The summer is long around here, but at least it starts with a bang on July 1, when Ottawa embraces its role as the theoretical centre of all that is Canadiana, when the politicians trot up to the Hill again in the heat, sing the national anthem and watch a few bands most of us have never heard of play for the throng of red and white clapping hands and smiling, sweat-soaked faces. It usually rains sometime during the afternoon, just long enough to push the midday shift of drinkers from the patios and make room for the evening teams.
Our new guests had arrived to join us on the patio. We were 48 hours removed from the marathon voting session in the lower chamber over the contentious bill C-38, that one that would implement the Conservative government’s latest budget. The Action Plan for Canada’s economy. A vision for the future. Probably not one guiding us to the world of science fiction imaginations, but apparently instead a map for a staid path we’ve been told is a tested route to success, though nobody seems to be able to agree whether it points forward or backward.
It’s been two weeks since the body parts turned up here in Ottawa, since Albert Street was lined for a block with emergency vehicles and Hazmat precautions all afternoon, through a monstrous early summer thunderstorm that cracked through that thick air that lingers in this valley. And now that the alleged sender, one Luka Rocco Magnotta, sits in a German jail and the search continues for his victim’s various other body parts, the precinct within which the Conservative Party headquarters is located – that is, The Hill – has returned to a kind of normalcy.
The server says she’d come out from Ottawa to work in Whistler. A ski bum. A bit of working in the winter and then some travel in the summer. But it didn’t work out. It lasted two weeks, she says. Now here she is in Vancouver, landed in a shift job serving discount ale on a Sunday at this particular iteration of whatever bourgeois chain of gastro-sameness we were in at the time. She’ll be going home soon enough, back to Ontario and back to university, most likely. Back to the city of bureaucrats and big mouths resting on tired, leftover big suits.
One hundred and something days, everyone. We’re into it now, whatever the fuck this has become. The people in the streets, banging away on pots and pans are going viral. Buzzfed to the world’s eyeballs – a meme direct from the barricades of Quebec, the Montreal mayhem of tin noise and, if nobody's careful, a dangerously hollowing sense of purpose. Just an emptying pot, banging away. This was about the tuition. Or about the general theme of a government so broke it can’t even pay itself to make the corruption go away. It was something like that. But anyway, to the streets.
A heat wave powered on just prior to the long weekend. It’s hot around here, like mid-summer, baking in a stew of low-level smog and sweat. Ottawa, the unsexiest of the unsexy, mumbles to itself about something uncomfortable stirring at the base of that clock tower shaft on the Hill – some conversation building in the left chamber. Over at the museum, they’re talking gonads and G-spots. Down in Kingston, a painting of the naked prime minister hangs in a library. It’s spilling over. And here we are now, having a national discussion about sex.
The alternative choice had a weak J, she said, pointing to the sign at the door. So they decided to go with a different typeface – one that still conjured up the idea of history and presented the fortitude the opposition party needed to get whatever message it was it had across to the people of Canada.
So here we are in Ottawa, in the Year of Our Lord, Two-Thousand and Twelve and already deep into the new politics of immigration, a course set and championed by the Conservative government, and more specifically by immigration minister Jason Kenney, the Harper-in-waiting. And in comes Conrad Black, the spurned Canadian newspaper baron – a sort of Dickensian hangover icon of late 19th Century nostalgia, right down to his exile back to the Old Country at the hands of a chastened prime minister.
Most days, the debate in the House of Commons humps the line between inane and insane for the gawking obsessives, the press gallery, who like to watch but can’t touch. The only difference is there’s no hockey. Not anymore.