering realization for the students — that they were in dialogue with art and artists in a privileged way.”Of course, seeing their names in print was nothing short of thrilling, too. Hayley Malouin was hooked the moment she got her first byline for her review of London Road, a musical about an English town coping with the murders of five of its women.“I thought ‘OK, we’ll see some shows,’” said Malouin, who signed up for Fricker’s class in her third year. “I wrote the first review and got it up on the blog and was ‘This is like crack.’”Being published was an incentive, but writing reviews for posting was ultimately a way for Malouin to use what she had learned from Fricker about articulating her opinions of a production beyond saying whether or not she like it.“I hated (London Road) and finding out why I hated it was so fun,” she explained. “It really changed my view of what happens in theatre. There’s this critical side to it – this analytical side to it…. I think you can be analytical and creative and that’s a really special thing.”Fricker, a former critic with The Guardian in the U.K., capitalized on the opportunity to turn DARTCritics into a bona fide source of arts criticism last April when Malouin and fellow student Nick Leno landed funding from BUSU to cover St. Catharines’ In the Soil Arts Festival.She also coached the duo to be editors and social media curators. This summer, they’re running the site like a newsroom with two staff writers, fourth-year DART students Elizabeth Amos and Alex Jackson. Together, they cover theatre in Hamilton, Niagara, Toronto and Stratford, thanks to support from the Match of Minds program run by the Office of Research Services and BUSU.The relaunch of the DARTcritics site coincides with this summer’s move of Dramatic Arts to the new home of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in downtown St. Catharines, Fricker noted.“It’s such an exciting moment for the arts at Brock and in St. Catharines more broadly, with the new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre opening in the autumn, as well as our own building,” she said. “This seemed the perfect occasion for us to take DARTcritics to a new level with a new look, and more reviews.”Fricker will resume the editor’s post when classes resume in the fall, but for summer, the site is “Nick and Hayley’s baby.”“It’s a great experience of entrepreneurialism and leadership for them.”It has also carved out a potential career path for Malouin. Theatre criticism has become something she would like to pursue further, either as a freelance writer or by developing her own theatre review site.Still, there has been one downside to being a DARTcritic: it’s tough to shut off and watch a show for pleasure.“I see theatre and can’t not be critical now,” Malouin said. “People see that as a negative but it’s not. I’m always on now when I see a show. I do wish I could go see a Mirvish show and say ‘That’s great!’”Visit DARTcritics read more