We all make mistakes. That first cigarette. Wearing Speedos when we’re overweight and over 40. Sending 50,000 smutty e-mails from military laptops to married women whose computers are being monitored by the FBI and hoping our wives don’t find out.
But when the world powers make a mistake, it can be a dandy. Take, for instance, the decision by Britain, Germany, Italy, and Japan in 1976 to cave into American and French pressure to accept Canada as a member of what was then the G-6 group of economic powers. (It took another 21 years for the Russians to join the club and make it the G-8.)
Since then, the idea that Canadian prime ministers somehow rank with the president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany and the president of France has become a real problem in Ottawa.
We should face a few facts about Canada. It’s a great country to live in, mainly because we’re a small number of people sitting on a whole lot of gold, oil, natural gas, diamonds, silver, copper, trees and fresh water. Most of our country is rocks, swamps and arctic desert, but we still have enough farm land to pretty much support ourselves.
You’d have to be pretty thick not to be able to make a go as a nation with just 33 million people and half of a continent, even if it’s not the best half.
Our politicians like to take credit for our prosperity. The rest of us can live with that as long as they don’t screw things up too badly or get an over-developed sense of their own importance.
That’s where this G-8 silliness comes in.
Stephen Harper relishes the whole “G-8 world leader” nonsense. It was used as an excuse for his security detail to transport an armoured Cadillac to India earlier this month, as though there are no safe limos in the subcontinent, or that anyone would recognize him if he walked down the street.
In Ottawa, Harper has adopted a style that can only be termed lordly. He travels to work in a motorcade of black limos and SUVs with tinted windows. (Lester Pearson used to walk.) A limo takes him across Wellington Street from his Langevin Block office to the main parliament building. (Pierre Trudeau used to walk, even though he was a G-7 leader, too.)
Crash-proof barriers have been installed at 24 Sussex Drive, and the chef’s quarters have been turned into an RCMP security detail command centre. (The Harpers and chefs have never really worked out. A previous chef sued, saying it was not part of his job to bury the Harper family’s dead cat.)
A few weeks ago, when the PM took his teenage son to the Centre Block’s very informal 5th-floor cafeteria for a burger, they were accompanied by at least four skittish, bulky men with wires in their ears and a photographer. Much eye-rolling ensued.
Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s still pretty safe on the streets of Ottawa, even for prime ministers. Ottawans are pretty good at giving space to politicians. As for terrorists, they’re really unlikely to make a move on any PM. There’s only been one serious assassination attempt against a Canadian prime minister, and the would-be killer blew himself up in a House of Commons washroom. Real terrorists aren’t deterred by motorcades.
The clincher came on Hallowe’en, when kids trick-or-treated at 24 Sussex. This year, they had to go through a metal detector. (That’s similar to the House of Commons visitors security system, where rent-a-cops relieved a friend of mine of a bass hook in his cap. Another one took my wife’s tweezers.)
Anyway, it seems terrorists come in all sizes and disguises. And, as Gulliver found out, even the little people can make your life miserable. Our G-8 country world-class leader was kept safe from witches, pirates, Darth Vaders, and other sketchy small people, who arrived at his doorstep disarmed.
If you think this kind of nonsense is the brainchild of the security staff, and that the PM has no say in how it works, think again. The PM is the boss, and if he really thought the head of his RCMP security team was pushing him around, that cop would, within a few weeks, be showing store clerks in Iqaluit how to spot fake toonies.
He likes this. He likes this too much.
As for the rest of us, well, it says something sad about Ottawans that parents were lining up to put their kids through the metal detector.