Globetrotting Around London: Meeting the UK Government’s Foreign Representatives

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On our penultimate day of our London program, we had the opportunity to meet representatives from the UK Government representing both Canada and the devolved state of Scotland.

We started off the morning with a lovely walk through St. James’ Park to our first meeting with the Canada Team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Robert and Tommy walked us through how the Foreign Office prepares for visiting delegations and changes in government and their legislative agendas.

Following our meeting with the Canada Team, we were ably guided through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Tara. As an employee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Tara knows the building inside and out. She showed us the symbolism behind various carvings, paintings, and rooms. A highlight of the tour was easily getting a peak at 10 Downing St. from the courtyard of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There, we heard about the ongoing feud between the Downing St. and Foreign Office cats.

After a lovely lunch in the Foreign Office canteen, we walked over to Scotland House at Dover House. We met with Alistair, Andrew, and Mhairi who chatted with us about Scottish devolution, referenda, and electoral reform.

Our last stop of the day was to Canada House, where we met with Claudie, head of the political section of the High Commission. On her third diplomatic posting, she shared with us her experiences working with a government that, while similar to Canada’s, has its own quirks (as well as a whole host of significant challenges to overcome). We also met with Aaron, a representative of Ontario’s interests in the UK. Aaron helps companies understand the opportunities available throughout the province of Ontario, a task made easy by how fantastic our province is! We finished our day off with a tour of the beautifully renovated Canada House (thanks Tessa) and, if you can believe it, a quick chat with former Prime Minister Joe Clark, whom we ran into in the lobby!

London has shown itself to be a world-class city that is full of surprises. Thanks to everyone we met with today for sharing their time and work with us on our amazing fourth day!

Looking Back on London – Our Third Day

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Our third day in London was full of famous sights and celebrity sightings.

We started the day off with a tour of Westminster, the mother of all parliaments. This beautiful building has more to it than meets the eye. While it is built in a gothic, medieval style, it actually wasn’t constructed until the 1800s, but was built in an imitation style meant to represent the grandeur of old England. The green Commons and red Senate were surprisingly small – in fact, they can’t even fit all their respective Members at once! – but they were replete with history.

We then had the opportunity to watch that continuing history unfold during Prime Minister’s Question Time, where members of both the opposition and government were able to ask Prime Minister Theresa May questions about the issues of the day. Like our own Question Period, Prime Minister’s Question Time is loud, hectic, and requires more than one interjection from the Speaker to keep things orderly. It was fascinating to watch the original Question Period, from which our own provincial custom originates, in its historic setting.

After Question Time, we had the opportunity to meet with Roy Stone, Principal Private Secretary to the Chief Government Whip. Mr. Stone has been serving in the Whip’s office for over twenty years, and knows everything there is to know about advancing a government’s legislative agenda. Kate Wilson, Private Secretary to the Chief Government Whip, shared Mr. Stone’s passion for serving the government impartially, and answered our questions about both British politics and Whitehall.

Thank you to Mr. Stone, Ms. Wilson, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for a fantastic day!

Looking Back on London – Our Second Day

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On the second day of our official program in London, we learned about the Westminster Parliament here in the UK and compared it to our own at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. We were hosted for a series of indepth procedural meetings at Portcullis House, and a wonderful lunch where we were able to ask Clerks all about their roles and functions within the Houses of Parliament.

Throughout the day, we were shown around by the very welcoming Inward Visits Officer, Michelle Wenham. In the morning we met with Crispin Poyser, Principal Clerk of the Committee Office for an overview of the Westminster system, and then we had the opportunity to chat with Mike Hennessey, Deputy Head of the Table Office where we learned about the large volume of questions that need to be properly constructed and edited before being brought to the House of Commons floor. We were hosted for a special Clerk’s lunch, and then spent the afternoon learning about passing legislation and the role of the Public Bill Office from Colin Lee, Clerk of Bills. Finally, we finished off the day with Kate Emms, the Parliamentary Liaison to the Cabinet Office, and it was fascinating to learn about the very sturdy bridge between the parliamentary world and the political world at Westminster. Thank you to everyone who met with us and made our second day of meetings so interesting, and thank you to our dedicated Visits Officer from the FCO, Shivarni Sharma- Dixit.

London Calling…the OLIP Interns! Getting Acquainted with London, UK

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There is truly something magical about this city. All of the wonderful elements of London, when mixed together, create the most potent elixir that will keep an intern up for days! Trust me, we’re living proof!

Our weekend was full of sightseeing as we explored the bustling downtown core, using the winding River Thames as our path. Among the ten of us, we were able to cover lots of ground from the exhibitions within the Tate Britain to Buckingham Palace to the Millennium Bridge and beyond (with the help of a delicious salt beef sandwich and a few fresh strawberries from the Borough Market to fuel us along the way of course!)

We awoke on Monday morning filled with anticipation as we met our amazing guide, Shivarni Sharma-Dixit from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who led us from the bustling downtown core to a picturesque neighbourhood just outside of the city, the settings for our two educational meetings. We started the day with a breathtaking view of the London skyline admiring everything from the Gherkin to Tower Bridge as we walked along the South Bank to London’s City Hall where we had the opportunity to sit down with Katie Smith, Head of Scrutiny along with Becky Short, Scrutiny Manager for Policing at The London Assembly. During our meeting, we talked about the role of the London Assembly and its committees and were fascinated to learn about the evolving relationship between the local and central governments. During our discussion about London’s political scene, Ms. Smith and Ms. Short led us through a thrilling discussion about everything from policy issues such as housing and transit to revenue generation while we compared notes about the inner-workings of government and the similarities and differences regarding the political dynamics that exist both in London and across the pond in Toronto.

