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July 9, 2017


On August 21, 1939, Germany and Russia announced their infamous nonagression pact, setting the stage for World War II.

President Roosevelt was in Halifax Harbour when he heard the news.  He was aboard the USS Tuscaloosa, a heavy cruiser of the New Orleans class, 61 feet wide and six hundred feet long.

Roosevelt was on a fishing trip.  Literally.  The Tuscaloosa had left New York August 12, cruising in Canadian waters, visiting Campobello, Halifax, Sydney, and Bay of Islands.  They fished off the back of the Tuscaloosa and angled for salmon in the Humber River.  They were on the way back to Washington.

It's not hard to picture the handsome FDR sitting on the fantail.  He was seldom photographed with his wheelchair, but his heavy braces are always pretty obvious.  In fact, there's a picture:

Jump ahead 78 years to the visit of an even more impressive warship, the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, 252 feet wide and 1092 feet long.  The visit was meant to celebrate Canada's
150th birthday.

The best that can be said about the visit was that it did not carry the present Chief Executive. Other than that, the Americans displayed a remarkable insensitivity and official indifference unworthy of our southern neighbour.

Perhaps thinking of Halifax's potential for a USS Cole style attack, and that the Harbour Hopper is a modern assault vehicle, the US Naval Command demanded the closure of the ramp next to the casino, effectively terminating the operation of the popular tourist attraction.

We have a high tolerance for the many inconveniences visited upon us in the name of security.  But on Canada's birthday it is far more important for a grade four student to get acquainted with the long history of this beautiful harbour than to worry about al Qaeda in Halifax. Harbour Hopper operators made up some of the economic loss by ferrying US sailors ashore, but nothing can compensate for the grade four's disappointment.

I had been corresponding with a visitor, excited about the new wheelchair-accessible Harbour Hopper.   There was a chance her ride would take place on the Northwest Arm, but it, too, was canceled.

On July 4th, Independence Day in the US, it's customary for the US Consul in Halifax to host a lunch for Nova Scotia Officials.   This year it was held on board the Eisenhower.  Speaker Kevin Murphy was invited.  A wheelchair user, Kevin had the presence of mind to read the fine print, which warned of strenuous activity and disinviting people over 70.  It was made clear to Kevin that there would be no accommodation, despite the fact that the Eisenhower has high speed elevators capable of transporting the 90 aircraft between decks. Eisenhower officials mused about potential difficulties arising out of a medical emergency, as if the Eisenhower didn't have a hospital on board, an operating room and lots of helicopters used for just such contingencies.

Just incidentally, our new Lieutenant Governor Arthur LeBlanc, who is 74, somehow managed to escape the prohibition on septuagenarians.  He was accommodated.

Wikipedia says "The speaker of a deliberative assembly, especially a legislative body, is its presiding officer (chair). The title was first used in 1399 in England."  Kevin isn't just another politician.  He's a literal and figurative symbol of our democratic system of government.  Failing to accommodate him is an un-neighbourly act of consequence to all Nova Scotians and we should take note.

Americans are justly proud of their Americans with Disabilities Act.  Its reach extends to the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy, the USS Constitution.  Even though it was commissioned in 1797, the top deck is wheelchair accessible.  But a ship bigger than George's Island, two hundred years newer can't handle our head of government.

Americans need to be mindful of how much they depend on others.  We took care of thousands on 9/11.  Halifax Harbour played a vital role in both World Wars.  It's our harbour (you can tell by the spelling), our national holiday.

I'm unhappy with the Americans, I'm especially unhappy with the treatment of Speaker Murphy.  Let's be careful with our sovereignty.  Making America great again shouldn't depend on offending a neighbour.

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