Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ansip's excellent summer vacation

Apparently I'm not the only one going on vacation. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is currently vacationing in Canada with his family. He's been staying in central Ontario at a relatives cottage which is a great vacation choice. If you ever get the chance to visit the Muskokas I highly recommend it.

Ansip did fit in a couple of official work days into his schedule. This past Saturday he visited Jõekääru summer camp which I attended as a child and so have many others over the years including President Ilves. Last night there was an official reception for Ansip in Toronto, it was held at the Estonian House and the place was packed with people.

The evening started out with some nice words from the new Bishop of the Estonian Lutheran Church and then a couple of other speakers before Ansip took the podium. He spoke for about 10-15 minutes, primarily on the Estonian economy (that is suppose to be Reform's specialty right?) and how he does not see any crash in the future, the Bronze Statue incident and at length about the struggle that Estonians who fled in the 40's endured and their role in maintaining Estonian culture during occupation. His speech was decent but nothing special. After his speech he took some questions which I'll outline:

1) The first questions was regarding Eesti's birth rate and what can and is being done about it. Ansip started off his answer by talking about the Bronze Soldier again, he linked it to a increase in patriotism or something like that. He then went on to explain that his government has passed legislation to provide new mothers with 1 years paid maternity leave and plans on raising that to 1.5 years in order to jump start the baby making. He explained that the longer parents are allowed to stay at home with their child and not worry about income the more likely they are to have more kids.

2) Second question regarded the events after the election and why Mart Laar was excluded from the Foreign Ministry position, was it because he was jealous of Laar as the Economist recently suggested? Ansip started off by saying he's answered this question many times and the it essentially boils down to the fact that the PM should be able to control 3 main ministries: Justice, Finance and Foreign. He never really answered the question directly and was clearly playing the position of politician on this one.

3) Next question was about the Euro and how will Eesti ever join it at this rate. He started off by saying that this is probably a topic foreign to most of us in the room (I guess can we don't know about Euros?) and then went on to explain how well the economy was doing and that the only reason we haven't joined already was because the qualification rules were unfair. No real explanation as to what his government plans of doing to actually join the Euro zone was included in his answer.

4) Next question was about the Estonian language and what more could be done to preserve it. Ansip answered that Estonia was the only country looking out for the Estonian language and that lot's of hard work needs to go into ensuring that it is kept alive and healthy. (I didn't listen to most of the answer as I needed to refill my wine glass.)

5) Last question was about a statue of Lenin that resides in Narva and why it hasn't been removed. Ansip said it should be removed and those types of statutes shouldn't exist in Eesti but that the time was just not right.

I'm not a huge Ansip fan and don't agree with a lot of his politics but overall he did a decent job. Canadian-Estonians tend to have different views on Estonian politics since a lot of the internal and domestic issues don't affect them directly. This comes out in the questions that are asked so it was nice to see that some good domestic issues were brought up as well.

After Ansip's Q&A there was some very nice performances followed by dinner. Unfortunately the after dinner portion was long and drawn out. Instead of getting to hear more from Ansip or meet him personally we sat through representative after representative from virtually every Estonian-Canadian group still active. Instead of doing that they could have had a 1-2 hour meeting beforehand where each representative got 5 minutes with Ansip personally to express their views. All these speeches meant less time for us to hear from Ansip and more time to hear from people we hear from all the time.

Overall the night was interesting and enjoyable and aside from the after dinner speeches very well organized. It's not everyday that we get to meet top Estonian politicians in Canada so I appreciate Ansip taking the time to come and visit us on his vacation. You could say he was doing it to get votes and boost his popularity but I don't think many Canadians voted for him last time, that may change now but I doubt it.

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