More than one million people attended U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration. It’s thought the majority got there using public transit.
Despite fears the Washington, D.C., transit system would be overwhelmed, it coped admirably. Somehow, I don’t think OC Transpo would have managed quite as well.
Speculation has abounded that the presidential visit on Feb. 19 prompted the end of the transit strike.
Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m not buying that. I still think Labour Minister Rona Ambrose simply grew exasperated at the incompetence of the negotiating parties and was forced to make her move.
Nevertheless, if Obama had opted to make a high-profile public appearance, transit meltdown would have been seriously embarrassing for the authorities.
However, Obama has chosen not to see much of our fine city. The schedule for the new president’s first international trip is less than underwhelming. In 1995, the Clintons revelled in the glory of winter, sampling a Beavertail and skating along the Rideau Canal. In sharp contrast, Obama will hold short chats with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, then meet U.S. embassy officials in the less-than-inspirational surroundings of Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. Air Force One will be flying back to Washington after just five short hours.
Obama’s logic is that, in an economic crisis, a visit full of pomp and pomposity would not impress the folks back home. The trouble is that such a whistle-stop tour is full of contradictions. Why fly here at all when technology allows you to have the same meetings via video conference, or the good old-fashioned telephone?
Canadian politicians didn’t set the best example during the federal election campaign last fall. Stéphane Dion argued for a “green shift.” Yet, the Liberal campaign aircraft was an aging, gas-guzzling Boeing 737.
Except Green leader Elizabeth May, who took a train from coast to coast, all major party leaders had crazy schedules involving regular interprovincial flights. More environmentally friendly schedules would have involved a day of campaigning on the East Coast, then a day of campaigning in Quebec, and so on.
Instead, party leaders often took several flights a day. If political leaders want us to fly less and take transit more, they ought to lead by example. It’s time for more environmentally conscious politics, starting with the presidential visit.