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Ottawa Notebook

How the NHL deal went down Add to ...

Stephen Harper is a hockey fan and his biggest triumph this week in Washington was not on the economy, border issues or fixing the protectionist Buy American policy but rather on achieving an agreement with U.S. President Barack Obama on ice hockey.

A dispute over charter flights for sports teams, which began only last month, had morphed into a trade war with both countries disallowing multiple stops by the charters. It meant, for example, that the Ottawa Senators could not fly from New York to Washington and then on to Boston without having to come back to Canada first.

Here's what went down: Transport Minister John Baird and Air Canada's chief operating officer Duncan Dee were working closely together, realizing that their only window of opportunity to fix the issue before the start of hockey season was during the 90-minute meeting between the two leaders. Air Canada is one of the biggest air-charter suppliers to NHL teams.

Some heavy-hitters weighed in, including former U.S. ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin (an Atlanta Thrashers fan) and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman .

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was also working the phones trying to push Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to have the State Department push the Department of Transport to the table, says a source. And it took a lot of pressure from the NHL for U.S. officials to realize that their hockey teams were affected, too.

Once that was achieved, Mr. Baird and Mr. Dee worked with their U.S. counterparts, reaching an agreement in principle after working all day Tuesday and right up until the Prime Minister went to the White House on Wednesday.

This agreement allows for the charters carrying NHL teams and other sports teams to fly between two U.S. and two Canadian cities. Meanwhile, Commissioner Bettman was at the reception for Mr. Harper to thank him for getting the deal done, says the source.

Hot, Not and Happy Birthday

Birthday: Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay turned 50 this month and had a big, boisterous and non-partisan party at Ottawa's political hangout, Hy's Steakhouse last Wednesday night. There was much glee over the fact that a fall election appears to have been diverted.

Hot: The Liberal no-confidence motion, which will be tabled next month, will not be fancy or tricky. Rather, the balance of opinion in Michael Ignatieff's office, according to a source, is that it be a clear and simple declaration that they no longer have confidence in the government.

Not:Danny Williams' s rapprochement. The Newfoundland and Labrador Premier attended the Brian Mulroney uber-fete celebrating the 25th anniversary of his first government Thursday night in Montreal. The event was crawling with Harper Conservatives, including Laureen Harper and most of her husband's front bench. That show of strength was aimed at healing a rift that had developed after Mr. Harper's edict not to fraternize with Mr. Mulroney during the inquiry into his business dealings with arms lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber . So what about Mr. Williams? He's no friend of the Harper-ites. Was he there to mend fences? "He was there in a private capacity to show his appreciation for Mr. Mulroney whose work in bringing Hibernia to Williams's province helped make Newfoundland and Labrador a 'have' province today," says a partygoer.

Not: The Harper Conservatives continue to run negative ads about the so-called coalition between the Ignatieff Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc. Last week, Mr. Ignatieff said he wouldn't enter into any coalition. Yet, the Tories are having some trouble with this. And now, the tables are turned as those very socialists and separatists mentioned in the Tory attack ads are supporting Mr. Harper, voting with the government yesterday on a motion of confidence. This prompted Liberal Whip Rodger Cuzner to muse aloud in the House as to what to call this "political ménage à trois." "How about Socons? That is short for Socialist and Conservative. … How about an acronym, BURN Canada? That is BURN as in Bloc United with Reform-Conservatives and New Democrats."

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