The invitation is on the table, but Stephen Colbert says he isn't sure he can come north to the land of syrup suckers to look out for the interests of U.S. Olympic skaters during the 2010 Winter Games.
"Can I even legally work in Canada?" Mr. Colbert mused in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail after receiving a letter, released yesterday, from the "Chief Syrup Sucker" of the City of Richmond.
"Don't I need a green card, or whatever you call it? A beaver board?"
Richmond's prime syrup sucker usually goes by the name of Ted Townsend, senior manager of corporate communications for the city, and he issued his invitation to Mr. Colbert because the comic recently suggested on his Comedy Central show that "syrup suckers" in the north are not being fair to U.S. athletes seeking practice time, and referred to "Canadian ice-holes" causing the problems.
The focus of Mr. Colbert's concern was the Richmond Olympic Oval, where the long-track speed-skating competition will be held during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The City of Richmond built and owns the facility.
Mr. Townsend suggested Mr. Colbert accept the title of Richmond Olympic Oval Ombudsman "to ensure that no American speed skater is mistreated or otherwise harmed in the making of the Olympic speed-skating competition."
Canadians are a patient people, but Mr. Colbert may have crossed a line, Mr. Townsend dryly suggested.
"It takes a lot to upset us. After all, the combination of the languid smell of beaver musk and the freezing temperatures generally make us a docile people. Still, we just can't stand the thought that someone would think we aren't playing fair," Mr. Townsend wrote.
"So as the Canadian ice-holes who happen to be the proprietors of the Richmond Olympic Oval, we are inviting you to find yourself some sled dogs and venture forth to our great frozen wasteland to be our guest at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games."
The letter is Richmond's first detailed response to the criticism from Mr. Colbert.
Asked about the tone, Mr. Townsend said in an interview that he set out to write a "good-natured response" to Mr. Colbert's comments.
"But it's also to remind him of the true facts, "Mr. Townsend noted.
As he wrote to Mr. Colbert: "The truth is we have never barred any international skaters from the Richmond Olympic Oval. But we did ask them to follow the rules to get on our ice.
"You might have noticed that us syrup suckers are big on rules and regulating things; that's how we got universal public medicare."
Should he take up the challenge of being ombudsman, Mr. Colbert would be asked to don an official pink tuque for his ombudsman duties, "which we think would make [him]look very officious."
Vancouver Olympic officials have already, more soberly, rebutted Mr. Colbert's claims, suggesting all teams - including Americans - are being treated fairly.
Mr. Colbert has announced he will be a sponsor of the cash-strapped U.S. speed skating team, launching a fundraising campaign on his website.