Liveblog: Layover of the Century

Kady O’Malley on the President’s trail

Liveblogging the Layover of the Century

Pics! Check ’em out!
Even more Pics!

8:47:40 AM
Good morning, ITQ O-Watchers! Remember when I said that I’d probably make it to the Hill by 9am? Well, I’m currently on Sussex, about a block down from Wellington, and I can see two separate security checkpoints between here and the corner, so I’m thinking it might take a little bit longer than anticipated, especially given the fact that I apparently was drinking crack-laced Red Bull this morning and decided to wear my trusty platform Mary Janes, instead of — you know, winter boots. Anyway, I’ll report in from the Hot Room as soon as I make it through the obstacle course. Wish me luck!

8:58:44 AM
Good news! Those weren’t checkpoints, they were just traffic barricades manned by Mounties!

I did have to show my special O-Pass to take the East Block shortcut, but that was enough to get me the nod. By the way, I’ve got to give major kudos to the RCMP officers on Hill duty today — there seem to be a couple stationed every fifty feet or so along the path — for going out of their way to be friendly and helpful. I’ve heard more cheerful “Good morning!”s so far today than I do in weeks. Of course, now I’m standing right outside the final gate typing frantically and wearing a very suspicious hat, which is probably rather unsettling, so I’ll post this update and head inside. Oh, and I took pictures too – including of the NBC truck, which, when I saw it, I spontaneously squeaked “Look! It’s NBC!” to bemused passersby, because apparently I am exactly that lame. Will post when I can!

9:33:54 AM
The Americans have arrived! The American reporters, that is – the ones who don’t travel on Air Force One, which, as we just had explained to us by a very friendly CBS reporter, is a revolving pool of twelve or so journalists, with TV, radio and print all getting a turn in rotation. I wonder if winning the pool lottery for this particular trip is considered a waste of a slot.

Anyway, the filing room is filling up, and it’s hard not to feel like slackjawed yokels gazing in awe at the slick interlopers from NBC, CNN and other three-letter behemoths of the news business.

Interestingly, the two blocks of media tables are strictly segregated – Canadians on one side, Americans on the other, although being a rebel, ITQ is, for the moment, squatting in US media territory. We’d like to see you pull rank here, Wolf Blitzer! (Note: Wolf Blitzer? Not going to be here, I suspect.

9:44:25 AM
I know y’all have been eagerly awaiting this announcement, so I’m delighted to inform the world that yes, there *is* a snack table in the filing room. With croissants and other odd little generic pastries. Another cool feature is a giant screen running pool footage from the Ottawa Airport, which is weirdly memserizing. Right now, it’s showing the control tower, but a moment ago, we got to watch a Mountie shovel snow.

9:53:28 AM
Oh no! We may be about to be kicked out of the filing room, which has now been decreed pool only. That’s not so bad for ITQ, who has already hit the buffet table and soaked up a good chunk of atmosphere, but it’s bad news for certain colleagues who were hoping to, you know, practice journalism. Not that they’re bitter. Anyway, while I wait for the axe to fall, I can report that we *still* don’t know who will be asking the questions for the Canadian contingent; apparently, it’s still under negotiation, although the substance will be decided by huddle. That’s the Canadian way!

10:03:28 AM
Okay, I’m back in the Hot Room, where bitterness is starting to take hold; it turns out that none of us non-pool-passed unwashed press public have access to the suddenly very desireable pool feed of the currently snow-covered airstrip.

Basically, the American reporters now have more access to the Hill than the journalists accredited to cover it on a daily basis, and now that I’ve typed that out, I can only imagine the degree of eyerolling that it has inspired in most readers, but really, the president hasn’t even gotten here yet and already we’re one blocked hallway away from insurrection. (That would be a *metaphorical* insurrection, just to be clear.)

10:26:54 AM
He’s here! He’s here! Well, the plane is here, or so it appears from the Newsworld feed. It’s big and impressive and just like in the movies.

I’m not actually sure how much I can add to the rolling commentary on the brooooooadcast.

10:34:43 AM
Why is the president not wearing his hat?

Or *a* hat, at least?

