Political Tourism in Ottawa
You know you're married to a political junkie when the first thing your husband wants to do once you get to your hotel is turn on C-SPAN. So it didn't surprise me that the first thing he wanted to see when we arrived in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa was the Canadian Parliament.
The Parliament buildings themselves look a bit like a gothic Cinderella's castle sitting up on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River. The original structures -- except for the library -- were destroyed by fire in 1916.
We joined a guided tour of Parliament led by college student Patrick Thompson.
Architecture aside, it was politics we came to see. And on any day that Parliament is in session, the public -- tourists included -- are allowed to sit in the gallery of the House of Commons or the Senate and watch Canadian politicians in action. Michael O'Shaunesy, who works for the Department of Foreign Affairs, says if you listen carefully as you wander the halls of Parliament, you'll know when something is about to happen.
Perhaps the most interesting difference between the Canadian and American systems of government is the daily question period. Every day, the Canadian Prime Minister and all of his or her Cabinet Ministers answer questions -- in English and in French -- posed by members of Parliament about affairs of state. And if you're a tourist, it's great theatre. And it's free. On this particular afternoon, the hottest debate was over subsidies for Canadian farmers, who were having difficulty competing on a global marketplace.
Catcalls are part of the game here, perfectly acceptable. Whereas in our Congress, it's more often the exception than the rule. Tour guide Patrick Thompson says the party in power and the opposition parties sit on opposite sides of the chamber -- a British practice carried over from the days when MP's (members of Parliament) would spar with more than just words.
There's also an amazing amount of American history you can learn outside the U.S. For example, I never knew that Canadians were a bit nervous after the American Civil War because England had supported the South and they feared Americans would retaliate by invading British territory to the north. That's one reason Canada decided to confederate and become a nation and why Ottawa was chosen as site of the nation's capital.
Back in our hotel room, my husband suggested returning for a second day of Parliamentary debate. Until he began channel surfing and discovered the Canadian version of C-SPAN -- CPAC.
I guess this is what political compromise is all about. From Ottawa, I'm Kitty Felde for the Savvy Traveler.
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