In Brussels, at NATO, with a shy Prime Minister

I arrived last night in Brussels, Belgium to cover the NATO Summit tomorrow. We travelled on Prime Minister Paul Martin’s plane, leaving Ottawa early Sunday morning, local time, and arriving at about 10:30 pm, local time, in Brussels.

President George Bush beat Martin to Brussels so we missed the spectacle of a 43–car motorcade ferrying Bush into the heart of Brussels to the heavily fortified U.S. embassy where Bush is staying.

Martin has been disappointingly shy so far on this trip. We did not see him at all during the seven-hour plane ride, although his Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew was a bit more sociable.

And while Bush has the famous giant Boeing 747 that is Air Force 1, Martin travels aboard a much more modest military Airbus. It is operated by the Canadian military’s  437 Transport Squadron. 

The media and some government bureaucrats travel in economy class. Martin, Pettigrew and their senior staff are at the front of the plane in a special cabin.

The service, provided by Squadron members, was polite and attentive. The food, while plentiful, was about as good as you get on any airline.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs ro French toast. Dinner was a fillet of beef with peppercorn sauce or a chicken breast with Napolitan sauce.

The flight was long enough for two onboard movies, Shall We Dance and Cellular.

Upon arriving, there was a brief photo opportunity as Martin and his wife Sheila de-planed and shook the hands of his hosts. Martin was wearing a blue-and-white Canadian Football League jacket, an attempt, no doubt, to get Belgians fired up about those great Canadian rivalries like the Argos and Ti-Cats and its Western equivalent, the Stamps and the Eskimos.

It seems unlikely we will see much of Martin today, either, despite the fact that a new poll says his approval rating is 57 per cent and that nearly 47 per cent of Canadians would vote for him. No media briefings are scheduled with him. Again, all he will do is two photo opportunities, one with the Prime Minister of Belgium and another with the Secretary General of NATO.

Bush, on the other hand, is to give a major speech tonight which has advisors say should set the tone for a rapprochement with European powers.s


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