OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadians put aside their usual snide remarks about U.S. politicians on Thursday as thousands gathered in unabashed adulation of President Barack Obama on his first foreign visit.
More than 3,000 people withstood freezing temperatures and snow on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to catch a glimpse of the U.S. leader as he waved briefly from behind a plexiglass barrier as he met Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“Maybe We Can” and “Yes Oui Can” were some of the signs being waved by the screaming crowd. People held up pictures of Obama and adorned snowmen with Obama T-shirts and flags.
Television networks ran nonstop coverage of the visit, starting hours before the president’s arrival, and local restaurants offered special Obama coffee - a blend of Kenyan, Hawaiian and Indonesian beans -- and typical fried-dough “beaver tails” with an “O”-shaped topping of whipped cream.
A five-foot tulip painted with Obama’s likeness was presented to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
The fervor was unusual in a city whose people are often skeptical about U.S. politicians.
Lesley Marshall, a university student, waved a small American flag on the snow-covered lawn outside Parliament even though she is a Canadian citizen, something she said she wouldn’t have dared do a few months ago.
“We came for the Bush protest here (in 2004) .... there were just lines of police officers with gas masks because there was so much anti-American sentiment. It was horrifying,” she said, while e-mailing a photo of Obama to her American-born mother.
“I think Canadians feel that he is about change and that he will actually change something, not just in the States but in our relations as well,” said Megan Whitman, 18.
Environmental and human rights activists were prominent in the crowd, expressing hope for a new era of U.S.-Canada cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that the Guantanamo prison would be closed.
Harper, a poker-faced Conservative who rarely draws a crowd, took advantage of Obama’s celebrity status to turn and wave to the thousands gathered for the president’s arrival. Polls show more than 80 percent of Canadians support Obama, while Harper has just over 30 percent support.
Robin Browne, a civil servant and an African Canadian, said he didn’t care if he actually saw Obama. He took the day off work mainly to let his two young sons witness the celebration.
“It’s more about them coming here and saying ‘Wow. All this stuff for a brother!’ That’s what it’s about really,” he said.
But skeptics were not entirely absent. “I‘m probably going to be very unpopular for saying this, but I feel like the fawning over (Obama) is demeaning. He’s not a deity people!” said a contributor to a special “Obamawa” tag on the online networking service Twitter.
Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Peter Galloway