George W. Bush’s speech in Calgary on Tuesday will mark his first public appearance since Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, a day in which some gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue to boo the outgoing president. In Calgary, where Bush is scheduled to speak about his legacy to a well-heeled crowd at the TELUS Convention Centre, he may receive a more sympathetic reception.
But then, who knows, considering that even Calgary has fallen upon hard times. Early on, event organizers with tinePublic Inc. expected about 1,500 people would attend, with tables of 10 selling for $4,000, singles for $400 (GST not included). The group has since become more reluctant to discuss numbers. Ticket holders have been sent detailed instructions requesting that they arrive at 10:30 a.m. for the noon-hour event, and cautioning them they will frisked. The RCMP won’t discuss the security measures in place but have warned Calgarians to expect traffic delays.And a protest, or two. Just down the road from the convention centre on Stephen Avenue, Collette Lemieux, a Calgary activist, estimates that as many as 500 protestors may show up on Tuesday to voice their opposition to Bush’s visit, complete with a pile of shoes—a reference to Iraqi journalist and shoe-chucker Muntazer al-Zaidi—they will fire with a make-shift canon into a Bush effigy.
This past Saturday, an ad hoc group of Calgarians calling themselves ‘The People vs. Bush’ examined many of the issues that hang over the Bush presidency by mounting a mock trial of the former president. This amounted to little more than a five-minute piece of theatre scripted by Toby Pollett, who once served with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry, and the anonymous Jet Pack Mac, a working Calgary writer who chose pseudonymity over the risks of being blacklisted in this conservative town.
The driving force behind the mock trial, Paul Hughes, also an ex-PPCLI man, poured his energy into the event to approximate “what we think it might feel like in a sense—with a little bit of entertainment—if Bush was to be made accountable in front of the International Criminal Court.” An abstract expressionist artist and high-performance hockey coach—in the 1990s he says he worked with stars Jarome Iginla and Chris Pronger to train kids at a highly successful hockey camp in Canmore—Hughes, 44, is an endearing and energetic Calgary presence. “It’s a pretty snappy little production we got going here,” Hughes, who played the prosecutor, told the small crowd.
Bush is a “morally bankrupt mass murderer,” Pollett, in character, shouted during the performance. “He has the approximate IQ of an alligator and you wouldn’t convict an alligator, would you?” asked Bush’s defense lawyer. “I know how hard it is to put food on your family,” argued Bush himself, played by 28-year-old graphic artist Matthew Dupuis in a beard and newsboy cap and gesticulating madly in the style of Richard Nixon. “I love the tar sands, by the way.” Said Dupuis, after the fact: “He’s a powerful man and a lot of emotions ran through the lines I spewed on his behalf.”
The mock trial, attended by a handful of people and acted out in a dingy corner of an aging movie theatre as the Calgary sun shone bright outside, perhaps demonstrated a little of why Bush selected the city for his first foray into the speaker’s circuit. Within Canada, said University of Alberta political scientist Greg Anderson, Calgary is perhaps the safest territory for Bush—a conservative city that’s home to perhaps as many as 80,000 Americans, the largest concentration of U.S. ex-pats in the world. And the money doesn’t hurt. Gossip puts Bush’s pay cheque at $150,000. That said, Anderson doesn’t “think W.’s going to be making big bucks on the international lecture circuit anytime soon.”