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Look who’s going to Washington: MPs planning blitz to meet and greet new Congress

By Peter Mazereeuw      

A handful of House committees are planning trips down south, and some U.S. committees will be invited back to Ottawa.

Conservative MP Dean Allison, left, serves as a vice-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Liberal MP Michael Levitt chairs the Subcommittee on International Human Rights; NDP MP Tracey Ramsey is a vice-chair on the House Trade Committee. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright and Sam Garcia

Dozens of MPs will descend upon Washington over the next few months to get face time with members of Congress and be briefed by government and non-government institutions, as Canada’s federal politicians try to build ties with the new American government.

The House defence, foreign affairs, trade, agriculture, industry, and environment committees, a House Subcommittee on International Human Rights, and the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group are all planning trips to the U.S. capital between now and the end of spring, following up on the recent visits of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) and ministers Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.), Marc Garneau (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount, Que.), and Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.).

The House of Commons has allotted tens of thousands of dollars to pay for the trips already.

“This is probably late in the game, rather than early in the game, for us to get down there,” said Conservative MP David Sweet (Flamborough-Glanbrook, Ont.), who serves as a vice-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which is slated to head to the U.S. capital next month.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is also planning to invite its counterparts in the U.S. House and Senate to visit Ottawa.

Pentagon to brief defence committee

The House National Defence Committee is planning to visit Washington between March 5 and 8, with an approved budget of $65,050.11.

The visit will include a briefing at the Pentagon, just across the Potomac River, as well meetings at the Canadian Embassy; the Brookings Institute, a think tank focused on U.S. politics and foreign policy; a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy; and meetings with the House and Senate armed services committees.

“The committee hadn’t been down there for a while, and with…the latest election and the new administration, we figured it was important to get down there and to build new relationships or re-establish existing ones,” said Liberal MP Stephen Fuhr (Kelowna-Lake Country, B.C.), the committee chair.   

”I think when we drill down, we’re going to find that the U.S. values the defence relationship it has with Canada as much as we value it with them,” he said.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus (Charlesbourg-Haute Saint Charles, Que.), a member of the committee, said the meetings at the Pentagon and Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis could help to inform the committee’s work reviewing the Royal Canadian Navy as part of a broader study on Canada and the Defence of North America, and ensure the two countries maintain good relations on defence.

Mr. Sajjan, Canada’s defence minister, met with counterpart U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington earlier this month, and Mr. Mattis applauded Canada’s military for its role alongside the United States in Afghanistan. Mr. Sajjan had deployed to Afghanistan three times as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces before he entered politics.

Pierre Paul-Hus is one of dozens of MPs expected to meet with U.S. counterparts in Washington in the next few months. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Mr. Paul-Hus said he was not concerned about some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments that some members of NATO weren’t contributing enough to their militaries.

“With Mr. Trump, you never know, so we have to be careful,” he said.

“But I think if Canada did a great job, put enough money in defence, and works hard, everything is going to be okay for us, because it’s our closest ally.”

Congressmen coming to Ottawa?

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is planning its own trip to Washington in the near future, according to Julian Morelli, a spokesperson for Liberal MP Bob Nault (Kenora, Ont.), the committee chair. The group is hoping to meet with its counterpart committees in the U.S. House and Senate, civil society groups, and U.S. diplomats to discuss bilateral and multilateral issues, though the details have yet to be finalized, he said.

The committee, which just began a study of Canadian and U.S. foreign policy, may also try to visit a nearby border state during the trip, possibly Michigan, he said.

U.S. lawmakers could be headed North as well. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is drafting invitations for the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to visit Ottawa, said Mr. Morelli.

Cross-border co-operation

The Human Rights Subcommittee was given a $31,707.91 budget by the House for its trip, which will run March 8 to 10. The members, including four Liberals, two Conservatives, and NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.), will likely meet with members of the committee’s congressional counterpart, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, as well as the Organization of American States, a multilateral body based in Washington.  

The subcommittee’s trip may be unprecedented; Mr. Sweet said he could not recall another time the human rights group had travelled abroad in the decade he had served on it, in part because of a lack of funds.

The subcommittee will not likely examine human rights issues in the United States during the trip, said Mr. Sweet. Instead, members will focus on building relationships in Congress, and finding ways to co-operate with the Tom Lantos Commission on areas of common interest, such as human rights in areas of the Middle East controlled by ISIL, also known as ISIS, Islamic State, or Daesh, he said.

The Tom Lantos Commission was set to hear from retired Canadian general Romeo Dallaire Wednesday as part of a briefing for members of Congress on child soldiers. The commission has also recently studied the plight of Yazidi people in Iraq and Syria, a subject the Human Rights Subcommittee is currently studying in Canada.

The office of the Republican co-chair of the Tam Lantos Commission, U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren, wrote in an emailed statement to The Hill Times that he welcomed a visit by Canada’s Human Rights Subcommittee.

“Together, we can work on issues of common concern and together promote, defend, and advocate internationally recognized human rights.”

Getting governors onside

The House Trade Committee is also planning to visit Washington and potentially multiple other locations in the United States, though members of the committee say details have yet to be worked out.

The trip will likely come in April, after a new budget cycle begins, said Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Sask.), a vice-chair of the committee and his party’s critic for Canada-U.S. relations.

The Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group has also scheduled a trip to Washington in time for the National Governors Association meeting there between Feb. 24 and 27. Mr. Hoback said he would attend the meeting on behalf of the interparliamentary group, along with two or three other members.

The meeting will be a chance to speak to governors, some of whom have contacts in the White House and Congress, and “make sure we have them onside,” said Mr. Hoback.



Who’s on the agenda?

Potential hosts for Canada’s incoming committees

Republican Congressman Ed Royce (California), chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee

Republican Senator Bob Corker (Tennessee), chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry (Texas), chair of the House Armed Services Committee

Republican Senator John McCain (Arizona), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former presidential candidate

Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren (Illinois), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Governor Terry McAuliffe (Virginia), chair of the National Governors Association

Republican Congressman Kevin Brady (Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah), chair of the Senate Finance Committee

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