Footnotes to Obama Visit
President Obama's visit seems to have been a big success. Both he and Prime Minister Harper seemed to gain politically with the message they wanted to get out.
Canadians seemed to enjoy the event. I watched quite a bit of the TV coverage on CBC. I peeked in on CNN from time to time and decided; for them, what Hilary Clinton was up to in Asia was more important than President Obama's visit to Canada.
President Obama and Governor General Michaëlle Jean
The President was greeted at the airport by Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Canada's head of State, the Queen's representative. It seems some American bloggers don't understand the place of the Governor General in Canada's political system. She is a stand in for the Queen when she is not present. In Canada's parliamentary system the function of head of state and head of the government are separated. The Prime Minister is the head of the government in power. He is the leader of his party and the first among equals of ministers, who make up the cabinet. The Prime Minister and the ministers manage a program for the running of the government, executive and legislative.
Michaëlle Jean carries out ceremonmial functions for the country. She represents the country at various international gatherings. She also related to Canadians on behalf of the country in non-political ways. Ultimately, she signs off on all legislation put forward by the government. She is also the symbolic Commander in Chief of the Military. It was her that granted the prorogation of parliament to save the Harper government from defeat with a vote of non-confidence.
In the American political system these two functions, head of State and Executive head of government are both part of the function of President.
Canada's system has one advantage I like. One can more easily be against the government of a Prime Minister in power while being supportive of the country, symbolized in the Governor General, a unifying figure. Our American cousins often find harsh criticism of the President, as Executive, bordering on disloyalty to the country, particularly in the area of foreign policy.
I have digressed into my high school civics lessons on comparing the Canadian and US political systems.
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean and President Obama seemed to have had a very cordial visit and discussion.
They were shown on TV having a very animated discussion. They have much in common. They are the two first African North Americans to be heads of government in Western Democracies. They have both shown an interest in Africa. One of Michaëlle Jean's first visits overseas was to Africa. They are the same age and both have young children being raised while in very visible political careers. ( Michaëlle Jean has a 12 year old daughter she adopted from Haiti). They both are very affable and hands on kinds of people. Both are very comfortable in public and before the media. Michaëlle Jean was a TV personality in Quebec previously. They both seemed to enjoy each others company and the occasion of the visit. I am sure the President found her more charming than the Prime Minister.
Now for my pet peeeves.
The American TV people could do their homework better. Ms. Whitfield on CNN did not recognise a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman in his red serge uniform. Next to the flag the RCMP in dress uniform is the most recognizable symbol of Canada. She mistakenly identified the honour guard at the airport as military . CNN has no excuse as two of their on air personalities are Canadians who have worked in Canada on air: Roberts and Velshi.
On Fox a reporter just could not pronounce "Chargé d'Affaire" and just had to dismiss it as "it's French" as if that is an excuse. I wonder if she knows what the function of a Chargé d'Affaire is .
It is a term used in both English and French.
American broadcasters need to do better at pronouncing words in other languages. One announcer pronounced Michaëlle Jean's last name as "gene" when it is closer of "john". I did not catch whether they mangled her first name. There are two dots over the "e" . This is a diaeresis which affects the pronounciation. The "e" is pronounced separate from the vowel preceeding it.
It is often counfused with the umlaut, also two dots, in German. The diaegresis has a different function than the umlaut. In English, we have largely dropped such marks (diacritcs) for pronouciation, which means you just have to learn the right prounciation for such words like naive. It should be written naïve. I can remember when I was taught to write English words using the diaeresis such as preëmptive and coöperation. But no more. Now we might write them pre-emptive and co-operation to help indicate the pronouciation.
This concern for accents, or diacritcs, may seem picayune but I think it is disrespectful to not write foreign language words with them. It os incorrect and in some languages makes the words hard to know how to pronounce. I know in Spanish if you drop the diacritic you may have an all together different word and meaning.
I am guilty of being lazy and drop the accents when writing. It takes time to insert them using the numerical keys and the codes. On Blogger this is even more troublesome as it does not recognize this method of printing the accented letters. The only way I have found to do it is to print the accented letters on the word processing program and then copy and paste them into the text on blogger. If anyone knows how else to insert the accented letters, which is easier, I would appreciate knowing.
I have digressed again. Here is a video of excerpts of the CBC broadcast of his visit. His unscheduled stop at the Byward Market to purchase some souvenirs turned into a walkabout which everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the President, (except the security people around the President. You could see the stress on their faces). He got a beavertail to eat and come Canadian cookies for his girls.
Here is the Whitehouse slideshow of the visit to Canada. http://www.whitehouse.gov/photogallery/working-with-canada/
I hope President Obama returns for a visit with his family as he promised, " when the weather warms up." Canadians are certainly very open to being gracious hosts on such a visit.
Here is a lovely picture of the President and Governor General. http://newshopper.sulekha.com/topic/slideshow/jean-daniel-lafond/680566.htm