While in Ottawa, our cohort met with Alice Trudelle from Bombardier, one of our longtime sponsors. This was a well-timed and informative meeting due to the importance of trade and transit to both the provincial and federal agendas. Ms. Trudelle guided us through Bombardier‘s transformation from a snowmobile manufacturer in Quebec in 1937 to a global aerospace and transportation manufacturer with major transit projects in locations like London, Berlin, and of course Toronto.
A view of Ottawa from the Privy Council Office.
Behind the inevitable excitement of study tours for the OLIP interns is the goal of learning about the comparative legislative context, process, and peculiarities of other legislatures across Canada and the world. The interns were especially fortunate to meet with some of the best possible guides into the world of the Canadian Parliament: Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons, Heather Lank, Principal Clerk of the Senate, and Michel Patrice, Deputy Clerk (Administration) of the House of Commons. In addition, we met with Deputy Cabinet Secretary (Governance) Ian McCowan, who introduced us to the inner workings of the Cabinet Office, an even more foreign world to the average Canadian citizen! The chance to have open and informative discussions with these behind-the-scenes legislative heroes is one of the great privileges of the OLIP program.
Friday morning, Charles Robert and Heather Lank welcomed us into a committee room in the soon-to-be-closed Center Block for a crash course on the procedure of the Canadian Parliament. We talked about Mr. Robert and Ms. Lank’s impressive careers, which wind through the House, the Senate, and back, giving both of them enviable perspectives on the Canadian legislative process. We were surprised to realize the Senate they were describing, soon to have a majority of independent senators, was perhaps growing into the Senate of “sober second thought” we learned about in school, and also something more, something new still taking form – and yet M. Robert and Ms. Lank emphasized that we were only seeing the latest evolution in a 800-year old parliamentary tradition. By studying the whole history of our medieval institutions, our clerks also gain an appreciation for their flexibility, depth, and capacity for change – and, of course, an appreciation for tradition.
Deputy Secretary Ian McCowan sat down with us in the Cabinet Office, contained in a historic building facing Center Block, which contains Prime Minister Trudeau’s second office (no, we didn’t get to see inside), and for us political geeks, lots of wonderful historical photos and artifacts. We talked at length about the difficult task of political transitions, bringing one government into the Cabinet Office and moving the previous administration out, and the zero-to-hundred start that all Cabinet Office staff have to make the morning after the election. As deputy cabinet secretary of Governance, Mr. McCowan is essentially the deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and deputy to Prime Minister Trudeau. He gave us a valuable view into the inner workings of the Cabinet administration, and the difficult work of setting and tracking legislative priorities, as well as the recent practice of making ministerial mandate letters public. He closed by insisting we accompany him on brief tour (so we at least got to see his office!).
Michel Patrice very generously rounded off our Ottawa visit with a long discussion on the difficult task of administrating a geographically and politically diverse 338-member Parliament and maintaining open institutions while respecting safety concerns. Having also served in both the Senate and House, M. Patrice spoke a little of the differences between serving each institution, and the slight disorientation of moving from one to the other. He emphasized that each Parliament and legislature can be so idiosyncratic that often clerks will spend their whole careers at one institution, as a lot of their most valuable experience and knowledge is not easily transferred to a different context. This includes the magic it takes to effectively administer the House, the work of which fills up most of Ms. Lank and Mr. Patrice and Robert’s duties, even though clerks are usually only recognized publicly – if at all – for their legislative work. It isn’t all tricolor hats and white collars!
We were touched by the generosity of all four, and came away with an invaluable perspective on how Parliament grinds, bumps, hops, and, sometimes, glides along under their able care.
After meeting with many key actors within Quebec’s National Assembly and learning more about Quebec’s distinct political culture, we set our horizons to Ottawa. Our first round of meetings were with individuals from four different political parties, each with their own unique perspective on creating positive change for Canadians.
Irene Mathyssen: After settling down in our Hotel, we made our way to meet with Irene Mathyssen, the NDP member of parliament representing the riding of London—Fanshawe within Ontario. MP Mathyssen is the Deputy Whip of the New Democratic Party and is the critic for veteran affairs.
Serving as critic, MP Mathyssen brought forward numerous private member motions and bills to bring positive change to veterans within Canada. She outlined one motion in particular, Motion-152, which calls to note permanent injuries on file so Canadian forces members or veterans do not have to repeatedly provide proof of their injuries.
