The interns left Toronto on Sunday for our long-anticipated Ottawa trip. We arrived in the early evening and with some “excitement” caused in the girls’ room due to the unexpected and unwelcome presence of insects and their subsequent re-assignment to another room, as well as phone calls past midnight asking for car-keys, everyone managed to get some sleep.
Monday, May 25
The interns’ first stop was the Temple of Justice – the Supreme Court of Canada. We were taken on a tour of the various courtrooms used by the judges of the Supreme Court. We sat in the audience seats of the room where all the 9 judges sit to hear the approximately 90 cases per year and render their decisions. The 45-minute long tour was quite amazing and eye-opening.
In our first of many meetings on Parliament Hill, we met up with the Leader of the federal NDP, Jack Layton. He talked about the December 2008 parliamentary crisis and the Liberal-NDP coalition.
The interns attended Question Period in the afternoon which is a lot different from the one at Queen’s Park. The design of the chamber doesn’t quite make it easy to hear questions directly, but it is interesting to watch nonetheless. The most hilarious moment came when Minister Lawrence Cannon called MP Bob Rae a Minister, to which he proudly stood up and acknowledged the standing ovation from the Liberal caucus. Minister Cannon then attempted to rectify the faux pas, but called him Prime Minister which garnered even louder applause. Finally, he corrected himself and acknowledged that Bob Rae was former Premier of Ontario, and again, the Liberal caucus was quite happy to applaud one of its own. Everybody in the public gallery was laughing too. The best reflection on Question Period was by a person behind me who said out loud at the end, “there was nothing said here that I didn’t know about already. It was all in the newspapers. What was the point of all this?”
Our next meeting was with the Speaker, Peter Milliken. The Speaker’s office was the most ornate office we visited. The Speaker told us that it used to be a library, which explained the floor to ceiling bookshelves. He talked about being the Speaker for over 8 years, half of it with a minority government. As an MPP had been thrown out of the legislature at Queen’s Park the week before, we asked about member behaviour. The Speaker told us about his unique “punishment” of a member who was not recognized at all for the remainder of his term because he refused to withdraw a remark.
Our last meeting for Monday was with Minister Peter MacKay. Since he couldn’t answer any defence related questions because of secrecy, we talked about his efforts in uniting the PC Party with the Canadian Alliance to create the Conservative Party of Canada. Minister MacKay talked about the rigorous and long process the merger took, pointing out the many instances that grassroots members had for input.
Tuesday, May 26
Our second day in Ottawa began with a meeting with Conservative Senator from Ontario, Hugh Segal. While he’s good on TV, he’s even better in person. He had all of us interns enthralled during the 45 minutes we had with him. Senator Segal talked about his experiences during the Davis government, his experiences as a Senator, the provincial PC leadership campaign, among other things.
Our next stop was the leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff. It was fascinating to meet the new leader and his insights left us all with plenty of new thoughts on the world of politics.
We then went to the Bank of Canada for a briefing. We interns were escorted up to a stately boardroom, which had the pictures of all the Governors of the Bank. We were met by two bureaucrats who patiently explained to us the role of the Bank of Canada in the economy, and then answered our numerous questions ranging from how interest rates are calculated to the possibility of the emergence of an EU style central bank.
The interns returned to Parliament Hill for three more meetings. Our first stop post-lunch, was with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in the stately New Zealand room in the House of Commons dining room. Unknown to us, the Minister was coming from the announcement where he said the deficit could be as high as $50 billion. Minister Flaherty told us about the arduous path to the Harmonized Sales Tax in Ontario, talked about the provincial PC leadership race that his wife is a contender in and other topics. Despite the demands of being the Finance Minister, he was generous with his time and took great care to answer all of our questions.
We then trooped over to meet one of our own, former OLIP intern and NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain, Chris Charlton. She talked about her experiences as an intern, working at Queen’s Park, and getting elected to the House of Commons.
Our last meeting was with Minister Peter Van Loan. Minister Van Loan talked about his experiences as a party organizer, talking at length about recruiting candidates, building up riding associations, presiding over the PC Party of Canada, as well as getting elected to Parliament Hill. He talked about his current job as Public Safety Minister, as well as being House Leader soon after the PC Party and the Canadian Alliance merged.
Wednesday, May 27
Wednesday the interns attended the annual Canadian Political Science Association conference to present our academic papers on aspects of Ontario politics. The day was spent listening to each others presentations and receiving feedback from our panel discussants. As experts in Ontario politics, their input was valuable in making our papers that much more relevant.
The evening saw the girls head off to the Women’s caucus dinner while the guys headed to the OLIP alumni get-together. The girls joined us after their dinner. We had a decent turnout and a great time at D’Arcy McGee’s on Sparks Street.
Thursday, May 28
Thursday realized the dreams of nearly all of us, as we met the Prime Minister almost all of us had grown up with – Jean Chrétien. The ten of us trooped off to meet the “little man from Shawinigan” at his law firm. Mr. Chrétien talked about, you guessed it, his experiences in politics – from becoming a MP to the Quebec referendum, to being Prime Minister. A few of us had bought his books, which he happily signed.
After lunch, we went to Langevin Block to meet the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Guy Giorno. He stayed well over his allotted time as he talked about working at Queen’s Park and then in Ottawa, his daily schedule, and helping run a minority government. He shared with us his experiences as part of the run up to the 1995 Ontario election and then his part in helping run the government.
We then met MP Gerard Kennedy. Having had quite a few interns himself when he was at Queen’s Park, he was happy to share his thoughts with us about his political life, both at Queen’s Park and now on the Hill. He also talked about his leadership experience, and the December 2008 crisis.
Our last meeting in Ottawa was with former Finance Minister, Ralph Goodale. Mr. Goodale talked about being among the few Liberal MPs from the West, experiences as Minister of Finance and being the Opposition with a minority government.
We returned to our hotel, dropped off our bags and headed to the Canadian Political Science Association dinner. Since most of us are political science graduates, a number of us ran into professors and/or Teaching Assistants from our universities.
Friday, May 29
After four exhausting days of meetings, we had all of Friday to ourselves. We went off in groups. The guys had lunch together, as did the girls. Some of us met up with friends, while some called it a night early to leave early on Saturday.
And that’s how OLIP did Ottawa.
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