With two days to go before the Layover of the Century kicks off here in the capital, ITQ can report that the transformation of Parliament Hill into a maximum security staging area is nearly complete.
We — those of us who actually work in Centre Block, that is — have been advised that, as of Wednesday night, every single person who wants to enter the building will have to be scanned — no exceptions, although I’d love to see them try to force a recalcitrant MP or senator to submit to the indignity of the wand. If we show up after 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, we’ve been warned that we won’t be able to enter the building directly at all, but will instead have to trudge over to West Block and take the tunnel — after being cleared by security, of course.
Speaking of security, the visible police presence seems to be increasing by the hour: There were at least a dozen or so Mounties milling around the foyer when I came in, most in uniform — matching windbreakers emblazoned with the RCMP coat of arms, that is, not red serge — but a few wearing suits and looking very much in command.
The Hall of Honour – which is where the president will walk on his way to the joint media availability in the Reading Room — is already lit up like a birthday cake, flood lights bathing the freshly polished floor. (Really — I saw the polishers at work this afternoon. The marble is aglow.) Apparently, the president may get to take a quick peek at the Library, which would be awesome, since it really is breathtaking, especially since it was restored. If he can’t take the full parliamentary tour, that’s probably the one place he really should see.
Meanwhile, the Reading Room itself is well on its way to becoming a makeshift press theatre; there are two lecterns that keep appearing, disappearing and reappearing in different positions as they experiment with various different setups, and enough chairs for, oh, 80 or so reporters, of which ITQ is almost guaranteed not to be one. She’ll probably have to be satisfied watching it on TV like everyone else, although since she did get the chance to see him not once but twice during her adventures covering last year’s New Hampshire primaries, it would be a little selfish to take up a spot that could go to someone else. Not, however, that she expects to be facing that choice; with only 40 slots available, it’s going to be tricky enough for the press gallery to divvy up the available seats without upsetting the delicate balance between competing media outlets.
Across the hall, the Railway Room has been turned into a minimalist filing room for non-local press — American and otherwise. Seriously, at the moment, it’s just tables, chairs and phones – about as no-frills as it can possibly get. I assume that at some point, it will at least be outfitted with a television so that the occupants can monitor what’s going on outside their field of vision, which is – let’s face it – where most of the action is going to be taking place.
Outside the front doors, the bulletproof shield has been installed in the arch under the Peace Tower — at least, we assume it’s bulletproof; as I pointed out to Colleague Glen (who will be twittering throughout the visit if you’re into that sort of thing) there wouldn’t really be much point if it wasn’t. The side archways, meanwhile, are still open; instead, the top halves have been covered by mud brown nylon tarps, which looks every bit as classy as it sounds. Presumably, the red carpet will be rolled out eventually.
Finally, the front lawn is now completely encircled by not one but two sets of iron barricades, which also line the entire route that the presidential motorcade is expected to take, from the airport all the way to Parliament Hill. (At least he’ll get to see the canal even if he’s not able to go for a skate — that is, he remembers to look up from his briefing notes, of course.)
So that’s what it’s like at the moment here on the Hill. Anyone else out there caught in the dragnet of Obam-anticipation?