Archived entries for Ottawa

Parliament Hill vs Capitol Hill

This week the Globe and Mail did a quick switch, sending its Washington correspondent home to Ottawa, and sending an Ottawa-based reporter to Washington! The two share their pithy perspectives on leaving their respective capitals in today’s paper.


John Ibbitson, on Ottawa: “If you ask Canadians to name Canada’s major cities, as likely as not they’ll leave Ottawa off the list. This will never change. Ottawa is what it is, and will always be less than it could be. It will always be a government town, and for that reason, it will always be a conservative town, it will always be a city of unrealized potential, it will always be rather dull.

“The city is located in the middle of nowhere, and the nowhere is quite attractive.

“Ottawa and Toronto are centres of different kinds of power. Toronto is the country’s dominant financial and cultural power – that is to say, real power – while Ottawa is the centre of political power. The different nature of those two sources of power is reflected in the way the two populations entertain: In Toronto, people go out to dinner; in Ottawa, they hold dinner parties. And that really is the very heart of it. A truly great evening in Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver starts out in a restaurant and ends up in a bar, with a whole lot of great food, too much booze and adventure along the way, or to come. A truly great evening in Ottawa begins and ends in your friends’ living room, where people have gathered for dinner, and where the evening winds down over gossip and cognac”

Alan Freeman, on Washington: “In many ways, Washington is simply Ottawa on steroids, a bland company town where government is the dominant employer and seemingly the only subject of conversation. Capitals may be great when it comes to well-manicured parkland, countless statues of long-dead heroes and wide boulevards, but they’re not exactly the liveliest of places to visit and live in.

“This is a city I’ve found hard to love. Washington may be leafy, it may have great museums and even better monuments, but it’s not the kind of urban environment I find instantly exciting. It has none of the buzz of New York or London, none of the neighbourhood dynamism of Toronto, none of the lively grittiness of Montreal or Berlin, all cities I’ve lived in over the past three decades.”

Blame Montreal

Like Washington, Ottawa is a capital city overrun with gay people. But for a city of its size (1 million people), it is struggling to create a cohesive gay community. The problem: its close proximity to Montreal is sucking the life out of Ottawa’s gay scene.

“We have Montreal two hours down the road, and that’s what undoes us,” said Doug Janoff, a gay Canadian writer. “It makes us lazy. Why bother getting involved in the community when we can work at our public service jobs Monday to Friday and then just go party in Montreal on the weekend?”

Hot new Canadian spas

spas_for_menAir Canada’s e-zine, onAir, features a piece on male grooming, or manscaping, and a few tempting spas in this month’s edition.

“Metrosexuals move over. There’s a new man in town. Introducing the übersexual: men who want to be in touch with their feminine side and feel like real men again. Catching on to this new market of men who watch basketball and take care of their skin (think P.Diddy), manly spas are cropping up all over the country.”

• Absolute Spa at the Hotel Vancouver is “luxury spa with a major injection of testosterone…At this downtown spa, you might spot Ben Affleck or Simon Cowell having a hot towel shave or eyebrow shaping but you definitely won’t find anything pink.”

• At Bode Spa in Ottawa, “shots of scotch or tequila are on hand to bolster the courage of waxing virgins.”

OpenTable’s version of geography

I was making a Toronto restaurant reservation on OpenTable last night and came across this little geographical funny. Apparently Ottawa, some 267 miles (431 km!) from Toronto is now considered a section of town just like Downtown and Rosedale. But it’s likely they just don’t know any better–there’s an announcement on the home page saying that the San Francisco-based company just opened their office in Toronto.


Happy holidays from Ottawa

In what is surely the most clever holiday card floating around Ottawa this month, openly gay cabinet minister Scott Brison and fellow MP Ken Dryden are shown enjoying each other’s company on a playground slide at a children’s centre in Nova Scotia. The Ottawa Sun says, “It doesn’t look remotely close to a Christmas card, but Public Works Minister Scott Brison looks like he had fun posing for his seasonal greeting.”


Two great photos, unrelated, but not

In the first, Conservative leader Stephen Harper avoids Prime Minister Paul Martin like British Columbia bird flu. They seem focused on different things, don’t you think? In the second, Ottawa Police on the prowl for criminal activity. No connection, yet strikingly related…


How Ottawa Works

A devoted blog critic has asked me to explain Canada’s current political climate and I’m happy to oblige.


A MINORITY GOVERNMENT: For starters, Canada has a minority government right now. A minority government is a situation in which no political party holds a majority of seats in parliament (closest parallel: the U.S. House). This is unimaginable in the U.S. since there are only two American parties that hold any sway. In Canada, however, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois are all viable parties (some more than others!). That means four parties all want to get 51% of the vote.

