On Wednesday around 11 AM, had you been wandering around Parliament Hill you would have noticed nine twenty-somethings dressed in suits with knees up, arms pumping, hair blowing in the breeze- yes, full out sprinting – from the Hill to the Supreme Court. And you may have wondered why.
Allow me to explain.
On Wednesday morning we learned about some of the less political dimensions of public affairs. To do so, we had meetings with Deputy Clerk Marc Bosc, Senate Clerk Gary O’Brien and former Supreme Court Justice, Marie Deschamps.
The morning started with a lovely breakfast with the Parliamentary Interns and their Director, Garth Williams, at the Parliamentary Dining Room. I was glad to have the opportunity to chat with the PIPs and learn more about what they’re up to in Ottawa. Overall impression: a seriously delightful group of people and a friendly and caring director.
From there we headed to our meeting with Deputy Clerk Marc Bosc to learn about how Procedural Services works at the House of Commons. Mr. Bosc explained that clerks get to move freely between directorates, including research, committees, and international/inter-parliamentary affairs. The aim seems to be to have a well-rounded team of clerks, allowing each clerk to have good understanding of how the House as a whole functions. This keeps the clerks’ jobs interesting, which is reflected in that most clerks make their careers in the House.
At our next meeting, Mr. O’Brien spoke to us about the procedural and administrative nature of the job of a Senate clerk. Mr. O’Brien used to work in the House of Commons, but seems to enjoy his present role as Clerk of the Senate, explaining that the Senate has some of the best former Parliamentarians. Mr. O’Brien was eager to have us see firsthand these fine Parliamentarians turned Senators at work and invited us to watch the Senate the next day.
Leaving our meeting with Mr. Bosc we had to pick up the pace (cue image of interns running with Flight of the Bumblebee music playing) to make it to our meeting with Former Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Marie Deschamps. Meeting a Supreme Court Justice is intimidating to start, but I was surprised and a little embarrassed when I realized I didn’t even understand her title. What is a “puisne” I and a few fellow interns wondered. A quick google search informed us that a puisne judge is, in the context of the Supreme Court, any judge other than the chief justice. Emboldened, knowing that we at least understood her job title, we were eager to speak with Justice Deschamps in a joint meeting with the Parliamentary Interns.
Meeting Marie Deschamps was a unique opportunity to discuss the intersection between law and politics. I was struck by Justice Deschamp’s clear sense of her place within the structures, processes and rules that govern society. She spoke to us about the collegiality that exists between the Supreme Court Justices. Perhaps most interestingly, she offered us insight into the decision-making process at the Supreme Court level. Following our meeting with Justice Deschamps, we got a tour of the Supreme Court, thereby concluding a busy Wednesday morning.
Lesson worth taking away from Wednesday morning: while politicians seem to be the superstars of public affairs in Ottawa, needless to say, there are other key, if not less visible actors. I found it fascinating to learn about the procedural and legal side of public affairs, which helps put the political dimension in a broader context.