Is He Gone Yet?

He was supposed to leave last night. If he’s gone I can have my city back.

US President Barack Obama was here yesterday. It wasn’t his first visit, but it will probably be his last, for which I for one am thankful.

I dislike Presidential visits no matter who occupies the Oval Office because, for some reason, such a big deal is made over them. The disruptions are extremely annoying.

The Mexican President was here too. In fact he arrived the day before Obama. Not that it had a great impact on most people’s lives. I got a memo at work reminding me he was in town. No big deal. No streets closed, no buses rerouted.

But for an American president things are done differently. Roads are closed in the downtown core and leading to the airport, some of them for up to 12 hours. Bridges are closed. The river is closed to boat traffic so is the Rideau Canal. Anyone wanting to get onto Parliament Hill has to start the security screening process a block away instead of at the door.  All because the President of the United States is a big deal.

I can never decide if all the closures are about security (the official reason) or just about making a point about America’s place in the world pecking order. I understand the security concerns, though it has been a while since anyone took a shot at a sitting American president. Canadian assaults on politicians are far more likely to use cream pies than a handgun.  To me the whole thing seems a little out of proportion- and not likely to stop a really determined assassin. The security closures are all well-advertised, so any bad guys know they have to find an alternate route. And there are always alternate routes if the attacker doesn’t care if he or she survives the attempt.

The Canadian Prime Minster manages to ride through town without closing roads. He does get to use the bus lanes on his trip to the airport, so he doesn’t get stuck in traffic, but that is pretty much the extent of the special treatment. Maybe we deify our leaders less – which might make it easier to accept when they let us down, as leaders pretty much inevitably do.

I must admit that as a taxpayer I am annoyed at the extra costs for this visit that will ultimately come out of my pocket. I know my share is probably only a dollar per Canadian if the federal government pays the bill, but it will be considerably higher if the municipal government doesn’t get reimbursed for all the police overtime. Maybe we should send the bill to the White House, since they set the level of security required. And we won’t even talk about the lost revenue for all the downtown business which might as well have been closed Wednesday.

In fairness, I should mention that the Americans aren’t the only ones to have this level of security. About 30 years ago I was late for dinner at my in-laws ‘because the RCMP wouldn’t let me walk over a bridge that crossed the route to the airport. The president of the USSR was in town and the bridge was closed for the duration. I offered to be frisked to ensure I had no weapons, bombs or protest signs, but the police weren’t interested. Gotta follow the rules. I’m not sure we would have the same level of security for a Russian president today. I’m not sure we would even let them into the country.

We live in a world where some security precautions are wise and necessary. Nothing happened during Obama’s visit except a lot of people were inconvenienced. I suppose, when you stop to think about it, that is a good thing.

I’m still glad he’s gone home. I don’t know how the people in Washington, DC, put up with it.

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