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washington dc

Washington, D.C. in early February – so warm that you can walk around outside without so much as a jacket. Even the brief snowfall just melted as soon as it hit the ground.

Unfortunately, I spent most of my time there in hotel conference rooms. But I did return home this weekend to a pleasant weather surprise of our own: warm, sunny Montreal temperatures.

Yesterday was a great day to be outdoors. We went up to Tremblant and joined the crowds skiing on the thin snow coverage and taking the sun in the long lift lines. It was so warm, in fact, that we needed air conditioning in the car on the way home.

I know it’s just a ruse, and that winter will be back in full force shortly. I know that at the first temperature dip, everything that melted will freeze back over and turn Montreal’s streets and sidewalks into a skating rink. I know that the minus 25 temperatures and windchills are not over, they’ve just called a temporary truce.

But hey, my theory is to enjoy it while it lasts.

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Washington, DC, ten days before one of the most hotly-contested presidential elections in decades, is not a pretty sight. In fact, it’s downright scary.

Everywhere I turned were political messages. The restaurants, the coffee shops… it was just inescapable. While walking down the street, the same woman asked me three times if I wanted to “help elect John Kerry”. Each time I smiled at her and said, “sorry, I’m Canadian”. By the third time I just said “still Canadian” and kept walking. She didn’t miss a beat.

Being Canadian in Washington ten days before the election is kind of like being the only sober person in a room full of drunks. By being a step or two outside the action, you can afford a sense of perspective that most people don’t have. Maybe that’s why it’s so obvious to me how bad things truly are.

The truly frightening thing to see is how people are confusing political opinion with personality. These days, you don’t just “vote” Republican or Democrat, you are a Republican or a Democrat – in a much more literal sense than ever before. People assume that if you’re on the opposing side, you’re lower than pond scum, definitely not worth speaking to or even the time of day. Everyone assumes the people they’re speaking to are on “their” side, and that their favourite pastime is to bash the other side. It frustrates them to no end when you choose not to play along.

I can’t help but wonder what will happen the day after the election. I’ve never seen people so divided. But somebody’s going to be elected, and the half of the people who didn’t vote for him will be very disappointed. Will the country be able to reunite and get over this election and move on? I wonder how long the wounds will take to heal.

A message to my American friends, if you’re reading: I realize that, despite the impact that this election may have on us as your neighbours and on the rest of the world, it’s really your election and your decision. I don’t think we have any business butting in. I realize passions are running high and you probably think that catastrophe will strike if your side loses. But please, please don’t lose sight of what’s important. Whether Bush wins, or Kerry wins, life will go on.

I’m just glad to be back home, where I can watch the rest of this boxing match from the sidelines.