One highlight of OLIP is the opportunity to visit and learn about other legislatures. Having spent the last five plus months at Queen’s Park gaining a better understanding of its particular system of parliamentary democracy, I was ready to travel North America in search of a comparative perspective. Our two legislative destinations, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and Olympia, Washington State, offered a perfect opportunity to study two quite distinct systems, both from each other, and from what I have come to know in Ontario.
Our trip to Yellowknife offered a perspective on their consensus style government, and the days we spent there were packed with meetings, tours, and the opportunity to observe a legislative session. A highlight was our meeting with the Clerk Tim Mercer, who gave an excellent presentation on procedural issues, which led to a fascinating question and answer period. It helped me understand the consensus system better, and its timing at the beginning of our visit ensured that I had the background information necessary to better understand the rest of our time there. A tour of their beautiful legislature, which has a stunning art collection, and whose building is rich with symbolism, was also a wonderful experience.
After a great educational experience in the north, we traveled west to Olympia and learned about another, very different system. Our visit to Olympia made me realize that, while I have always been interested in American politics, I lacked a thorough understanding of the legislative process behind government decisions and policies. I found it fascinating to sit in on a number of proceedings, including various committees, and a debate over an economic stimulus package. I was interested to learn about the powers of the speaker of the House of Representatives, as well the many steps through the House of Representatives, the Senate, and committees that a bill must go through to become law. Another highlight of this trip was the opportunity to meet with the Washington State interns, to exchange information about our respective programs, and to talk politics.
The best thing about our trip was that in both Yellowknife and Olympia, everyone with whom we met was extremely welcoming, and eager to contribute to our educational experience. Every meeting that we had was worthwhile, and helped us better understand their legislative systems, and thus through comparisons, our own.