United States
16 min

Liveblogging Obamamania

Because it's all anyone can talk about, and because they've virtually shut down Ottawa to accomodate it (I'm exaggerate only slightly), I'll be spending my day, liveblogging CBC Newsworld's wall-to-wall coverage of President Barack Obama's first visit to Ottawa. You heard me – CBC Newsworld's coverage, because security is so tight on the Hill that they added an extra layer of accreditation to the journalists covering the event, and they limited the access amongst the established media, so what chance do you think Xtra.ca had? Yes, the correct answer is zero. Also, I have no interest in heading out into the snow to stand amongst the expected crowds to catch a glimpse of his motorcade – even if he comes in riding on a unicorn with trumpeting angels heralding his arrival. Not gonna happen. Now, while Newsworld's coverage begins at six am, there is no way I'll be up that early to catch Heather Hiscox interviewing some other breathless talking head about it, but I'll be updating throughout the day, with the main show getting started around ten am.

7.53 – Newsworld's Andrew Nichols opens the segment with photos of our nation's rather snowbound capital, and says we're about to give him a "warm winter's welcome." After the weather bit, Nichols says that Obama leaves for Ottawa in about an hour, and promises that "we'll be with him every step of the way." Canada – kinda stalkerish, apparently.

8.00 – Heather Hiscox is back, live from Parliament Hill, and she lays out part of the itinerary. She cuts to correspondent Paul Hunter, who is live at the airport, who says that we can forget about a red carpet – he'll get a white snowy blanket. Hunter gives a quick rundown of who will be greeting Obama – Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, her husband, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, and Canada's ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, with an RCMP honour guard. Reporter Rosemary Barton is stationed along one of the streets which will be closed 45 minutes before Obama's arrival, where his motorcade will pass by. Apparently secret service have been around for weeks planning the route. She also talks about "The Beast," which is Obama's armoured SUV, and how it's the most secure vehicle in the history of creation.

8.09 – Hiscox shows us some protesters – one holds a flag from Kurdistan, one shows a placard about illegal cigarette smuggling. Reporter Margo McDiarmid is in the growing crowd. The new Dominion Carilloneur – the person who plays the Carillon bells in the Peace Tower – is a recent American transplant, and she will apparently play "America the Beautiful when Obama arrives.

8.12 – The text below Hiscox says that the security for this trip cost over $2 million. But does it stimulate the local economy? Chief political correspondent Keith Boag talks about some previous President-Prime Minister relationships.

8.17 – Hiscox cuts back to Andrew Nichols in the studio, and he starts reading out the actual news.

8.25 – Hiscox interviews former Ambassador to the US, Derek Burney, and he lays out some issues, and says that he hopes for a return to the days of annual meetings to dicuss policy goals.

8.28 – The bumpers before commercials are all clips from winners of Radio 2's 49 Songs about Canada contest. Really? *sigh*

8.39 – Paul Hunter has a scoop! The lunch menu today – Pacific coast tuna; Nunavut arctic char, Acadian buckwheat cookies… I missed the rest, but it's all Canadian-themed. The American press has also chartered a separate plane, because so many reporters are coming up here to cover this.

8.43 – Rosemary Barton says the motorcade will have a cell-phone scrambler travelling with it, and that sniffer dogs are travelling the route. Margo McDiarmid interviews a nursing student who is breathless with anticipation to see him. She's here to support him, regardless of whether she can see him or not.

8.47 – Apparently the LA Times is talking smack about Ottawa (and Queen Victoria) in their piece on the visit. Yes, we're a "cold, old canal town" that was chosen by "a Queen in England who never visited." Which isn't exactly untrue, but that doesn't mean we appreciate their condescending tone any more.

9.00 – We can see Airforce One, waiting on the tarmac. It's almost time for him to depart. OMG!

9.02 – What's that? Obama will meet with Her Excellency for 20-25 minutes, but is only supposed to meet with Michael Ignatieff for a whole 15 minutes? Oh, Ignatieff is going to be pissed.

