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Canadians down tools for Obama
Canadians across the country paused at home, work and school on Tuesday to gather around television and computer screens for what many believe will become a generation-defining moment.
At Carleton University in Ottawa, a TV was set up in the library to broadcast the inauguration of President Barack Obama — something associate university librarian Linda Rossman has done just twice before, for the launch of the first Gulf War in 1990 and on 9/11.
Students in the library were uncharacteristically silent for 45 minutes while dozens of people watched the ceremony, she says. But that ended in a burst of applause the moment Obama recited his oath as the 44th president of the United States.
"It was much more exciting to be in the historical moment, 60 or 70 of us watching it together (than watching it alone)," Rossman said. "He's broken the barriers in so many ways — the colour barrier and youth barrier. He's just a model in all those astonishing ways."
This country's citizens take great pains to differentiate themselves from their southern neighbours, but the proximity and relationship between the two draws us in, says Arthur Milnes, a fellow at the centre for the study of democracy at Queen's University.
"We have this incredible bird's eye view into the greatest political show on Earth, the U.S. presidency," he says. "I think we feel like we're cousins: it's our president, too.
"Unless we don't like him," he added.
By choosing Canada for his first foreign visit after taking office, Obama appears to be returning the affection and signalling a strong relationship between the two countries, says Milnes, editor of a forthcoming book on American presidential speeches in Canada.
Michael Hart, a professor of international trade at Carleton University, believes national political tendencies help explain Canada's fascination with Obama.
"Canadians tend to be more left of centre than Americans do, and so they've always had a dim view of conservative presidents and they think that if you have a liberal president the sun will shine more frequently," he says.
At Wayne Gretzky's sports bar in Toronto, more than 100 members of an online group called Canada Votes Obama toasted the ceremony with cocktails including a Barack on the Rocks (vodka, lime mix, blue Curcacao and Red Bull) and a Joe the Plumber (Alize and a splash of sourpuss raspberry).
''It's a truly historic day. I think everyone's excited for change,'' said Adam Sax, the 23-year-old founder of the group.
At the University of Victoria, a big screen in the student union building lounge was one of many gathering points for Obama-watchers. About 30 people watching were optimistic for the fledgling presidency, but well aware of the challenges that lie ahead.
The inauguration and Obama's speech were special for 21-year-old Miekella Okyere, who, like the new president, has an African father and a white mother.
"It's absolutely amazing," she said. "I feel so good about it."
In Ottawa, about 100 people joined newly minted Senator Pamela Wallin and Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar — who skipped NDP leader Jack Layton's inauguration party — at the U.S. Embassy to watch the swearing-in ceremony on American soil.
"I'm thrilled to be here, because this is the most important relationship we have," said Wallin, who was consul-general to New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Ottawa bar D'Arcy McGee's had two TVs broadcasting the ceremony and about a dozen patrons enjoying pre-lunch pints. Yannick Veilleux-Lepage, a 21-year-old Carleton student, and Michael Thorpe, a 27-year-old University of Alberta student, were taking a drink each time Obama mentioned Martin Luther King or some variation of the word "historic" in his inaugural address, but both were searching for a "where were you when?" moment.
"I heard on TV that this was going to be one of the most watched events on television around the world," Veilleux-Lepage said. "I wanted to be a part of that. My dad still talks about where he was when Kennedy was inaugurated."
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