The last time a Burlington politician was in the global spotlight to that degree, he was sipping brandy with Abraham Lincoln.
Karina Gould, the city’s rookie Member of Parliament, caught a glimpse of fame during President Barack Obama’s recent speech in the House of Commons in Ottawa.
Obama, paying what will likely be his last visit to the nation’s capitol as President, mentioned that he has a brother-in-law from Burlington.
“We’re linked by the ties of friendship and family. In my case, an outstanding brother-in-law in Burlington,” Obama said. “I give Burlington a shout-out.”
At that point Gould, sitting in the third row behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, started smiling and waving her hand at Obama. The President responded by pointing directly at Gould and CBC cameras cut away from him, focusing on her while she was exchanging a high-five with Oakville North-Burlington MP Pam Damoff, whose seat is directly behind Gould’s in the fourth row.
Gould was absolutely thrilled.
“It was great to have Burlington highlighted on the national and international stage,” she said. “I had no qualms about waving at President Obama.”
Damoff, also in her first term in Parliament, was equally impressed.
“We were not expecting it,” she said. “I jumped out of my seat and started patting Karina on the shoulder. We were really proud.”
Mayor Rick Goldring said the whole thing was very positive for Burlington’s image.
“It was really special to get a shout-out from the President,” he said.
Besides CBC and CTV, the President’s speech was televised live by CNN in the U.S., which was taking the Canadian feed. That means the Burlington cameo probably reached hundreds of thousands of viewers on both sides of the border.
In 2003 Obama’s half-sister Maya Soetoro married Konrad Ng, a Burlington native who played football and rugby at Nelson high school and also was Prime Minister of the student council there for a while.
Konrad and Maya now live in Hawaii. They weren’t in Ottawa for the President’s visit, but they did fly to Washington for the July 4 Independence Day holiday celebration and were in the U.S. capitol for a week.
It was an extra special occasion because Obama’s daughter Malia also celebrated her 18th birthday on July 4. She will be able to vote for the first time when electors go to the polls in November to select a successor to her father.
Konrad’s mother Joan Ng, who operates The Burlington Artist Gallery on Commerce Court, said she and her husband Howard, a retired CCIW scientist, were invited to Ottawa, but were unable to attend because they were on vacation in Newfoundland. However, they did attend the President’s inauguration in January of 2009, viewing the ceremony from seats in the front row.
Before he became President, Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Natasha visited Burlington in August, 2004, to attend the wedding dinner for Konrad and Maya. He actually drove down the QEW from Toronto to Niagara. Shortly before that he had delivered a spectacular keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
At that time, the Obama children spent a few hours in the playground at Spencer Smith Park
Konrad Ng now is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii’s Academy of Creative Media. He formerly was the scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Program in Washington.
Maya Soetoro has authored a children’s book, Ladder to the Moon, taking the inspiration from her mother and her daughter Suhaila
Harry Truman was the first president to address Parliament in 1947. Dwight Eisenhower did it twice, in 1953 and 1958, John F. Kennedy in 1961, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan twice in 1981 and 1987 and Bill Clinton in 1995.
Sir William McDougall, one of the Fathers of Confederation, represented Halton (Burlington, Oakville, Milton, Acton and Georgetown) in the House of Commons from 1878 to 1882
A personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, he had been sent to Washington to negotiate the Recriprocity Treaty in 1863, prior to Confederation, and traveled to Gettysburg with Lincoln, staying in the very same house where the President wrote his famous Gettysburg Address.
Newspapers of the day reported the two friends enjoyed a couple of sniftners together to salute the solid relationship of bordering countries!
Written by: Denis Gibbons