10:40:25 AM
Well, the Governor General gets the first photo-op after all. Meanwhile, ITQ is going to head out to Wellington to wait for the motorcade, so expect a brief pause in updates as she makes her way through the labyrinth.

Also, as per Twitter, the first senator to be challenged by security is — drum roll — no, not Mike Duffy, but close: Colin Kenney. Yes, the irony didn’t elude us, either.

UPDATE – The promised picture post is up! Check back throughout the day for the ITQView of O-Day.

11:12:43 AM
Alright, I’m outside The Perimeter – on the Lawn, in fact – awaiting the motorcade. I’m behind the first row or so of assembled masses, but some kindly staffers are strategically kicking snow into a makeshift platform.

Okay, so the crowd is — actually, about as random as you can imagine — old, young, black, white, male, female, you know the drill — lots of O-poster and banners and a sense of O-verall O-nticipation. Also: snipers!

11:22:53 AM
The trouble with waiting for something like, say, a presidential motorcade is that you have far less information about stuff like where exactly said motorcade is, and when it is likely to show up. At least, not unless you have a berry, and helpful colleagues to keep you up to date.

About ten minutes to go, I think. Honestly, I’m having more fun out here, despite the cold and snow and crowd of onlookers asking why I’m furiously typing in the midst of history.

11:28:43 AM
A Democrat Abroad is here with a sign welcoming “his president” to Canada.

11:36:13 AM
Hey, person in Langevin staring out at the crowd by East Block! Yes, you! Yes, I was waving at you. It was a spontaneous gesture of solidarity, so please don’t have the snipers take me out.

11:38:19 AM
The appearance of the helicopter has sent thw crowd into a frenzy. A bossy frenzy, in places. “I want to see those signs!”

And – there it is! The promised motorcade, and the crowd is adorably chaotically running from the barricades to the middle of the lawn for a better look at the arrival.

Wow, a lot of the SUVs are grey. Somehow that doesn’t look nearly as scary.

11:40:54 AM
Did he – he did! He waved! And the entire lawn waved back. I’ve honestly never seen a Hill rally made up of such entirely happy people.

11:43:49 AM
Okay, that was totally worth the shoeful of slush and the semi-frozen fingers. Now – back to West Block. I wonder who I’ll see in the security lineup this time? Next update in — probably fifteen minutes or so, depending how busy the scanners are at the moment.

11:48:07 AM
Okay, this is metameta: the crowd, still filled with O-uphoria, congregated behind the CBC platform, where they began a polite but relentless chant of “Pe-ter! Pe-ter!” Which continued until he turned around – on camera – and waved. So cute.

12:01:31 PM
Okay, change of plans: I’m heading off the Hill for lunch outside the security bubble. I’ll be back by 1pm, I promise.

1:03:18 PM
As promised, I’m back on the job, although not yet back on the Hill; I’m about to brave the West Block security gauntlet, but it doesn’t look all that busy from out here, so I’m hoping to be back in the Hot Room soon, at which point it may be time to take another wander down to to the Commons foyer. Back soon – avenge death.

1:11:00 PM
Okay, these security guards really need to go to some sort of hat-sensitivity training camp — they’re all waves and smiles when I take it off, but on first sight, I can see their fingers twitching reflexively. Just because it’s so big that it covers half my face doesn’t make me a walking incident in the making. Although a few more hours under this state of securanoia and I might be, but it would be a passive aggressive *Canadian* incident.

1:27:05 PM
And I’m in! You know, it’s odd but it seems as though the security is *less* intense now that he’s actually in the building. This morning, we could barely leave the Hot Room without being stopped by guards, but Colleague Glen and I have now made it all the way to the Commons foyer. Freedom! It’s — kind of dizzying and scary, actually. Oh man, I bet this was a trap, and I’m now trapped here until Air Force One leaves Canadian airspace, with nothing to do but watch endless standups.

1:35:41 PM
Crisis! Crisis! I accidentally left one of my berryholders in the bucket at the West Block security checkpoints, which isn’t actually *that* far, as the crow flies or the nearing-the-breaking-point Hill staffer trudges, but the thought of going all the way back through the tunnel only to discover that they’ve, I dunno, blown it up like a forgotten lunch outside the US Embassy — it hardly seems worth it. I’ll just carry one in my hand, which, at this point, is pretty much what I’m doing anyway.