Because the Liberals claimed the most seats in parliament during the 2004 election, their leader, Paul Martin, was named prime minister (note: the prime minister, unlike the president of the U.S., is not himself elected).

steven_harperPaul Martin’s Liberal party minority government has been plagued from the start by a series of weaknesses and missteps, all of which have been capitalized on byStephen Harper (see photo) and his Conservative Party, the second largest in Canada.

For starters, minority governments are weak by definition. (Maisonneuve MediaScout has said, “A year and zero governance later, this Parliament hasn’t really materialized.”) Minority governments must form coalitions with other parties in order to pass any legislation. When the government faces insurmountable roadblocks and is unable to carry out any policy initiatives, the prime minister may try to call a new election in order to gain seats for his party in parliament. Other times, opposition parties like the Conservatives may place a vote no confidence in the government, in which case a new federal election can be called and the governing party potentially replaced. Stephen Harper has said he is bound and determined to call a federal election by summer, one that could see the sitting government replaced after just a year in office.

If he succeeds in overthrowing the Liberals, this will be the shortest reign of any government in Canada since Kim Campbell’s five month debacle in 1993. Campbell, a Vancouver Islander, was the first female prime minister and the first female head of state in North America. She now lives in Boston and teaches at Harvard.

ADSCAM, or, what could topple this government: The Liberal Party is in the midst of a major political scandal, considered to be Canada’s own Watergate. When Quebec separatists were threatening to break up Canada in the mid- to late-1990s, the Liberals promoted federalism in Quebec through the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events. Instead of spending money on these pursuits, however, money was diverted to Liberal-friendly ad agencies in Montreal and Quebec City who billed the government for work never completed or who gave money to their employees with the stipulation that the cash would be funneled back to the Liberal Party in the form of donations. In April 2005, the scope of Adscam began to unfurl itself, with revelations that tens of millions of dollars in federal money had made its way into Liberal coffers.

belinda_stronachSAME-SEX MARRIAGE: This is not the issue that will make or break this government, and it is grossly misunderstood outside of Canada. The Conservative Party is the only party in Canada officially against same-sex marriage, and they staunchly object to legislation introduced by the Liberal Party that would legalize such unions nationwide. Only one Conservative member of parliament, the wealthy and attractive Belinda Stronach (nicknamed “Belinda Billions”), labeled the most powerful woman in business in the world, and once linked romantically to Bill Clinton, is on record as supporting same-sex marriage. Making the story more interesting is that Stronach’s boyfriend is Stephen Harper-wannabe Peter MacKay, the deputy leader of the Conservative Party.

The reason I say the issue is majorly misunderstood is because of the decentralized structure of the Canadian government that is unfamiliar to most Americans. The reality is that even if the legislation were defeated (which is not expected to happen), it would have virtually no effect on Canadians.

Unlike the U.S., which has enormous federal powers and relatively week state powers, Ottawa is virtually powerless in many arenas. Because eight of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have already legalized same-sex marriage, federal legislation will have no effect in these jurisdictions (which account for 90% of Canada’s population and include every major city in the country except conservative Calgary and Edmonton).

George W Trip to Canada a Bust

ottawa_protestThe Globe and Mail, reporting on the president’s time in Ottawa yesterday, wrote, “It was 12 hours of a full-frontal charm offensive yesterday from the U.S. first couple, with Mrs. Bush exuding her Texas graciousness and Mr. Bush showing off his tactile, frat-boy side. He shook hands, he slapped backs and he joked about his warm welcome, saying that as his motorcade made its way into Ottawa, many Canadians waved — with all ‘five fingers’.” Read the full story.

What Was That Aboot? Canadian and American journalists agree, not much news came from Dubya’s visit to the Great White North. Except for cheap flu shots.

Eve of George W.’s visit to Ottawa

Tomorrow, President Bush heads to the Great White North, and many across the world are eager to see what type of reception will greet him. He won’t be arrested for war crimes, as some had suggested might happen when he lands in Ottawa, nor will his irises be scanned like any other plebeian crossing the border. From today’s Globe and Mail, an editorial about the growing U.S.-Canada political rift:

“Historically, a number of metaphors have been used to describe the Canada/U.S. relationship — from mouse and elephant, to hugging a porcupine. Some prefer a marriage analogy: two partners, together for a time, sometimes taking each other for granted, not always agreeing but, nevertheless, bound together.

“Well, if it’s a marriage, it’s definitely not a generic one. I submit that it’s something like the marriage between Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this case, Canada is the liberal, progressive, attractive Maria. The U.S. is the unlikely body-builder-turned-movie-star-turned-Governor of California.”

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