Monday, February 23, 2009

Mr. Obama Comes to Ottawa

Some of us -- who are old enough to remember -- might be forgiven for thinking that there was something retro going on in Ottawa last week. At times, it looked and felt like the Second Coming of Trudeaumania. Canadians greeted Barack Obama with open arms. It has been forty years since we greeted a politician with such joie de vivre.

Not that there weren't skeptics. National Post columnist Don Martin proclaimed "Obama Conquers 51st State," and in The Toronto Star, Tom Walkom asked, "Is Obama a closet conservative?" Walkom's skepticism ranged from Obama's commitment to clean energy, to the war in Afghanistan to his financial support for hedge funds. South of the border there was a much louder chorus of skeptics. Rush Limbaugh, not exactly a fountain of wisdom, accused Obama of being a "fascist;" and some Republican governors -- most in the states of the Old Confederacy -- announced that they would not accept all or some of the stimulus funds Obama signed into law last week.

But such was not the case in Ottawa. Canadians showed Obama boundless good will. From the moment he stepped off Air Force One and was greeted by Governor General Michaelle Jean, to his handshake with Stephen Harper, to his stroll through the Byward Market in search of souvenirs for his children, Obama never hit a sour note. In fact, he showed a remarkable familiarity with the issues at the top of Canada's agenda. It would appear that his Canadian brother-in-law, his Canadian staff members -- and maybe even the Canadians who worked for his election -- had manged to catch his ear.

His knowledge of this country is no guarantee of sweetness and light. As Martin warned his readers, "If that sounds like a perfect pairing, well, that too will change." After all, Trudeaumania eventually wore off and was replaced by a shrug and a middle finger. Yet, even today, despite the well deserved criticisms of his obvious failings, most Canadians still regard Trudeau as one of this country's great prime ministers. When push came to shove -- during the October Crisis of 1970 --Trudeau remained true to his vision -- and he did what had to be done. The War Measures Act was a cruel and blunt instrument. But -- always a proponent of individual liberties and Canadian Federalism -- Trudeau gave us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document which ensures that the abuses in the War Measures Act can't be repeated.

There is room for skepticism. It may be that Obama has raised impossible hopes. But, once in a great while, history and one human being come together to change the world -- for better or worse. I have felt for some time that Obama can change the world for the better. The reaction in Ottawa last week merely proves that, in this country at least, there are many of us who share that belief.


lisleman said...

thanks for that warm welcome

did you get to see him?

Oh Canada eh

I have a parking ticket souvenir from Ottawa

Owen Gray said...

No,I followed the visit from a small town in southern Ontario. And I'm sure many others -- far from the centre of the action -- were doing the same. The whole world is following your president's journey.