9.05 – They're going to have it all covered – when Marine One whisks Obama from the White House to Andrews Airforce Base to board Airforce One, right to "wheels up." Wow. Can you feel the anticipation? Apparently it's also special accreditation for each segment of the events for reporters, with special busses to get them from location-to-location, what with streets shut down and everything.

9.09 – Margo McDiarmid says that the crowd was disappointed when the Prime Minister showed up at the Centre Block. Indeed, Obama is more popular than Harper in this country.

9.14 – Marine One lands at Andrews Airforce Base!

9.18 – There he is! OMG! And he's walking from one…and boards Airforce One. What's that? He didn't give us a wave? I'm crushed. Crushed! And they're pulling the stairs away, and it's sealed up.

9.23 – Airforce One is now taxiing to the runway. And… there it goes. Airborne. The trip will take just about an hour, apparently.

9.27 – We cut back to the Centre Block, and the copper roof is nearly completely blanketed with snow. At least the cold isn't too bitter.

9.55 – Heather Hiscox is interviewing a woman who arrived here from a little island off of Vancouver Island. She's so enamoured with Obama that she understands and forgives that he needs to think about America first. Really guys?

10.00 – The big show is starting, with Peter Mansbridge now in the booth. Can you feel the gravitas? Keith Boag doesn't believe we're making too much of this visit, by the way. What about their chemistry? What about their personal relationship?

10.04 – Paul Hunter can report that they've been "sanding and salting and ploughing" the runway at the airport. We can also see the flags and media behind him. There will be 81 accredited White House journalists coming to town for this.

10.09 – Heather Hiscox says that it's been confirmed there has been one arrest so far over on Wellington street, but no word as to why. Now the party's started.

10.10 – Her Excellency is arriving at the airport now. And look at that coat! It's tailored and all style, with a fuzzy-trimmed cap. While Michelle Obama won't be coming along for this visit, one of my friends says that when she does, Her Excellency should pull her aside and give her a few style tips.

10.12 – And it's Don Newman, recalling previous presidential visits, and things like the fact that Diefenbaker and Kennedy hated one another.

10.15 – Fifteen minutes from arrival! Incidentally, the itinerary can be found here.

10.25 – Airforce One is touching down, a few minutes early. Can you feel the excitment? It's palpable, I tell you.

10.30 – Right on the dot, Airforce One pulls up a the government reception hangar.The ladder truck is pulling up, and we can see helicopters buzzing around in the background. You know, I don't think the Queen gets this much overblown security.

10.32 – Obama is apparently the twelfth president to visit Canada. The RCMP honour guard is marching up, in their red serges. Normally it would be a military honour guard, but this is a working visit, short on pomp and circumstance. Her Excellency and the greeting party is walking up to the foot of the stairs. Have I mentioned how fabulous she looks?

10.36 – And there he is, not waving, but certainly smiling. He's introduced to Her Excellency, and they look like they're certainly enjoying the meeting. Obama is now shaking hands down the receiving line. Obama and Her Excellency continue their conversation as they head into the government reception hangar, and the smiles look genuine.

10.39 – And we cut back to Mansbridge, as there's no access in the hangar. Instead we get Susan Bonner meeting with Stockwell Day in the foyer of the Commons, as he'll be part of the meetings.

10.43 – A glimpse inside the meeting between Her Excellency and Obama. She's wearing a white turtleneck under a tailored grey jacket and a long skirt and fabulous boots. And…media is already kicked out. We couldn't much hear anything they were discussing, but they were clearly in conversation and not posing woodenly.

10.46 – And we're back to Heather Hiscox, talking to parents who have dragged their children out to see this event. This is gripping coverage, ladies and flamboyant gentlemen.

10.49 – Paul Hunter is talking with Lawrence Cannon. He's very excited and pleased to welcome the president on behalf of all Canadians. Is there anything going to be signed? Let's not look to signings, but the "beginning of a process." Hey, can I ask why the talking heads keep saying this is going to be a "new beginning" for Canada-US relations? Really, guys? Can we possibly tone down the mounting hyperbole, just a little?

10.55 – And there was footage of the arrest of that 20 year-old from a while ago. Apparently he jumped a barricade, and they didn't take kindly to that.

11.02 – Susan Bonner is meeting with Bob Rae, whose father was a very junior offical back in 1943, during one of the first presidential visits to Canada. Rae will be part of Ignatieff's party when they meet Obama at the end of the day.

11.09 – Apparently Obama's meeting with Her Exellency is somewhat out of the ordinary, as often the Governor General is not part of these kinds of meetings.

11.15 – Heather Hiscox is interviewing someone from Germany who's come to see Obama. Okay, so he was visiting friends in Toronto when they decided to come here, but way to amp up the buzz.

11.21 – What's that? The motorcade is a minute behind? Oh no!

11.22 – There it goes. Phew!

11.33 – And…There goes the motorcade past CBC's cameras near Carleton University. And you could hear people cheering as it went by. And Rosemary Barton assures us, it was an impressive sight.

11.35 – It's Michael Ignatieff, talking to Susan Bonner. No Harvard cufflinks – but they do have that Harvard connection. His main objective is more of a get-to-know, and he wants to "excite Obama about the possibilities of working with Canada." He doesn't want to use the political time to score partisan points, but he does want to convey that Obama should be sceptical about some of Harper's environmental claims.

11.40 – The crowds on the lawn of the Hill are growing, and Heather Hiscox is interviewing an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. Really, guys? *sighs*

11.42 – The motorcade pulls up, and there he is, going directly from the limo to shake Harper's hand. And OMG! He wants to wave to the crowd. Cheers go up, as both he and Harper save behind the bulletproof glass for eight seconds. The crowd goes wild.

11.44 – Obama remarks how sepctacular the rotunda looks, and he is met by the Speakers of the Senate and Commons, the clerks, the Sergeant-at-Arms and Black Rod.

11.46 – Obama signs the visitor's books, one for each Chamber it appears. They're leaving the rotunda area, and heading up the stairs to Harper's office. Cut to upstairs, and through they walk to the third-floor office. The door is closed, until the later photo op.

11.50 – Cue reactions from Susan Bonner (who is gushing) in the foyer, and on the lawn, Heather Hiscox is talking to people in the crowd, who don't seem to grasp simple questions.

11.56 – Some images are cropping up online. This is one of my favourites so far, and proof that Her Excellency is a style icon.


(Photo credit: The Canadian Press)

12.05 – The White House has leaked out that we can expect an environmental announcement that will include carbon sequestration.

12.07 – The lunch menu: Pacific Coast tuna with a chilli and citrus vinaigrette; maple and miso cured Nunavut Arctic char; lightly pickled vegetables and an organic beet relish; applewood smoked plains Bison; winter root vegetables and local mushrooms; cauliflower and rosemary puree; juniper and Niagara Red Wine jus; Saugeen yogurt pot de crème with a lemon and lavender syrup; wild blueberry and partridgeberry compote; Acadian buckwheat honey and sumac tuile. Look at all the regional representation. Watch Mansbridge kill time until the next photo op!

12.21 – And there's the photo op, which was wooden and posed. And while Obama looked like he was willing to engage the crowds, Harper's people had previously warned the Canadian journalists were not to even bother lest they cancel the press conference later.

12.25 – And that's it for now. Newsworld's coverage will return around 14.30, so I'll return to updating around then.

14.10 – They're playing some clips from American media reaction to the trip, and boy, American newcasters are pretty vapid, giggling as they trip over French words, calling Mounties "Canadian Forces," and wondering if the assembled press at the airport includes interested onlookers.

14.30 – Mansbrige is back, and they're showing the Reading Room in the Centre Block, where the press conference is scheduled to take place in a about fifteen minutes. With only two Canadian questions allowed, the assembled Canadian press apparently got together to coordinate just what those questions should be – something that apparently bemused the Americans. (Apparently, it went to a vote). Also, the ten-minute private meeting between Obama and Harper went overtime – three times longer than scheduled. But is this a plot to eat into Michael Ignatieff's time? Inquiring minds want to know.

14.42 – Paul Hunter is now on the lawn of Parliament Hill, where there is a much smaller crowd gathered. Mind you, the weather has turned worse, but there are some die-hards still assembled.

