A Matter of Perspective

I remember it as if it were yesterday, even though it was more than a decade ago. February 19, 2009.

For some people it was a really big deal. Barack Obama was coming to Ottawa.

Traditionally an American President’s first foreign visit has been to Canada. Donald Trump didn’t follow that, and who knows if Joe Biden will. Given that he started his presidency with an executive order to kill thousands of Canadian jobs, he might find the reception a little cool.

I was working on Parliament Hill in 2009 , but didn’t go outside to watch Obama’s motorcade arrive. I stayed in the office to answer the phones, allowing the rest of the staff to take part in the historic moment.

It isn’t that I didn’t appreciate the occasion, but for me it wasn’t that big a deal. Maybe you gain some perspective as you age. Maybe I thought John McCain to have been more qualified for the job. By that point I had seen enough politicians to not want to go out of my way to see another one. .

Whatever the reason, I have no regrets. You reach a point where presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, become just ordinary people – which they are. I’d love to have an evening of conversation with Barack Obama where we could touch on a large number of topics. Just watching him wave didn’t appeal to me.

Obama made a detour from the schedule, his limousine detouring after his meeting with then Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Byward Market, where he sampled an Obama Beavertail (fried dough – more of a marketing coup than a delicacy) and some special cookies a local shop had baked for his appearance.

Ottawa was completely taken by the charm of the new president. Which was good, I guess, because that was his lat visit while in office. Donald Trump never came at all. He probably realized he wouldn’t get anywhere near as warm a response.

This month I have been reading the first volume of Obama’s presidential memoirs, which were published late last year.. A Promised Land doesn’t tell me much I didn’t know about the times, but does offer some interesting insights into the mind of the former president.

I was never a big fan. I’ve always thought he underperformed as president, though I would probably really enjoy spending time with him. But what I really wanted to know was his impressions of that first trip to Ottawa. Would he mention eating a Beavertail?

For Ottawa residents the Obama visit was a big deal. maybe the biggest deal in years other than the occasional Royal visit. Turns out it wasn’t that important for Obama.

The visit is in the book, half a sentence lumped in with a trip to London. If I had blinked I would have missed it.

I guess it is all a matter of perspective. Something that is important to one person is insignificant to another. We experience events differently.

Residents of Ottawa who may feel slighted that the visit didn’t make a deeper impression on Obama can at least take comfort in this: At least he didn’t insult the city or its residents. Better to have made no impression than a bad one.


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