In Focus Reporter
OTTAWA – Humber’s Mike Berg and Barack Obama made their first presidential visits to Parliament Hill last week.
The president of the United States arrived aboard Air Force One with the airspace cleared for landing and roads along his motorcade’s route closed to traffic.
The president of the Humber Students’ Federation travelled from Toronto in a 2002 Honda Civic to join the estimated crowd of 2,500 standing in frigid temperatures hoping to greet Obama.
Berg attempted to make a connection with his fellow president by wearing a baseball cap of the Chicagoan’s hometown team.
“I brought my White Sox hat because I know he’s a big fan,” said Berg, 22, a fourth-year public relations student at the University of Guelph-Humber. “If he supports my team, then I support him.”
Approaching police helicopters seemed to signal heavily armed security forces just before noon, including the rooftops of the Parliament Buildings.
“This is crazy, there’s a sniper in the bell tower,” Berg said, pointing to the Peace Tower.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” he added, while preparing to capture digital memories of the motorcade as it arrived. “This is going to be a part of history.”
The crowd chanted “O-ba-ma” when the president emerged from his armoured Cadillac limousine, known as the Beast, and stepped behind a bulletproof glass barrier.
“I got to see him wave,” said Nunavut’s Natasha Mablick, 19, who came to the Hill with Inuit classmates.
“Having Obama here in our nation is very meaningful to us because he proves we all can do it.”
But Berg, who’s not running in next month’s HSF election for a second term in the $34,000-a-year job, said he’s curious to see how Obama puts his policies into action.
“Right now, yeah, he’s awesome, but it all depends on whether he does what he says he’s going to do,” he said.
While the U.S. president ate lunch in the Senate speaker’s dining room – the menu included Pacific tuna, Arctic char and bison – the HSF president dined on a ham sandwich and fries at a nearby pub while watching Obama’s news conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
After lunch, Berg joined the barricaded crowd to wave goodbye to the president.
“It made me wonder,” he said later. “Are the people here because of a cultural iconic thing or are they really here because they think he can bring about change?”
Before ending his first foreign trip as president, Obama had a 15-minute chat with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
Berg met with Ignatieff at Lakeshore Campus the next day during a congratulatory presentation for the four Humber students who contacted the International Space Station earlier this month.
Ignatieff asked Berg if he got to see Obama. “Not as close as you did,” he replied.