Day 3: Washington, DC visit to the US Department of State

The day started with a State Department orientation. I was not surprised to learn that the security protocols to get in and out of federal buildings in Washington is just as cumbersome and security intense as in Ottawa. C’est la vie.

Our briefing on Canada-US relations included a wide-ranging discussion on the Keystone pipeline approval process, the Border Action Plan, the exercise to reduce regulatory duplication, carbon emissions policies, electricity, and human rights initiatives in Brazil and Columbia. I learned about various reports that come out of the State Department on the state of human rights around the globe including the Religious Freedom Report, the Human Rights Reports,  and the Trafficking in Persons Reports. I’m hoping to have some time over the next few weeks to take a closer look at these.

The biggest surprise that came out of this meeting was the extent to which individual states have a major influence on national projects, such as Keystone. In Canada, I have a good understanding of the division of powers and the areas of federal and provincial jurisdiction. I was not aware that states were as strong as they are in the American system, nor was I aware that the Whitehouse is not as strong as I originally thought. Lots of governments talk about the balance of powers. In the US system, it actually exists.

This was affirmed a second time in our meeting at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, which has been operating for about a decade.  In another wideranging discussion (covering Keystone, China, cattle, softwood lumber, the border, and organized crime) I learned that part of the difficulty Canadians have in getting their issues handled effectively is we often focus more of our lobbying efforts on the executive branch (the White House) and don’t spend enough time lobbying the legislators in Congress. Another learning moment for me: the House of Representatives and Senate are a whole lot more independent and powerful than most Canadians might realize.

As a bonus I got some very good advice on how to lobby for a 24-hour border crossing at the Wild Horse Crossing in SE Alberta. I’ll be talking to our Medicine Hat area MLAs about that when I get back home.

Look at all these terrific flags – new policy is people can now take pictures in the State Department lobby. Can you see the Canadian flag in the background?

Expenses: If every US government department were as pennywise as the International Visitor Leadership Program there is no way the US would be running trillion dollar deficits! We received traveller’s cheques to cover the cost of the trip including modestly priced hotels (ranging from $90 to $190 per night) and a $65/day per diem to cover food, transportation and incidentals. We’ll be taking the Metro a lot – not only because I love trains but it is also happens to be the easiest way to get around Washington. Expenses for the day are as follows:

$8.00     Taxis

$5.98     Lunch at the State Department cafeteria (priced at $0.40/per ounce of food)

$1.89     Coffee

$15.00     Metropasses

$41.00     Dinner at Matchbox in Chinatown

$71.87     Total for Day 3

UPDATE: State Memorial for Hon. Peter Lougheed on September 21, 2012: I learned earlier today that there will be a state memorial for Mr Lougheed in Calgary at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. I have informed the Protocol Office that I will be flying back to attend the services with David and resuming my US trip on September 22.