Writing About Writing About Queen’s Park

As Ontario prepares for a general election in 2018, issues within and around Queen’s Park have been put in the spotlight by the media. Recently, the Interns made time to talk to the people in politics who shine that spotlight, but rarely stand in it. These light-bearers are the dedicated group of newspaper reporters who cover politics both provincially and federally. We were privileged enough to speak with not one, but three journalists who watch, write and breathe politics.

Our first meeting was with Mr. Adrian Morrow, who has written about Queen’s Park for the Globe and Mail since 2013. That means that he has covered the entirety of Ms. Kathleen Wynne’s term as Premier, from the lead-up to the election in 2014 to the present.

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Like everyone we have met so far at the Assembly, Mr. Morrow’s passion for provincial politics was palpable. He is currently the only person from the Globe and Mail who works in-house at Queen’s Park, but has written about everything from campaign financing to Hydro One.

We were also lucky enough to meet with Mr. Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star. Mr. Benzie has covered politics on the municipal, federal and provincial levels. Queen’s Park has held his interest for thirteen years and it shows no sign of waning.

To complete this trifecta of media excellence, we spoke with Mr. Andrew Coyne, columnist for the National Post and bona fide TV star (you can catch him on the At Issue panel on CBC’s flagship news program, The National). Mr. Coyne covers Parliament Hill, but spoke eloquently on a variety of topics, from the future of traditional media to retrospections about Mr. Justin Trudeau’s recent federal campaign.

We owe a lot to the journalists at Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill as many of the Interns’ initial interests in politics were sparked by the media and newspapers! The media is absolutely essential in communicating political news and educating the public on matters that affect their everyday lives. For these reasons, and for their remarkable insight and wit, we were grateful to have a chance to speak with the people who bring us the news that we care about each and every day.

OLIP Here, There and Everywhere! Our Meetings with OLIP Alumni

Being part a program that dates back to the 1970s means having access to a vast network of OLIP Alumni. Scattered across the country and around the globe, former “OLIPers” can be found in all walks of life. Over the past few weeks, we have been fortunate enough to meet with three OLIP Alumni to discuss their experiences within the programme and their career paths since completing the internship.

Bryan Bossin currently serves as Senior Advisor, Communication and Planning in the Office of the Premier; Karim Bardeesy works as Deputy Principal Secretary in the Office of the Premier; and Mitchell Davidson is Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. It was useful to hear former Interns talk about the value of OLIP’s non-partisan structure and how this unique perspective helps them in their current roles. Although working for different parties, these Alumni all share an appreciation for the opportunity that OLIP gave them to learn about legislative proceedings from both sides of the House.

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After each of these meetings, we are all feeling motivated and inspired to take full advantage of the opportunities before us. The continued support, advice and guidance from all of our OLIP Alumni will be immensely valuable to us in the coming months. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of activity around Queen’s Park, but in the midst of it all, it’s reassuring to know that there’s always someone around that has our back.

Meeting with Bonnie Lysyk, The Auditor General of Ontario & Former OLIP Intern, Vanessa Dupuis

Balancing a personal chequebook for one does not even begin to compare to what Bonnie Lysyk has to do everyday. As the Auditor General of Ontario, she has the entire provincial chequebook under her watch.

Ms. Lysyk is no stranger to province-wide audits. In her 25-year career, she has worked in senior roles in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba before assuming her current role as the 13th Auditor General of Ontario.


Ms. Lysyk’s top priority is to make sure taxpayers are receiving value for their money. The Office of the Auditor General is an independent office of the Legislature and oversees government spending all while ensuring that public services are being delivered in the most cost effective way possible. 

The Office has roots that date back over 100 years and over that time, its responsibilities have grown. Ms. Lysyk spoke to us about jurisdictional expansion of the Auditor General’s Office. One such expansion happened in 2004 when the Office started reviewing all government advertisements. The Office reviews all government ads before being released to the public to ensure that they meet certain criteria.

We were also interested to learn that the Office of the Auditor General oversees the finances of Crown corporations and certain government programs and organizations such as hospitals, post-secondary institutions and school boards.  

This morning, we also had the pleasure of meeting with former OLIP Intern, Vanessa Dupuis, who talked to us about her exciting year as an Intern and her current role as a Senior Auditor in the Office of the Auditor General. Ms. Dupuis shared her wealth of knowledge about working in a Member’s Office and shared valuable advice and tips that we will all be taking into our MPP placements!


Thank you to both Ms. Lysyk and Ms. Dupuis for taking the time to meet with the 2016-2017 OLIP Interns!

A New Voice for Ontarians: Learning About the Office of the Patient Ombudsman

On September 21st, we had the honour of meeting with Christine Elliott, Ontario’s first Patient Ombudsman.

After almost a decade as a Member of Provincial Parliament, Ms. Elliott started her new role in February 2016. Between Ms. Elliott’s start date and her Office’s opening in July, the Patient Ombudsman team has been hard at work holding public consultations all over the province; her team has listened to citizens in Thunder Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, and London. These consultations informed everything from her Office’s website design (putting the phone number front and centre) to understanding the kinds of resolutions that patients want. These resolutions seek to put the patient and their concerns first, ensuring that “Every experience matters.”


