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Ottawa… it rhymes with Obama… sort of…

16 Feb

Greetings, and welcome to beautiful Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the second coldest capital city in the world.

After Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Well, the third coldest really, ever since Kazakhstan moved its capital north a dozen years ago, from balmy Almaty to freezing Astana (you remember that big move, don’t you?).

Of course, some put Ottawa all the way down at seventh on the chilly capital city list, after Ulaanbaatar, Almaty, Moscow, Helsinki, Reykjavik, and Tallinn, Estonia.

But still. We’re cold. Really cold. Top Ten cold.

So cold we’re cool.

And we do have the world’s longest skating rink.

Well, we DID have the world’s longest skating rink. Until last year, when Winnipeg’s River Trail knocked the Rideau Canal out of the Guinness Book of World Records, thanks to a few hundred metres of extra shoveling.

But Winnipeg’s skating trail – as long as it may be – is a scrawny, emaciated thing, the width of three or four skaters. Dozens of Ottawans can fit across the Rideau Canal. Hundreds, in some sections.

So we still have the world’s LARGEST skating rink.

Does that make you feel better?

And we remain the world headquarters for Beaver Tails. And maple baseball bats. And Canadian politicians.

If you want any of those things, you know where best to find ‘em.

Right here in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Did I mention how cold it gets?

Years ago, I interviewed a number of ambassadors to Canada who had arrived from warmer corners of the globe. I asked them about their experiences serving in the second… or third… or seventh coldest capital city on earth.

Some of them struggled to maintain a diplomatic demeanor. The ambassador from Barbados seemed near tears when describing his first Ottawa winter.

New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Canada was much more cheery. He explained his country was so small that he had to serve simultaneously as envoy not only to Ottawa, but also to the capitals of a number of Caribbean island nations.

As chance would have it, he always had to do his annual tour of Jamaica, Trinidad et al. in January, February and March.

He always made sure to brag about his winter travels to his fellow ambassadors back in Ottawa. Diplomacy can be a vicious business.

The New Zealand emissary didn’t seem too fazed about leaving Ottawa in February and missing Winterlude.

Too bad for him, no? Because Winterlude is… cool.

In fact, Winterlude can be added to the list of Things Ottawa is the World Capital Of: Beaver Tails, maple baseball bats, etc.

Let’s see Barbados try to host an outdoor ice sculpture competition.

So… why am I bothering to go through this list? Why am I trying to hype the wintertime charms of my adopted hometown?

I’m doing so with one person in mind:

Barack H. Obama.

The new American president, you may have heard, will be visiting Ottawa this week. It will be his first trip outside the United States since his inauguration, restoring a longstanding tradition that was broken by George W. Bush, who visited Mexico first.

Bush eventually did show up in Ottawa for a full state visit, complete with a lavish dinner at the Museum of Civilization, a courtesy call to the Governor-General, and hundreds of riot police holding back thousands of protestors.

When Bill Clinton visited Ottawa as president in the winter of 1995, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton went for a skate on the canal and a taste of Beaver Tail.

But word is that Obama will not be doing any of those things, despite the fact his visit coincides with Winterlude.

He won’t be addressing Parliament (he may be saving his first major address on foreign soil for the Muslim world), he won’t be meeting the public, and they may keep Air Force One’s engine running at the Ottawa airport, because he won’t be in town for more than a few hours.

It’s a bit of letdown for Obama’s many Canadian fans. He’s more popular here than any Canadian politician.

But there may be time to change his mind and get him out on the canal. Despite a Hawaiian background, Obama – who cut his political teeth in Chicago – is a cold-weather fan.

A few days after becoming president, he was already scolding the residents of Washington, D.C. for closing down local schools on account of a bit of snow.

No doubt Obama’s aides will be perusing this blog to prepare for his trip north.

So… have I mentioned how delightfully cold it gets up here?


The Curse of the Democratic President (on Canadian Conservatives)

4 Nov

All around the United States… all around the world… millions of people await the results of tonight’s historic American election. The anxiety and anticipation levels are palpably apparent even here in Ottawa, where people are talking about little else.

As in every other national capital, officials in Ottawa have been gauging the implications of the anticipated election results in the U.S. and preparing their government for future relations with the new American administration.

The anxiety level may be especially high in the office of Stephen Harper, the newly re-elected Prime Minister of Canada. For this country, no other international relationship comes close to approaching in importance the one Canada has with its southern neighbor.

If polls are accurate, the PMO will have to adjust to the new international priorities of a Barack Obama administration, which are certain to be markedly different from those of George W. Bush on such important files as Afghanistan, the environment, trade, and border security.

Harper may also have to do some damage control with Obama over the so-called NAFTA-gate incident from earlier this year, when a Canadian diplomatic leak made Obama look as if he was being hypocritical on re-opening NAFTA and may have contributed to his loss to Hillary Clinton in the Ohio Democratic primary.

Finally, Harper – a keen student of Canadian political history – may be anxious about an interesting phenomenon that has affected a number of his Conservative predecessors. Call it the Curse of the Democratic President.

Conservative Prime Ministers don’t come to power all too often in Canada, but on three separate occasions, dating back to the Great Depression, the inauguration of a Democratic President in the U.S. has served as a harbinger of a Conservative defeat, leading to an extended spell on the opposition benches.

The most recent example came in 1993, when Bill Clinton was sworn in as U.S. President at the tail end of Brian Mulroney’s reign as PM, in the midst of an economic downturn. Within ten months of Clinton’s inauguration, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals had taken power north of the border, and wound up keeping it until Harper became PM in 2006.

When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated President in January, 1961, his prime ministerial counterpart John Diefenbaker was leading the largest majority government in Canadian history up until that point. A year and a half later, Diefenbaker – who never got along with Kennedy all too well – squeaked back into power with a minority. But in April 1963, the Liberals began a string of election victories that would keep them in office for the next 16 years.

The curse began during the prime ministership of R.B. Bennett, who had the misfortune of governing during the Great Depression. He had been in office for 2.5 years when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office in March, 1933. Bennett tried to follow Roosevelt’s lead by introducing a Canadian New Deal, but it couldn’t save his political career. The Liberals took power a year and a half after Roosevelt became President, and stayed in office for more than 21 years, well into the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A Democratic President taking office during an international economic downturn? It’s enough to keep a Canadian Conservative Prime Minister up at night…

Where have I seen this before?

5 Jun

Does this inevitable Republican Party ad…:

…take its inspiration from these Canadian Conservative Party classics?: