Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
All the circumstance, none of the show
The president of the United States is coming for his first visit. And it's not just any president. It's Barack Obama. Of Obama-mania fame. The first black president in U.S. history. The man who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, outrun bullet trains, and is going to single handedly solve the world's economic disaster that he reminds us every day was not his doing.
Okay. So I'm maybe a little Barack-ed out already, in case you didn't quite catch the sarcasm in the preceding paragraph.
The guy has been president for about six minutes. Which is only about 10 minutes shy of the length of time he's actually been a politician. So I'm not quite ready to decide if he is the person he's been built up to be yet or not.
(Of course he basically just has to speak proper English and he'll be more popular than his predecessor but that's not really important anymore.)
Anyway, back to this week.
Obama is coming. And as excited as I am to be here to cover it I also kind of want to just hide under the covers until Air Force One and all its accoutrements have fled Dodge.
Why? Because planning for a president to visit Ottawa for about seven hours is taking the time, energy and finances that could be used to run some small nations.
Obama is arriving around 10:30 in the morning. He's going to shake hands with Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean when he comes down the steps of his airplane. Then he's going downtown. He will have 10 minutes alone with Stephen Harper. Alone, as in nobody else will be in the room. They can talk about their kids, and generally get to know each other because, even though they are not from the same country and generally represent completely different ends of the political spectrum, as Harper's director of communications said today, the two actually have a lot in common.
They have young kids. They're both younger-ish. They are policy wonks.
My guess is Barack and Harper show off photos of their kids and maybe take some time to compare the love of cats vs dogs since Harper is a cat person and Barack is still keeping everyone waiting to see what kind of presidential puppy his two daughters have earned for their good behaviour during the election campaign.
After their alone time, they will have a photo op where exactly four still photographers will be allowed to capture the moment for posterity. (You don't want to imagine how the television stations reacted when told no video cameras were allowed. . .)
Then they'll have a bigger meeting with a small number of officials. Then they're going to have lunch with even more officials.
Then they are going to walk down the hallway in Centre Block and smile pretty for the cameras, have a press conference where they will take exactly four questions from the media, walk back down the hallway to share some more alone time in the Library of Parliament, before Obama retreats to Air Force One. He has one more meeting with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff at the airport before Obama takes off to return to Washington.
Somewhere in all those meetings they are going to find the time to talk about the economy, Afghanistan, climate change and energy.
I'm sure they will be in depth conversations that move both countries forward out of the economic abyss, figure out how to win the war in Afghanistan, move us towards a real plan to combat greenhouse gas emissions and make the continent self-sufficient on energy supplies.
For all of this, the planning has been in the works for weeks. American advance teams from the White House and the Secret Service have been in town for over a week figuring things out. Air space over Ottawa is going to be restricted while Obama is on the ground. Mailboxes and garbage bins along any route he may take downtown will be removed.
His specially-armoured Cadillac (the one that now has little lights on it to make the U.S. flags on its glow at night) will be airlifted here for the occasion. There are between 60 and 75 U.S. journalists expected in town for the visit.
Every Parliament Hill staffer who has already been accredited to access Parliament Hill has had to be re-accredited so they can go to work that day. While Obama is in the house, there will be certain floors of Centre Block off limits. If you want to go from one room to the other across the hall, you have to go out the back door, down to a lower floor, and then back up again because the hallway between the two is a no go zone unless you are Stephen Harper or Barack Obama.
Some of the media who are supposed to be covering the event will be able to cover it from across the street, on the fifth floor of the national press building because there just isn't enough space to accommodate everyone.
Like I said. I'm excited to cover a presidential visit. But the party pooper in me kind of wonders if maybe the events planned for Thursday could not have been better handled with video conferencing.
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About Mia Rabson
Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.
Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.
She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.
Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.
Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.
In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.
She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.
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