OLIP Interns Meet with Christine Elliott (centre), Ontario’s First Patient Ombudsman

People want the Patient Ombudsman to be a pipeline between them and the policy makers at Queen’s Park and Ms. Elliott and her team seek to do just that. The Patient Ombudsman team has done a great job at setting up a new organization to serve Ontarians. As provincial government enthusiasts, our OLIP group looks forward to watching the evolution of the Office of the Patient Ombudsman in the coming years.

Walk a Day In OLIP’s Shoes

A new week brought with it milder weather, but certainly not a milder agenda for the Interns. OLIP continues to meet with exciting public servants and Assembly staff as orientation unfolds, and this Tuesday was no different.

The day kicked off in dialogue with the Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations (PPPR) branch. Director Debi LaMantia took us through the myriad of programs run by PPPR, from the Grade 7 and 8 Legislative Page Program (a program both impressive and adorable), to interparliamentary delegations (yes folks, that includes royal visits). This was followed by an informative meeting with the Executive Director of Technology Services, Kirk Cameron, and his capable team.

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Our third meeting of the day found us in a room with Deputy Clerk, Todd Decker, who has more than thirty years of experience at the Legislative Assembly. He has seen governments come and go and has watched the interesting evolution of Members’ interactions both inside and outside of the House. He discussed how the Standing Orders have helped to make House business more predictable. For example, there are time limits on the introduction of bills and the number of petitions that can be introduced in a day. The Orders and Notices Paper is followed more strictly. Mr. Decker also noted that the televising of Question Period has contributed to the standardization of House proceedings.

“It’s changed a lot,” he reflects, though ultimately, the job remains an exciting and gratifying one for him. “On any given day, you don’t know what [is] going to happen.”

We finished the day at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner on Bay St. Brian Beamish, Commissioner since 2014, has a difficult and important mandate. His Office employs more than 100 staff who oversee a mind-boggling 60,000 provincial and municipal Freedom of Information requests per year.

And that concludes our day in the life. To echo Mr. Decker, every single day is exciting, though (or perhaps because) on any given day, we just don’t know what might happen.

Un rendez-vous avec le commissaire aux services en français de l’Ontario/A Visit with the Commissioner of French Language Services in Ontario

Last month the OLIP Interns had the privilege of meeting with Francois Boileau, the Commissioner of French Language Services within Ontario. As a Franco-Ontarian, I was excited to hear about the important work of the Office and what it does for Ontario’s Francophone community.


The Commissioner spoke passionately about the need to ensure French language services in the province. In Ontario, nearly 5 per cent of the population identifies as Francophone — that is a little more than 600,000 people in Ontario! The Commissioner’s Office was created when the 1986 French Language Services Act passed unanimously by the Legislative Assembly. The Act guarantees the right for the public to receive government services in French in 25 designated areas of the province. Commissioner Boileau emphasized the need to provide French services that are of the same quality as those received in English. However, providing services en français goes beyond having documents available in both official languages — citizens also need access to social workers, physicians, counsellors, etc. who can offer their services in French.

Later in our orientation period, many of our Interns got the chance to chat with a group of young Franco-Ontariens at a reception. It was interesting to hear about their past difficulties accessing services in French and their opinions about potential improvements and changes.

Thank you to Commissioner Boileau and everyone at the Office of the French Language Commissioner for your inspiring words and hospitality!


Beyond the Polls: Visiting Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa

Last month, we had the pleasure of meeting Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa. During our visit to Elections Ontario’s Scarborough office, Mr. Essensa provided us with a complete overview of the who, what, where, when, why and how of Ontario’s electoral process. Mr. Essensa highlighted Election Ontario’s efforts to modernize voting and talked about how his Office is making the process more efficient for the voter and for the province. Elections Ontario typically hires around 80,000 people to staff the 24,000 polls on election day. Days are long and difficult. Election day employees are tasked with counting ballots by hand after working their polling station for a full day. This reality is compounded by legislation that will add 15 more electoral districts to the 2018 election. This means that if the election is run in the same way it has been in the past, Mr. Essensa will have to hire 100,000 staff.

Election Ontario’s plan aims to bring Ontario’s electoral system into the twenty-first century. Piloted during the Whitby-Oshawa by-election in February, the new model employs vote tabulators and readers allowing for more accurate and efficient results. While there were limited challenges with connectivity, the pilot (which Mr. Essensa hopes to roll out across the province in 2018) resulted in a 35 per cent reduction in staff and provided almost 70 per cent of the results in less than 30 minutes. That is a significant improvement over traditional vote counting.


Mr. Essensa also impressed upon us the importance of engaging youth in voting. Today, only 30 per cent of eligible 18-24 year-olds turn out to vote. In the past, initiatives on university and college campuses have proven successful, but with empty campuses during the next spring election, new tactics are needed to engage young voters. Engaging youth is crucial to maintaining a healthy democracy because (as one of our wise Interns said) “if you get someone to vote once, you’ll have them for life.”

As we continue to learn the ins and outs of Ontario politics, our visit to Elections Ontario encouraged us to think more deeply about the foundations of our democracy: what is the most efficient and fair way to conduct an election? How can we engage young people in the political process? How can we, as politically-engaged young people, use our experiences to promote political engagement?