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Canada’s air controllers, purveyors of pizza goodwill
[MONTREAL] Being nice in Canada can sometimes feel like a full-time job.
There was that time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cuddled with two baby pandas.
Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland welcomed a Saudi teenager at Toronto airport with a warm embrace after she had fled abusive members of her family and been granted asylum in Canada.
Now, Canadian air traffic controllers have helped burnish the country's image as the do-gooder of the world by sending hundreds of pizzas to their US counterparts, who have been working without pay since a government shutdown began Dec 22.
And, yes, some were apparently garnished with Canadian bacon.
Peter Duffey, president of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association, said the show of cheesy support began last week when employees at an air traffic control centre in Edmonton, Alberta, decided to buy pizzas for their colleagues at an office in Anchorage, Alaska. Soon, dozens of other Canadian traffic control centres joined in.
"We wanted to show solidarity with our American colleagues," he said. "In our society we are polite and friendly people, and this gesture is part of that.
"In the United States, people have responded to this simple act of pizza by saying, ‘Damn, you Canadians are so nice. I'm moving to Canada.' "
By Monday, about 400 pizzas had been delivered to air traffic control towers across the United States, from El Paso, Texas; to Ronkonkoma, New York, which Friday received 32 pies from Gino's Pizzeria of Ronkonkoma, compliments of air traffic controllers in Gander, Newfoundland, and Moncton, New Brunswick.
Many Canadians have reacted with shock to what they regard as the seemingly endless drama of the Trump administration, including the special counsel investigation of US President Donald Trump and the acrimonious trade negotiations between Canada and the United States.
Now the US government is partly shut down, caught in a political dispute over securing money for a southern-border wall that Mr Trump wants to help keep migrants out.
Many Canadians have sought to avoid un-Canadian-like behaviour such as gloating. But with the pizza deliveries, they appeared to bask in their own relative serenity and yet another feel-good moment reaffirming their humanism.
"'Pizza Diplomacy', eh!" Ankur Chhabra, an economist studying public health in Toronto, wrote on Twitter. "Proud to be in a country that is so full of love and respect for everyone. Our southern neighbours need to imbibe this more often, I guess."
"That's why the world loves Canada," an entrepreneur identified as KC wrote on Twitter.
"That's amore," added The Toronto Star.
In the United States, where about 10,000 air traffic controllers have been working without pay, the reaction was also effusive.
On ATC Memes, a Facebook page run by a former air traffic controller that helped the pizza gifts gain global attention, there was an outpouring of gratitude for Canada.
Among those commenting was Chris Taylor, who saluted the country of bone-chilling weather, socialised medicine and maple syrup.
"I know who I'm voting for next election," he wrote. "Canada!"
A Twitter user identified as "Call me Myke" wrote that he was very grateful for "the extremely kind gesture of buying us pizza while our own government isn't paying us". He added, "I might have to cheer for a Canadian hockey team."
"O! Canada we don't deserve you," added George Capen, a California-based US Navy veteran.
Mr Duffey noted that air-traffic control was among the most stressful jobs, and that the Canadians, who work closely with Americans to ensure the safety of North American airspace, hoped that the pizza would cheer them up.
"In our business you have to be 100 per cent right, 100 per cent of the time, and there is no room for error," he said. "Now, on top of that, people have to come to work and worry about the added stress of paying their mortgages or putting food on the table."
Canadians, he added, had long shown humanity in times of crisis in the United States, including during the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, when citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, housed and fed nearly 6,700 people after US airspace was closed and 38 planes were forced to land in the small Canadian town of 10,000 people.
Their willingness to host those who were stranded captured the global imagination, and inspired a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Come from Away.
Pilgrims from the United States have even travelled to Gander to meet "nice people."
Canadian air traffic controllers were not alone in expressing solidarity with their US counterparts through pizza offerings. Controllers at the Irish Aviation Authority base in Shannon did the same, ordering six large pies for workers in Westbury, New York, news media in Ireland reported on Monday. The Irish Sun said Borrelli's Italian Restaurant Cafe and Pizzeria delivered the pies Sunday night.