After a brief introduction, MP Mathyssen was very interested in learning about the work we are doing in Queen’s Park and the issues we are passionate about. We were surprised to hear how much feedback MP Mathyssen had, either providing advice on how we could follow our individual passions further or providing a connection we could reach out to, based on her experience working at the provincial level.
Thank you to MP Mathyssen for meeting with us and answering our questions.
Nathaniel Erskiane-Smith: We were all excited to meet MP Erskine-Smith as many of us love TVO’s new show political blind date, where MP Erskine-Smith starred on the very first episode discussing marijuana legalization. MP Erskine-Smith represents Beaches-East York as a Liberal Member of Parliament.
After detailing his professional journey, MP Erskine-Smith taught us to always fight for policies we personally believe are effective in creating positive change and oppose the ones that we believe will be ineffective. MP Erskine-Smith has a voting record which certainly follows this philosophy as into the first six months of the 42nd Parliament, he voted against his governing Liberal party 11 times out of 90 votes.
Thank you to MP Erskiane-Smith for meeting with us and answering our questions.
Elizabeth May: We had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, and Member of Provincial Parliament for the Saanich-Gulf Islands. We discussed the basic tenants of democracy in Canada, and the strength of the party line in Canada.
MP May has a long record as a committed and dedicated advocate for social justice, for the environment, and human rights. As such, MP May advocates for access to justice, and pragmatic environmental policies.
MP May also spoke on Canada’s role internationally. More specifically, she celebrated Canada’s commitment to rejoin the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. However, MP May commented on the hypocrisy in foreign affairs. More specifically, that MPs positions on foreign issues, often lack an understanding of culture, etc. Thus, would negatively affect that region.
Thank you for meeting with us.
Michael Chong: MP Chong introduced himself by detailing his journey to federal politics. Mr. Chong came from the small rural town of Fergus in Southern Ontario. He explained how his interest in politics and creating change naturally led to career of public service.
MP Chong taught us how it is important to be true to your beliefs and to always to push for the change you want to see. He provided the example from his campaign for conservative leadership where he included a carbon tax policy as part of his platform. As the discussion continued, we probed MP Chong what he believed should be changed about federal politics. MP Chong advocated more should be given to individual members as opposed to concentrated within the party centre. He provided the example of the Reform Act, which he spearled to increase the power of party caucuses. In particular, MP Chong noted how the increasing concentration of power within the Prime Minister’s Office can be problematic for democracy.
Thank you to MP Michael Chong for taking the time to meet with us and answering our questions.
Just after our meeting with Minister Chagger, we had the privilege to meet the Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Katie Telford.
Katie Telford needs no introduction. As the Prime Minister’s key political strategy coordinator and driver behind the Liberal’s push for general equality, she advises him on just about everything – from the economy to Ivanka Trump. Not to mention, she is clearly determined to level the playing field for women in Canada.
Taking time out of her very busy schedule, Telford discussed the Prime Minister’s long term vision for Canada and the importance of gender equality. As a former Page, Legislative Assistant, and Chief of Staff to a Minister in the Ontario Legislature, Ms. Telford stressed the importance of having strong federal-provincial relations between Ontario and Canada. We also discussed differences between provincial and federal politics as Ms. Telford has professional experience which spans both levels of government.
We thank Ms. Telford for taking the time to meet with us. We were more than thrilled to meet one of the most influential women in Canadian politics.
On our final day in Ottawa, we had the privilege to meet Minister Chagger. While our meeting was brief, Minister Chagger provided a brief overview of her role as Minister of Small Business and Tourism, and as Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
As House Leader, Minister Chagger’s responsibilities include (and not limit): negotiating parliamentary timetables, and becoming knowledgeable about parliamentary procedure. The latter is important, as the House Leader must argue points of procedure before the Speaker.
On a less technical note, Minister Chagger provided encouraged us to “embrace change and more importantly, the unexpected.” In this sense, we are always learning, and using these lived experiences to create effective change.
Supreme Court Justice Karakatsanis
Throughout our undergraduate and/or graduate degrees, the interns have read decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada (Supreme Court). While we understand the implications of decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, we rarely understand the procedural and/or thought process of a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Thus, having the opportunity to meet with Supreme Court Justice Karakatsanis was both a privilege and an honour,
Justice Karakatsanis was nominated to the Supreme Court by Stephen Harper in 2011. Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Karakatsanis sat on the Ontario Court of Appeal. She explained, “that the nomination to the Court was surprising, and the greatest honour of [her] career.” Nevertheless, Justice Karakatsanis stated, “[no one] goes to law school thinking ‘I want to sit on the Supreme Court’ but instead [you] realize that a judicial career might be well suited, as you progress through your career.”
