Welcome to Ottawa, Senator McCain - The stalking starts here!

Back in January, I spent seven utterly exhausting but unforgettable days on the American campaign trail in New Hampshire – which, readers will recall, was back when there were half a dozen serious (or at least half-serious) contenders vying for the chance to lead their respective party to victory this fall. One of those candidates was, of course, Senator John McCain, the eventual winner of the Republican nomination.

Over the course of that week – which felt like a month by the time I crawled on the bus back to Ottawa; I have no idea how those journalists – let alone candidates – manage to survive an entire year of non-stop electioneering – I covered a few McCain events — a couple of speeches, a post-debate spin room and a primary day rally on the steps of the Concord City Hall. Unfortunately, I was never able to get close enough to actually meet the guy, let alone experience one of those by-chance seconds-long encounters required for one of those charmingly self-deprecating anecdotes with which I could bore my friends and family for years after the fact, although I do have a great story about nearly being crushed to a pulp at a Huckabee photo-op.

Today, however, all that could change. As we speak – or type, at least – McCain is on his way to Ottawa for a whistle-stop tour through the capital, and Inside the Queensway will be waiting for him.

From a reporter’s perspective, the planning for this event has been somewhat quixotic, as far as the press is concerned, although the McCain campaign has done everything it can to overcome the complete lack of interest in making him available to the media demonstrated thus far by the Economic Club of Toronto, the organization bringing him to town, but here is what we know so far:

After a mid-morning arrival, McCain is scheduled to give a lunch-hour address to a ballroom full of the city’s rich and powerful – the toniest*, moneyed-est movers and shakers who were able to snatch up tickets to today’s festivities. Afterwards, we’re told, he’s going to meet with the press – Yes, the press! Voluntarily! It’s like he doesn’t actually hate journalists or something – before venturing into the land of even bigger business: a private reception at the Rideau Club, where he will have his hand shaken vigourously, pose for cameraphone pictures.

He may even get to hang out with Brian Mulroney, which is probably as close as he’s going to get to meeting a living Canadian prime minister, current or former. After all, the current titleholder, Stephen Harper, hightailed it out of town yesterday, ostensibly because of some sort of urgent business to attend to in Saskatchewan, but really to avoid any suggestion that he and his government may have already picked a favourite in the upcoming election. Not to mention those lingering questions about his office’s possible involvement in leaking that accursed NAFTA memo. (See above re: McCain press conference, PMO’s worst fears on the outcome of.) Harper apparently plans to make Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson meet with McCain in his stead, but not surprisingly, that isn’t on the official itinerary yet.

Anyway, other than the post-speech scrum, it’s not clear which events, if any, will be open to the press, but you can be sure that ITQ will be on hand to chronicle the day’s adventures, even if it means standing around outside a closed door meeting with a bunch of bored American tour reporters. Heck, maybe even especially if it means standing around with bored American reporters. I’ll report back when I know more. Wish me luck!

*Please note, that’s not to be confused with Toriest; as previously noted, the Conservatives aren’t nearly as thrilled as ITQ at the chance to watch the possible future president make nice with his quirky northern neighbours.

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