Michael Ignatieff in parliament
I'm posting this from Ottawa, where we (that's me and the husband) have been giving lectures. Mine was to celebrate the 'relaunch' of the Classics department at Carleton University: it had been withering a bit, but they have had a whole raft of new appointments, and are offering Greek and Latin 'majors' again. There were over a hundred people there last night, students included, joining in the celebration.
Two things have surprised me since I arrived. First is how perishingly cold it is.The natives assure me that March is comparativey warm, The canal which makes a vast winter skating rink is already unfreezing and it is possible to get from place to place via the outside world (there is a network of tunnels under Carleton so that when it's really chilly, you can go from building to building underground).
The other thing is how nice everyone is, I mean the people you meet casually in the street and around the place. Now, I realise that commenters may well write in and explain to me how that niceness is a disguising veneer over a fractured society and point me to the evidence for crime, fraud, corruption etc. All the same, I have to say everyone has been very helpful and nice to me. No more so than on our visit to parliament.
We hadn't intended to visit parliament. But we could just see the building (the somewhat Scottish looking, Westminster-style creation above) from our hotel bedroom window, so decided to explore. I assumed that we wouldn't be able to go inside. But despite appearances, this wasn't Fortress Westminster, and we were positively encouraged to cross the threshold.
There was an airport security system, administered with a light touch, and plenty of uniformed officers around to explain our options: go up the Peace Tower (which we did: great view), take a guided tour (we didn't as there were no places until 3.20), wander and look (we again we did).
But the highlight was to go into the public gallery and watch "Question Period".
When we got to the Gallery, the Chamber looked very liked Westminster, complete with Speaker on his chair and lots of green leather. As we entered, it didn't sound much like Westminster's question time. Indeed the first ten minutes or so were taken up with anodyne little announcements about the Quebec film festival, Olympic hopefuls and the death of a leading light in the local Filipino community. But at about 2.15 things seamlessly changed, and turned into questions for the Minister for Industry -- and a lot noisier.
There were, of course, decided differences from the UK. Most obviously the bilingualism of it all. There were headphones on the gallery which let you listen to the proceedings entirely in French or English. or in the language of the discussion whatever that was (the headphones also amplified the sound, which was necessary as the acoustics were dreadful).It was clear that quite a number of MPs switched between English and French, depending on the topic or who they were addressing (though I was later told that the language you spoke influenced what paper or news channel you were reported on -- so there was probably more to it than politeness.)
But other things were uncannily familiar. There on the opposition front bench was Michael Ignatieff. Didn't I last see him when he was at King's College Cambridge, and appearing on BBC's The Late Show?
More striking though was the subject of the questions. Because they were exactly the same as in Westminster right now. When were the rescue packages put in place actually going to start rescuing the economy? Who was protecting the jobs of Canadian car workers? And who was going to pay for the bail out?
This, I guess, is globalisation.