The Supreme Court is Canada’s hears appeals from the decisions of the higher courts of final resort of the provinces and territories, as well as the Federal Court of Appeal and the Court Martial Appeal of Canada. Its jurisdiction is derived mainly from the Supreme Court Act and assures uniformity, consistency and correctness in the articulation of legal principles throughout the Canadian judicial system. Moreover, the Supreme Court serves Canadians by deciding legal issues of public importance, thereby contributing to the development of all branches of law applicable within Canada.
Justice Karakatsanis discussed the relationship between the Supreme Court and the other orders of government, and noted the strength of all three orders. The three levels of government routinely communicate.
We would like to thank Justice Karakatsanis for meeting with us.
We had the privilege to meet Senator Grant Mitchell. Since his appointment to the Senate in 2005, Senator Mitchell has served on a number of Senate Committees: as the Deputy Chair of Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Deputy Chair of the National Security and Defence Committee, member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, National Finance Committee, Agriculture and Forestry Committee and the Subcommittee on Senate Communications.
In addition, Senator Mitchell was appointed to the position of Government Liaison in the Senate in May 2016. As Government Liaison he is one of 3 members of the government representative team in the Senate, responsible for helping guide government legislation through the Upper Chamber whilst advocating for a transparent and accountable Senate that works for Canadians.
In our meeting, Senator Mitchell indicated that he is an advocate for Senate modernization, and takes a proactive role in contributing to Senate reform. He argued that a transparent and effective Senate, “represents all Canadians.”
In response to advocates of abolishing the Senate, Senator Mitchell argued, “the state of Canadian democracy would be questioned, and MPs would be given even greater power, without a check-and-balance.”
Thank you Senator Mitchell for meeting with us.
We had the pleasure of meeting Martin Regg Cohn, a political columnist with the Toronto Star. He has enriching international experience from his time as a reporter within over 40 countries and in his role as acting chief for the Middle East and Asia bureaus, and he candidly shared stories about his experience finding his voice as a reporter and a few of the challenges that arose while working abroad. Despite this international experience, it is evident that Mr. Cohn is passionate about Ontario, his home. He told us about his genuine care for informing Ontarians about the decision-making processes and outcomes of our provincial government as well as the daily happenings of Queen’s Park. It is evident that he understands what motivates people, and as he incorporates this into his stance, his articles are relatable and successful at conveying a message to the readers.
Our meeting came at an opportune time. We had just visited the CBC and were in the mindset of communications, the importance of public awareness about government processes and ultimately, the power of media. We appreciated how open and transparent Mr. Cohn was and his genuine responses to our many questions. We look forward to reading his column each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday!
We were humbled to meet Irwin Elman, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, and Laura Arndt, the Director of Strategic Development. When we arrived, all of the interns commented on the openness of the office space. We learned that employees consulted with youth, who determined that an open and transparent office space was important. In other words, youth linked openness to the ability to speak freely, without prejudices and/or bias. The interview structure was relaxed, whereby Mr. Elman provided a brief overview of the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate (which is relatively new, and derived from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007). Some of the major responsibilities included: providing an independent voice for children; encouraging communication between children and families; and educating youth of their rights. Child, within the Act, is defined as: students of the provincial and demonstration schools, youth in court holding cells, children and youth with special needs, and First Nations youth. Nevertheless, the Provincial Advocate specified that he interprets the Act to include all Ontarian children.
Given that Mr. Elman established the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth from the ground up (i.e. without precedent or other provincial authorities), he thoroughly understands his mandate. We are not surprised that the Office has been successful, given that he received the Outstanding Achievement Recognition Award (2007) from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services; named a Canadian Hero by MacLean’s Magazine (2006) and received the Outstanding Youth Service Award (2003) from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Nevertheless, Mr. Elman is extremely humble, and emphasized that government should aim to provide assistance to all Ontarian children who need it.
Mr. Elman ended our meeting by explaining the “Orange Shirt Day” campaign and why everyone working in his office was taking part in the important cause. The campaign is a day to remember the trauma Aboriginal people, including Aboriginal youth, faced and continue to face and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.
Thank you Mr. Elman for the insightful conversation! We look forward to following the work of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth as you continue to be the voice for the children within Ontario.