It turns out that I have a relative who is a Senator in the Canadian Parliament. Who knew? I didn’t. Avid reader, friend and cousin Dave set me up to meet my second cousin the Senator, or is it my cousin twice removed, or is it both? I’ve never figured that stuff out. Anyway, his name is Peter Harder, and I spent a day in Parliament thanks to his invitation, and it was a great experience.
Not quite the adventure of being ‘Fighter Pilot for a Day’ that I enjoyed once, thanks to avid reader and former fighter pilot Paul (call sign “Nibes”), but tres cool nonetheless. Political junkies (and you are out there) might say that a private meeting with a Canadian Senator far surpasses the excitement of standing on the tarmac of the Fresno Air Terminal (call sign “FAT”) watching an F-16 start up. True, except that an exotic gas used to fire up the F-16’s engine escaped, the process was immediately shut down, the emergency equipment jumped into action, and the pilot hauled off for medical examination, all while Nibes and I were quickly escorted out of the area. It seems that one whiff is instant death. [Photo of F-16 over Sierra Nevada mountains shamelessly inserted here to maintain reader interest:]
Cheating death was not going to be a part of my day on Parliament Hill so far as I could tell. (The F-16 pilot was fine by the way.)
After quickly going through the special entrance for official visitors, I was met by Peter’s lovely assistant Amina who escorted me to straightaway to his office. Peter and I could not recall meeting each other as kids (though we are the same age). His Aunt Tina was my Aunt Catharine – don’t ask, it’s complicated. However he knew my folks, and in fact their story was very similar to that of his own parents: born in small villages in the bread basket of Russia, came as youngsters to Canada as Mennonite refugees, grew up in southern Ontario.
His interest in law and politics took him to the University of Waterloo majoring in political science and then graduate work at Queens University, while mine took me to law school and a career as an attorney. I enjoyed my career but his was way more impressive. He joined the foreign service in 1977, and was first appointed as deputy minister in 1991 – a role he eventually would play under five different prime ministers and 12 ministers, including in the departments of immigration, public safety, industry, the treasury board and foreign affairs. When Trudeau was elected, he headed the transition team. Peter said, “when the Prime Minister asks, you don’t say no.” He was then appointed to the Upper Chamber (which is a snooty word for their Senate) in April 2016, as the first Independent Senator appointed under a new non-partisan selection process. He arrived in the Senate with nearly 30 years of experience in the federal public service, and a decade serving as a volunteer in various organizations and as a member of several boards of directors. As Government Representative in the Senate, he is tasked with both shepherding government legislation through the Upper Chamber and leading efforts on reform towards a more independent, accountable and transparent institution.
Oh yeah? Well I did a lot of wills. And trusts. And agreements. Lots of agreements. And stuff like that.
I peppered him with questions. Is the Canadian system like the US, where nothing gets done? He said the US system works just the way it was intended. A system of checks and balances. In a parliamentary system like Canada, the party that wins Parliament also governs, so they are accountable to the voters at the next election. Moreover, their Senate is appointed, not elected, so Senators take as their role to include long term review and analysis of really thorny issues – some research and reports take 10 years to complete. In addition, the Prime Minister of Canada has to answer to the Parliament every day at Q & A time – and he can’t duck it. The Senate has a Q & A time every day also and the person that has to answer on behalf of the government is…Peter. What about lobbying? Not nearly the refined art that is in the US. Campaign contributions? Severely limited as is campaign spending. What about political campaigns that never end? The last Canadian political campaign was about 11 weeks long and people thought that was too long.
So in the Canadian system, policy and long term consequences are carefully considered, there is no gridlock because the party in power also controls the government, money and economic power have much less influence in elections, and there is daily public accountability to the questions of the day.
Of course the American system is superior, for reasons that I cannot go into, or even understand, but I am sure it is the case because that is what I have always been told.
Now comes the serious part. This is my contribution to the state of relations between the US and Canada, and in particular US-Canada trade. Here is my proposal.
As I have crossed Canada, the only thing that people seem to talk about in coffee shops is Trump. They don’t talk about their government leaders nearly as much. Trump, Trump, Trump. And I recently read an article saying that Trudeau is more popular in the US than in Canada.
So I have a trade deal for Canada to consider: the US will trade Trump for Trudeau. If they accept this proposal, Canadians will still talk about Trump all the time, so no change there. And the US will get Trudeau who is more popular there than in Canada. A win-win deal. “What do you think?” I asked Senator Harder.
“Thanks a lot.” At which point I was escorted out of his office.
I had actually wanted to make this proposal to Prime Minister Trudeau himself but his people and my people were never able to get our schedules together. Something about him being in Toronto or Newfoundland on “government business” and, of course, I had to make the next campground before dark, so I will accept Senator Harder’s demurral as the official government response.
A tour of Parliament followed, from the House of Commons:
to the Senate where Peter fulfills his duties:
to Parliament’s reading library (my daughters will salivate over this one):
to the top of the Peace Tower with a commanding view of Ottawa:
After a hard day of tough, high-level international trade negotiations, time for some good old American jazz:
UPDATED: It has been brought to my attention that my earlier references to the Premier of Canada must be revised to “Prime Minister” because that is what he is. Premiers are the heads of provinces, the Prime Minister goes around the world, smiling, and making all of us wish he was our President. Rather than argue the point (as if anyone would raise hackles were I to refer to our President as, say, the Prince of Darkness), and to avoid other potentially serious and negative consequences, I have updated this post to reflect Trudeau’s correct title, “His Prime Ministerness,” or simply, “God.”
There, cheated death again.