Ottawa: Comparative Study Visit

If reports about adverse weather effects in Ottawa at the beginning of December had you worried, fear not – it was just the OLIPers taking the capital by storm.

It was an exciting moment: beginning our first trip, meeting our federal intern counterparts, as well as completing the extensive visit program they put together for us! After our six-hour drive, we started with a visit to a reception at the Chateau Laurier to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Canada World Youth, and then managed to get into the All-Party Holiday Party. It was great to see a bit of the Ottawa receptions scene, and meet the political staffers (and some MPs) while they were letting their hair down.

The next day started early – 7:45am, to be precise. Thankfully, our first meeting was the incredibly funny Clerk of the House, Audrey O’Brien, who shared some great anecdotes and keen insight into their parliamentary procedure. We then jumped over to the upper chamber for a briefing from Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella’s policy advisors, Michael Reid and Peter O’Sullivan, learning much about the institution and getting to visit the beautiful Speaker’s Chambers.

For many of us, the meeting with Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Sadhir Khan(sp?) from his office was a highlight. Their advice to be fearless in pursuing a career was heartfelt, and it was interesting to compare the experience of an independent officer at the federal level to the many we have met in Toronto.

We were lucky to meet with excellent Members of Parliament from all three parties. From the NDP, we met Pierre-Luc Dusseault, MP for Sherbrooke and the youngest Member ever elected! He provided interesting perspective on the party and his personal experience in the House. On the Liberal side, we met with former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, and former leader Stephane Dion. Both were incredibly passionate, and we gained a lot from our brief conversations. Finally, we had the pleasure to meet with Conservative MPs Candice Hoeppner, Parliamentary Secretary for Public Safety and the leading voice of ending the long-gun registry; and the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The conversations were insightful and honest about issues ranging from parliamentary procedure and Private Members’ Business to policy directions and party politics. In particular, Minister Kenney was gracious in giving over an hour to a conversation with both our group and the PIPs.

One further highlight was watching Question Period from the gallery, and seeing how strongly the spectacle contrasts with Queen’s Park. A three-fold increase in size means one needs headphones to hear the discussion, and the nature of heckling changes dramatically (more of a dull roar in Ottawa, rather than audible pointed barbs as in Toronto). The most substantive difference came from having 35-second questions and answers, instead of them being a minute long.

The long day ended with some relaxation at our Alumni Pub Night. It was nice to unwind with fellow political junkies – gleaning advice from our OLIP alumni, getting to know the PIPs even better, and meeting several students in the Masters of Political Management program at Carleton. After a (very) long day, we headed back to the hotel to rest up – the visit to Ottawa was only half over!

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