14.45 – And Rosemary Barton is now at the airport. Good to know the CBC is shuffling their reporters around so that they don't get too bored. Barton tells us that the meeting beteen Obama and Her Excellency spoke about Haiti and development work in Afghanistan.

14.46 – Harper and Obama arrive in the Reading Room. Harper begins his remarks in French. This meeting apparently "launches a new chapter" in our relations. There were apparently three priorities discusses – countering the global recession with mutually beneficial stimulus measures (and releases the talking points); Harper and Obama agreed to establishing a US-Canada Clean energy dialogue; thirdly, they had a "productive" discussion on international peace and security, especially with respect to Afghanistan. And yes, he's still in French – oh, wait – now he's repeating everything in English.

14.51 – Obama begins his comments, and nearly calls us "Iowa" and not "Ottawa." He repeats Harper's talk of three points, but adding a more American dimension to them (like talking up his stimulus package). He says that Americans are grateful for our sacrifices in Afghanistan. In April, there will be a NATO summit, and after that, the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. "The United States is once again ready to lead."

14.57 – He's thanking Harper for his hospitality and graciousness. The first question, from USA Today, is about Afghanistan deployment, and economic aid. Obama talks about the current mission review, which he doesn't want to prejudge. He also says he didn't press Harper on any additional troop commitments – just complement us on our troops, our 108 fallen, and the fact that Afghanistan is our largest foreign aid recipient. Harper is talking up the "bi-partisan" agreement on the mission extension in Afghanistan. The goal of our deployment is the training of Afghan forces, and that peace there must also be in Afghan hands.

15.01 – Radio-Canada has the only French question. What is the the degree to which they will harmonise their greenhouse has reduction strategies? Obama allows Harper to answer first – in French. He says the Americans don't have a national strategy yet, so it's too early to talk about "harmonisation."

15.06 – OMG! Harper just said that the difference between intensity caps and hard caps on greenhouse gasses are the way you measure them and you can simply convert one to the other. No! That's absolutely not true! Gah! Obama is now haltingly taking over, and I'm waiting for him to start saying something substantive, rather than just dropping buzz-words. "Right now there are no silver bullets to solve our energy problems." You think? Also, Obama uses "oil sands" rather than "tar sands," which is a big semantic difference.

15.10 – Next up is the Wall Street Journal, with a question on NAFTA. Did Obama convince Canada on the "rightness" of his position, and when is the right time to open it? And to Harper, is there any way to make "Buy American" provisions acceptable? Obama is again hesitant to respond to any quotes, but he doesn't want to begin protectionist measures, before he goes into his desire to see labour and environmental agreements put into the main agreement. Harper wants to reiterate tht since NAFTA – and indeed Free Trade in 1988 – free trade between us has been nothing but beneficial for both sides, and the trade challenges we face are common challenges. On the "Buy American" provisions, there are ways to have some domestic purchasing peferences, but not without limit. He's hoping the US respects that. We agreed to pursue economic stimulus – the whole G20 – because of the "synchonised global recession" – and there's that word again. He's confident the US will respect those agreements, and hey, in our stimulus package, we reduced duties.

It's sad – it seems like Harper is the better performer at this press confence. *sigh*

15.18 – It's Jennifer Ditchburn with the Canadian Press (who's pretty awesome, by the way). Will Canada enhance its stimulus? What will our relationship look like in four years from now? Will we have a common carbon market? What will the auto industry look like? Will the borders be thicker or thinner? Obama points out that she stuffed in about six questions in there, but he answers begins by answering that in four years from now, our relationship will be stronger than ever. On borders, they can use stimulus money to help reduce bottlenecks. With the auto industry, our industry is integrated, but they're looking over the restructuring plans now. And…I'm losing his track of his jumble of hopeful-sounding buzzwords now.