 

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Katie Smith, Head of Scrutiny and Becky Short, Scrutiny Manager for Policing at The London Assembly with the 2016-2017 OLIP interns

After talking about London’s intricate rail services within the walls of City Hall, it was great to experience it as passengers as we jumped from the Tube to the National Rail network which took us to Dr. Malcolm Torry, Director of the Citizen’s Income Trust. As we’ve had a front row seat to watch the roll out of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot, it came as no surprise to any of us that lively discussion and debate took place about basic income models generated in the United Kingdom, Ontario and around the world.

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Dr. Malcolm Torry, Director of the Citizen’s Income Trust talks basic income with the 2016-2017 OLIP interns

We are very grateful to Kevin McGurgan, British Consul General in Toronto and Director General for Department of International Trade Canada, Mathieu Blandford, Political and Public Affairs Officer at British Consulate General in Toronto and Shivarni Sharma-Dixit from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office here in London for creating such a robust itinerary full of many educational discussions and experiences. After just one day, it is obvious that the perspectives we have been presented with have encouraged us to think critically about a diverse range of policy areas. Whether we’re exploring one of London’s many gardens or enjoying a meal in one of the city’s pubs, nary a minute goes by where we’re not reminiscing and contemplating our meeting topics.

As writer Samuel Johnson once said, if a person tires of London, they tire of life – by the looks of our fantastic itinerary, it doesn’t seem like we’ll tire of this world-class city any time soon.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for the most up-to-date experiences on our final study tour!

A Meeting with U.S. Consul General Juan Alsace

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Recently we met with U.S. Consul General Juan Alsace at the American Consulate in downtown Toronto. We had the chance to discuss unfolding global events, the relationship between Ontario and the United States, and draw on Mr. Alsace’s almost 30 years of experience in the foreign service. Mr. Alsace has served in several overseas placements including ones in Iraq, Chile, Spain, and Turkey. It was a pleasure to learn about the Consulate’s work and Mr. Alsace’s professional experience and approach to diplomacy. Additionally, Mr. Alsace highlighted similarities and differences between the legislative systems of Canadian provinces and American states, which was extremely helpful in light of our study tour to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.. Many thanks to Mr. Alsace and his staff for welcoming us to the Consulate!

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We’re All Legal Beagles Here! Lunch with the Law Society

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Walking the corridors of the famous Osgoode Hall was a dream come true for the aspiring lawyers of our cohort when we joined the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) for the time-honoured tradition of a fabulous afternoon luncheon.

After a round of introductions where we were acquainted with Geoff Owen, Aaron Denhartog, Advisor, Public Affairs at the LSUC, Robert Lapper, CEO of the LSUC, Sheena Weir, Executive Director of External Relations and Communications at the LSUC and Sabreena Delhon, Manager of The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) at the LSUC. The conversation flowed freely as we enjoyed three mouth-watering courses and discussions covering everything from politics to personal anecdotes about our plans post-OLIP and our experiences at Queen’s Park. A lively debate was struck on the topic of Ryerson’s declaration of intent to open a law school in 2020 and how that might impact the Toronto legal market, with discussions on the growing cost of a legal education and the results of the Integrated Practice Program at Lakehead University.

The cohort was well-prepared to discuss the legal field following our meeting earlier this month with OLIP alumnus, Aaron Denhartog, who is currently working as a Public Affairs Advisor at the Law Society of Upper Canada. Aaron had shared his extensive knowledge of the current legal landscape in Canada while answering questions about everything from legal aid funding to the structure of the country’s law schools.

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Following lunch, we had the pleasure of a tour around Osgoode Hall, where we learned some of the great legal history of Ontario, including the military service of many lawyers, commemorated by a large plaque in the library. Of course, a tour of any storied old building would not be complete without a secret or two, as our guide showed us a hidden crawlspace behind a stained-glass window. As she explained, the staff and lawyers in the building affectionately tell people they were “up in the window” whenever their absence is noted. Perhaps soon a few of us will be wandering Osgoode Hall telling the same joke one day!

Thank you to Ms. Weir and the Law Society for hosting us and for your continued support of the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme. As the goal line of the program rapidly approaches, our plans for the future are becoming not too distant, so stay tuned for our last exciting weeks in provincial politics!

Meeting with the Honourable Ernie Eves, 23rd Premier of Ontario

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Ernie Eves, the 23rd Premier of Ontario with the 2016-2017 OLIP interns

The interns’ time at Queen’s Park is slowly but surely drawing to a close and as the end of the programme approaches, there is a lingering risk that interns can grow world-weary about the political sphere.

Our meeting with Ernie Eves put any risk of that to bed, with a meeting that was thoroughly invigorating! Mr. Eves became Premier after serving as Minister of Finance under the government of Mike Harris, whose “Common Sense Revolution” has left a legacy in Ontario that many people still remember. Mr. Eves became Premier directly after Mr. Harris, but spoke highly of his time as part of Mr. Harris’ government, his own government, and indeed, of all governing parties in general.

“It’s easy to solve all the problems when you don’t have to,” he said of being in opposition, a humble sentiment that echoes some of what we heard in our meeting with former Premier Bob Rae. He demonstrated a great amount of respect for the Legislature as an institution, and for all of his elected colleagues.

“People on all sides of the House are there for the right reasons,” he said.

He spoke at length about the importance of responsible government, and discussed his ideas around social policy and outlined his contributions during the time of the Harris government.

“I regard myself as a progressive Conservative,” he said, and went on to talk about investments in disability accommodation, care for people with autism, and healthcare, that he managed as Premier.

There was a lot to take away from our meeting with Mr. Eves, his commitment to public service chief among them. As he said, “some things are more important than politics.”

Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Mr. Eves.