It’s just a day away, and the excitement in Ottawa for Barack Obama’s visit has reached a fever pitch. Someone is selling a “Barack Burger.” The Beavertail shack on the Canal is selling “Obama Tails.” One coffee place is planning on releasing an “Obama blend.” Seriously.
In Washington, American journalists devoted to covering the president took a crash course in Canadiana. Obama is making signals about things he plans to talk about once he’s here, like Afghanistan, the global economy, and the environment. And while Parliament Hill is slowly transformed into a fortress, we’re slowly learning about all the various other ways that Stephen Harper is trying to control this event.
Things like he won’t allow cameras at the airport, when Her Excellency the Governor General greets Obama. Seriously. Obama is saying who he’s bringing to the meeting, like his National Security Advisor and his Energy and Climate Coordinator to name a couple. Harper refuses to say which cabinet ministers will be present. If a Canadian reporter shouts out a question when not invited to do so, say during a photo op – just like American journalists do all the time – Harper’s people say they’ll cancel the press conference for later in the day (which, by the way, is only going to have four questions – two for American media, and two for Canadian, one in English and one in French). Seriously. Obama’s meeting with Ignatieff has been moved to the military aircraft hanger where Obama’s plane arrives, and it’s been whittled down from thirty minutes to fifteen. Seriously.
The moral of this tale? That all the stories about Harper being a control freak are not an exaggeration, and he’s going to try to out control-freak Obama’s secret service. Way to put our best foot forward.
The other story that made headlines today was that a planned historical re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham has been cancelled, thanks to sovereigntist rabble-rousers who threatened violence. They claim that the 250th anniversary re-enactment was a humiliation for the Québec people. Never mind that there have been previous re-enactments with no problems. Or that there are other historical re-enactments that take place all over the place (especially in the States with Civil War re-enactments) with no problems or claims of humiliation. It also apparently didn’t matter that had been another planned re-enactment that would have been of a French victory. Or that this loss is going to be a blow to the tourist industry in Québec City, in the midst of this recession.
But what is most interesting is that their biggest issue seems to be that the Plains of Abraham are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Battlefields Commission, while they want them to be ceded to a provincial jurisdiction. So is this cry of cultural sensitivity really just a cover for a jurisdictional spat? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.