1:42:54 PM
Wow, the Forbidden Filing Room is absolutely packed now that the entire American contingent is on the scene – well, those who weren’t here for the early shift. They seem – well-fed, although I may be projecting, because just as I showed up, they were wheeling the remains of the cake tray out of the room. Sigh. I *would* manage to miss the cake, wouldn’t I?

1:51:23 PM
A bit of culture shock: the Americans seem bemused by the pre-press conference huddle — our quaint tradition, when given a limited number of questions, of working them out in advance, through a sort of negotiated free-for-all discussion amongst the various media outlets

1:55:49 PM
Okay, I can report that despite the rigid delineation between Canadian and US press corps, we have mingling. I repeat, there is mingling — fraternization, even, unless that always has a seamy and sordid connotation.

2:04:11 PM
Ooh, this is exciting: the herding of the lucky forty pool reporters has begun, and the Reading Room – which ITQ readers will recall from last night’s impromptu photo op – is filling up. Unfortunately, that means that I have to trek back to the Hot Room, which I’m trying to put off for as long as possible, mostly by avoiding eye contact with the guards, but that can’t last forever.

2:10:53 PM
Okay, this is getting ridiculous: there are there of us – me, Colleague Wherry and Colleague Lawrence Martin from the Globe, all standing in the one hallway from which we haven’t been banned, in front of the now empty but still forbidden filing room, staring pathetically at the even more forbidden foyer.
2:14:15 PM
It’s an O-Day miracle, y’all! Sanity appears to have made a surprise comeback, and we are now in the aforementioned no longer forbidden filing room, watching pool footage and feeling like the universe is finally making a teensy bit of sense. Yay!

2:19:06 PM
Also: cake!

Oh, you want to hear more about the imminent press conference, and not about my triunphant trip to the buffet? Fine. It’ll start in – actually, I think twenty minutes or so, and we’re expecting some sort of vague announcement about formally thinking about maybe working together to come up with a common-ish approach on energy and the environment. There will also be four questions, one of which will be in French, and ITQ devoutly hopes, one of which will *also* be about something other than the Global Economic Unpleasantness, if only because I’m not sure if either – oh, let’s not even pretend the PM is going to get a shot at the mic unless he horns in on a question to Obama – if the president, then, has anything new to say since, oh, last night or this morning or whenever he was last asked about it.

2:26:44 PM
Oh, pool feed. I’ve missed you so. Right now, we’re getting a video feed from the room next door, which means lots of long pan shots of row after row of foreheads, all bent over their respective berries.

Ooh, now they’re testing the – what do you call those swoopy crane-camera things? Oh, shush, I’ve had a hard day and cinematography was never my strong suit. Anyway, the swoopycam will cover the walk from the Hall of Honour to the Railway Room – which is where the press conference will happen, and is just across from the filing room, and no, there won’t be a test on any of this – and then eventually to the Library. All of this will be happening literally right outside the door of the filing room – which is where we are now – yet we can’t even prop it open an inch or two so we could watch it happen live.

2:37:04 PM
Okay, new rule: for the duration of this visit, even in moments of extreme time-filling desperation, no anchor – not even Don Newman – shall be allowed to begin any online intervention with, “Remember when …” No more anecdotes. Please.

2:42:35 PM
They’re here! And by here, I mean across the hall, and on the pool feed and probably live on every news network on the continent. And … the PM delivers his opening statement in French, as usual. Don’t worry, the English will be along in a minute, and no, I don’t know why he won’t just switch back and forth.

Greenhouse gases, climate change, national security, Afghanistan. So – nothing all that surprising. Okay, enough of that – we can read the communique later. Time to read the body language!

2:47:48 PM
You know, it’s really kind of impossible to read the body language when 90 percent of the body is behind a lectern. I do like the PM’s tie – maroon, with a slash of silvery blue, which – by chance or design – nicely complements Obama’s deep blue number.

The other problem, of course, is that the PM, at least, always looks vaguely like he’d rather be somewhere else, preferably by himself, perhaps editing a passage in the hockey book.

