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Archive for June, 2009

Oakville Day

Last Monday, I had the privilege of organising “Oakville Day” for the OLIP interns. It was a chance for us to visit a town, and some key players within it, that many Ontarians have heard of though I suspect its public perception is somewhat skewed. As we learned very quickly the community is not homogeneous. Certainly not everyone is a Toronto executive living in some mammoth dwelling. Most of the people are like you and me, without special wealth or privilege but endowed with a strong sense of providing the best for their family.

In organizing the day’s events, one of the obvious benefits of working for Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn was the goodwill that he had cultivated within the community, allowing me to access individuals and organizations with relative ease. I wanted to arrange a meeting for the interns with Oakville’s Mayor, Rob Burton. There were layers of assistants to pierce to make this happen. But name-dropping to one particular individual, “Oh, I’m actually calling from Kevin Flynn’s office,” enabled me to procure the desired meeting comfortably. I wonder if one day my own name will be able to “grease the wheels.” For now, dear reader, the only place I carry some cachet is the OSAP department, where workers are oft-heard to snicker on the gargantuan size of my student loan.

Another enjoyable component was our meeting at First Canadian Title headquarters in Oakville, accompanied by a wonderful lunch. This was our second opportunity to meet with Wendy Rinella, who leads their government relations department, and also happens to be an incredibly charming person. FCT is one of our programme sponsors, and we are grateful for their ongoing support.

Our visit to the Ford plant is also worth mentioning. In recent months the auto sector has been front page news on almost a daily basis. For the most part, however, Ford has escaped the fate of its “Big Three” cousins Chrysler and Government Motors. James Roland, government relations manager of Ford Canada offered insight on the difference between the automakers, and the strategies Ford employed to successfully weather the economic crisis. We were all impressed at the complexity and efficiency of the Oakville operation, and thankful for Ford’s hospitality.

As the internship winds down it will be days like this, being on the ground and meeting with real people that I will miss greatly. University life has the problematic side-effect of insulating students from the daily grind of participating in society. Generating opportunities for meetings and dialogue like Oakville Day is a great virtue of OLIP.

-Waqas

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This week marks the final week of the Legislature’s spring session and in turn it has made us all realize that our internship is nearing the end. With just more than two weeks left, everyone is busy finishing up their various tasks, writing final reports for our OLIP committees, and completing the final edits on our CPSA papers. At the same time, despite being the final week of the session, the Legislature is certainly not quiet! In fact, it’s quite busy as members and their staff (including interns) rush about closing legislative files and finishing up work that needs to be completed in Toronto.

But Thursday we will say good-bye to our second placement members as they head home to their ridings across the province and we will also say good-bye to Question Period, which is often a highlight of the day around Queen’s Park. Just a few weeks ago at our OLIP Spring Reception I was asked, “How does it feel to be graduating from OLIP?” And that is what it feels like. I don’t think any of us could have imagined the great life-changing effect that OLIP would have on our lives or would have guessed we would have met the people we did or did some of the things we have done. From Yellowknife to London, from Bill Davis to Jean Chretien, this has been an amazing year.

But at the same time as we are sad to see the year end, we are all looking forward to our adventure to the ‘Mother of all Parliaments,’ the Palace of Westminster. Our London plans are well underway and we are set to leave on June 19th. It is perhaps because of this trip that all ten of us are actively working towards becoming experts in British current events and politics. And not a bad time either! Over the past few weeks, we have watched from a distance as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown dealt with an MP expenses scandal resulting in the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons. This was followed by the resignation of several ministers who in turn called for the Prime Minister’s own resignation. Then, recently while under loud calls from the opposition for an election the Prime Minister has, as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg states, a “deathbed conversion” resulting in his wide-ranging proposals to “clean up” and modernise British politics!

What better time is there to go to London and see British politics in action?!

- David

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CPSA Papers

From our first days as interns, they loomed over us. We were advised to start work on them early. We read books and articles for them, conducted interviews, took notes, made charts and exchanged ideas. Finally, this week, we arrived in Ottawa, each armed with meticulous knowledge of our subject matters and ready to present our academic research papers at the Canadian Political Science Association’s annual conference.

The CPSA paper presentation is an important aspect of OLIP. Every year, each intern makes use of the unique access that we have at Queen’s Park as the basis for an original research paper. Having conceived, crafted and composed our papers throughout our time in the Legislature, we then condense the findings and introduce them into broader political science discourse through a panel presentation.

This year, we were divided into three groups, and each had ten minutes to share our findings with our colleagues and others who came to listen. Each panel was chaired by OLIP Director Dr. Henry Jacek, and had a discussant who shared feedback on the presentations. Political Scientists Anna Esselment, Graham White and David Docherty all had interesting insights and offered helpful suggestions, which we will no doubt incorporate into future paper revisions.

I found the presentation to be a very useful exercise, which helped to make me more comfortable communicating complex ideas in a clear and concise manner. I also enjoyed listening to the findings of my colleagues. Having dedicated a significant amount of time to my paper, which focused on the relationship between federal and provincial political parties, it was satisfying to check this big item off of my intern to-do list. Of course, I also find it hard to believe that one more key part of OLIP is now behind me. While I am saddened to be approaching the final few weeks of what has been a truly incredible year, the experiences that I have gained while writing and presenting my paper, and the memories that were made while visiting Ottawa with the other interns, will last a lifetime!

- Rosanne

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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.

-Tejas

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