15.24 – Harper says that our stimulus package is larger than the numbers the IMF was talking about in the fall (well, not according to the NDP's analysis). Harper says that unlike the States, while a large pot of their stimulus is going to lower levels of government for healthcare, we've already got universal healthcare. He wants to address two big things – on the thickening border, since 9/11 we've made significant improvements to security, and threats to the US are threats to Canada, so we have every incentive to be as cooperative and alarmed to threats that exist. His other point is that today, our two nations are closer than any other two nations on the face of the Earth, and in four years, we'll be in exactly the same spot.

15.31 – Obama thanks those Canadians who crossed the border to volunteer on his campaign, and he's looking back on coming to Canada when it warms up. Back to Mansbridge!

15.35 – Harper and Obama leave the Parliamentary Library (which is absolutely beautiful if you've never been – especially since the renovation finished in 2006), and they leave the building. Obama and Harper wave to the crowd again, and Obama gets back into The Beast. Harper gives two waves goodbye as the motorcade rolls out. Because his departure was right on time, it looks like Ignatieff will get his full fifteen minutes after all.

15.44 – Don Newman says that Obama told us everything we wants to hear. Harper got his message out, and it got underlined by Obama. I'll bet he's feeling pretty swell right now.

15.57 – Rosemary Barton tells us that Airforce One has just gone to be de-iced, and that they seem to be running behind before the Ignatieff meeting.

16.00 – Mansbridge signs off, and Newsworld turns things over to Don Newman, for an extended edition of Politics. Apparently Obama has detoured, and has gone to the Byward Market instead of heading back to the airport. What kind of security would they have needed to make that happen? It seems that he's gone to have a Beavertail, after the owner of that business issued a special invitation, and they'll have footage later. This is definitely cutting into Ignatieff's time now.

16.07 – It's Barbara McDougall and Bill Graham, two former Foreign Affairs ministers! Nice to see Graham again.

16.17 – The Beast and the motorcade arrives back at Hangar 11, where Obama is going to meet with Ignatieff (and Bob Rae), before he meets the staff of the US Embassy and their families.

16.21 – More photos online. Here's one from the photo op in the Prime Minister's Center Block office.


(Photo credit: AFP)

16.22 – The NDP's Paul Dewar hopes that Canada will be dragged kicking and screaming into an environmental agreement.

16.28 – It's the Obama – Ignatieff photo op, in the same chairs that this morning's meeting with Her Excellency was in. And after a few seconds, the media was kicked out, and they can continue their meeting in peace.

16.30 – Margo McDiarmid reports from the Prime Minister's briefing, except audio problems stall that a bit. So we go to Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence, who is in-studio, and he hopes the leadership that Obama has demonstrated on the environment can "rub off" on Canada, especially in relation to the tar sands.

16.36 – Back to Margo in the foyer, and Mansbridge comes up behind her, looking like he was almost about to mug the camera. Oops. Apparently carbon capture and storage adds thirty percent to the cost of any project, so that's part of the challenge going forward.

16.49 – We have our photos of Obama getting his Beavertail, paying for it with a $20 Canadian bill.

16.54 – The meeting with Ignatieff has broken up, and it apparently went on for close to half an hour. Those poor embassy staffers, short-changed on their visit.

17.03 – Michael Ignatieff talks to Don about the meeting, and he says that Obama is a good listener. He says they talked about the border, protectionism, raising the issue of Guantanamo Bay and Omar Khadr, and finally the issue of Afghanistan. On Khadr, Obama thanked them for their concern, but did not indicate which category of "threat" Khadr was being placed into. On Afghanistan, they agreed on the "drift" in strategy that has taken place, and Ignatieff says they want to be involved in the strategic review. They didn't discuss the dialogue on clean energy.

17.08 – While we see watch the RCMP honour guard get into position before Airforce One, Lawrence Cannon talks to Don Newman about the working lunch he participated in. He'll have a more fulsome discussion next week on things like Afghanistan when he meets with Hillary Clinton.

17.15 – Obama emerges from Hangar 11, and John Baird is part of the farewell team. Obama turns and waves before he disappears into Airforce One.

17.18 – The door is closed, and the stairs are being pulled away.

17.21 – Airforce One begins taxiing to the runway…

17.27 – And it's airborne.

And with that, I'm completely Obamaed out.