Parliament Hill's BlackBerry addicts excited but wary about the new devices

OTTAWA – Devotees of the BlackBerry smartphone are called CrackBerry addicts.

And while many users have managed to kick the habit, if there’s one place still full of fanatics — it’s Ottawa.

Parliament Hill runs on the device made by the Waterloo, Ont., company Research in Motion, now renamed BlackBerry after its star product.

So all eyes were on the company’s launch Wednesday of its newest operating system and smartphone.

“Across Parliament Hill today we can see older devices being dropped in the snow, all in the hope of an upgrade to this cool new BlackBerry device,” said the NDP’s Glenn Thibeault.

He was only half-joking.

While many members of parliament and their staff have iPads and iPhones as well, it’s the BlackBerry that remains the formal phone of choice for the Canadian government.

There were more than 70,000 of the phones in use, according to a recent presentation by Shared Services Canada, the government information technology department.

The company has acknowledged as much, holding an invite-only event in Ottawa to give officials a sneak-peek at the new device in November.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae also took a tour of the company’s headquarters earlier this month.

“I’m looking forward very much to see what the BlackBerry 10 is going to be all about,” he said, adding that he intends to remain a user.

The company has also organized briefings to get government departments up to speed on the new technology, though it’s unclear if the government will switch over en masse to the new devices.

There has been more of a move lately to find a way to make smartphones compatible with the government’s IT and security needs, though the BlackBerry remains the dominant device contender because of its secure functions.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said he’s been using the smartphone for about a decade but wasn’t yet sold on the new model.

“I’m just a little bit worried because we use them so much, I hear that the new one we’re not allowed to change batteries,” he said.

“I hope we’re still going to be able to use our thumbs on keys because that’s been key for me.”

The BlackBerry Z10, a touch screen model, will be the first to hit the shelves while the BlackBerry Q10, which will have a physical keyboard, will follow in April.

MPs of all political stripes celebrated the launch on Wednesday, using statements in the House of Commons to pay tribute to the new device.

“BlackBerry has proven that we can build an iconic global brand right here in Canada,” said Tory MP Harold Albrecht.

“BlackBerry has proven that it can build it here in Canada.”

It’s long been a point of pride among MPs to travel around the world and see others using the phone.

This week, Trade Minister Ed Fast posted a picture of himself posing with BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

Though Ottawa remains an important market for the company, there’s one customer they haven’t yet won over.

While U.S. President Barack Obama famously refused to give up his BlackBerry when was first elected in 2008, Stephen Harper just decided to give up cellphones entirely when he became prime minister in 2006.

To this day he doesn’t own a BlackBerry.