2:53:51 PM
Questions! First up, David Somethingorother, who has “questions” – in the plural – for both about Afghanistan. Y’all only get two, total, so you might want to be judicious. Anyway, he asks about the possibility of increasing the US presence in Afghanistan, and Obama reminds him that he is in the midst of a review of the current strategy. Oh, and he also wants to make it clear that he didn’t press the PM on anything related to the mission – all he did was thank Canada for its contribution.

The PM jumps in at this point and reminds everyone that the current mission is operating under a parliamentary resolution, and then goes into a long, detailed answer about the need to have an end date, and … Oh, that’s it.

2:57:44 PM
Next question – from one of us, in French, on climate change, emissions reductions and Canada’s “refusal to have hard caps.” After a brief exchange of glances across their respective lecterns – which is not nearly as PMsalacious as it sounds – the PM takes the question, and notes that Canada has to wait for the US to figure out what it’s going to do before we look at harmonizing our system.

3:03:24 PM
Obama, on the same question: this isn’t just about Canada and the US – it involves the whole planet, and there are no “silver bullets” – which is why sharing ideas and research and development and – hey! the oilsands get a shoutout! Anyway, if we could just figure out how to trap that wily carbon, it would be double plus awesome for both countries, what with our filthy dirty oil and their filthy dirty coal.

3:07:05 PM
The Wall Street Journal gets the second American question, and it’s all about trade – NAFTA, and the possible renegotiating thereof, and Buy America. Obama takes – well, not quite issue, more like ish – with the quote that the question attributed to him, and notes that he always likes to be careful when discussing these things, and then goes into another very, very long yet somehow still not terribly specific answer.

3:13:16 PM
Okay, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, because this really has been a fabulously rich and plentiful news day, at least in theory, but – oh, I’m just going to say it: so far, this press conference is stultifyingly dull. Not that I was expecting high drama or light opera but this is absolutely paintdry-y.

3:15:11 PM
Did the president just tease Jennifer Ditchburn for her question? So cool. And he mentions his Canadian brother-in-law! Drink!

3:18:40 PM
Well, after a quick survey of the few of us remaining in the filing room – me, Colleague Wherry and a Globe columnist who shall remain nameless – I’m not the only one who is exerting more mental energy figuring out how to de-salt her shoes than paying attention to the two world leaders currently droning on about stimulus packages in the next room over.

Also, please, Prime Minister, don’t torture our American colleagues with lengthy sidebars on federal-provincial transfer payments. Not even *we* fully understand that; to inflict it on innocent bystanders is just cruel.

3:25:32 PM
Seriously, this is the longest answer in the world. The last time the PM was this expansive in replying to questions from reporters was outside Rideau Hall, when he was snug and dry under an overhanging roof, and we were stuck outside, where it was hailing. Hail!

3:27:26 PM
Aw, a weather joke from the president, and – I guess that’s it. As the two men leave the room, the networks and the pool feed both cut away. Peter Mansbridge says it was “interesting”; ITQ isn’t sure she agrees, but she’ll keep an open mind.

3:32:57 PM
Wow, that’s really it, I guess – the Hill portion of the programme, at least; we just got pool footage of the PM and the president heading out — yes, more waves for the crowd, a surprising number of which are *still* on the lawn – and the motorcade peels away. Goodbye, Mr. President! Goodbye, Beast! Goodbye, snipers! Can we go back to normal life now? Because as glamourous as this has been, I kind of miss being able to walk down the hallway outside my office without nine different passes and twice that many suspicious looks from the guards..

3:45:55 PM
Datesquares! They had *datesquares* in the filing room! Sorry, sorry. I’m over it.

3:55:25 PM
We’re free! We can go anywhere we please! And the snipers on the roof are packing up their rifles and heading off to — wherever it is they go. I feel so much safer now, somehow.

3:58:55 PM
Okay, since this post has likely become rather beastly as well, I think I’ll start a fresh one for the next – and, happily, last – event: the post-O-meeting presser with Michael Ignatieff, which will kick off around five. I’ll throw a link here when it goes up – in the meantime, I’m going to take a bit of a break, but I’ll be back, and I’m sure you’re having all sorts of fun in the comments without me.

Now I’m over here blogging about Iggy.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.
  • By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.