Interns on the go: Our Federal Visit

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to take a trip to the capital to learn about how they do things on the federal level. We were there not only to learn about federal politics, but also to attend the 2015 meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association. With a packed week of meetings and conference sessions, our week in Ottawa flew by!

Monday

We started Monday off strong with a meeting with esteemed Globe and Mail columnist and Parliamentary Internship Programme alum Jeffery Simpson. We discussed everything from the upcoming federal election to Ontario-Quebec relations including the recent historic address of Premier Philippe Couillard to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. It was wonderful to learn from his wealth of experience!

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Afterwards we rushed to the Hill to meet with acting clerk Marc Bosc. It was fascinating to compare procedure and processes between Queen’s Park and our federal parliament.

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In the afternoon we had the opportunity to chat with Mayor Jim Watson about official bilingualism designations at the municipal and provincial levels, the effect of amalgamation on the size and scope of Ottawa, and the Big City Mayor’s caucus lobbying efforts.  We learned that Ottawa is much more than just the location of the federal government. Thanks for a great meeting Jim and we hope to see you again around QP!

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Another exciting meeting was with Jean-Dénis Fréchette, the new Parliamentary Budget Officer, as well as several PBO staff. They gave us a great overview over the short history of the office, the context surrounding its initiation. Ultimately, the PBO functions to give the government and the citizenry a second opinion, to challenge the existing projections, which enhances the debate and thereby enhances democracy.

We finished Monday off by attending the Parliamentary Internship Programme Spring reception. The reception included great speeches, MPs and fascinating alumni, as well as a fascinating tour of East Block: the PIPs really know how to throw a party!

Tuesday

On Tuesday morning we had the opportunity to meet with Liberal MP and former Astronaut, Marc Garneau. MP Garneau is one of the few people on Earth who has travelled through Space and this experience has undoubtedly shaped his views on Canadian politics. As the Liberal Party’s Foreign Affairs Critic, MP Garneau gave us his assessment of Canada’s role in humanitarian missions and conflicts across the world. 

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Later in the day six of our interns presented their posters at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association. These posters highlighted the central findings of their academic papers. Topics explored by interns included the use of French in the Legislature, Ontario’s budget process, nuclear energy policy, local perceptions of green energy, third-party funding, and alcohol policy in Ontario.  

In the afternoon, we met with the Green Party of Canada Leader, Elizabeth May. With her honest and thoughtful answers, she did not disappoint. MP May provided us with a perspective of what it is like to be only one of two members representing a political party at the national level. Together we discussed Canada’s evolving parliamentary system and her various ideas on parliamentary and electoral reform.

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Wednesday

We started our busy day by meeting Principle Senate Clerk Charles Robert inside the Senate Chamber for an overview of the history,workings, and significance of Canada’s Upper House. It was extremely interesting to learn more about some of the work that’s come out of the Senate, all while sitting in various Senator’s chairs!

From there we headed over to the University of Ottawa to watch Clare, Kristy, Kristen and Matt present their academic papers to a full room. The presentations were very insightful, with topics ranging from the role of independent officers, women in politics, personality and Queen’s Park receptions.

We quickly rushed downstairs to meet with Helena and Sahir to hear from them about their experience in the creation of the Parliamentary Budget Officer‘s position, first established in 2008. They gave us a thorough overview of the role of the PBO and the challenges they faced starting an entirely new office.

Back to Parliament Hill, we had the pleasure of sitting down with MP Stephane Dion. He spoke with us about his time as the Leader of the Liberal Party, and answered our many and varied questions around climate change, coalition governments, and federalism.

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Just across the street in the same building that houses the Prime
Minister’s office, we met with the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet,
Communications and Consultations of the Privy Council’s Office Ian McCowan. They spoke to us about the role of the Privy Council Office and the Cabinet decision making process.

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A last minute and lucky surprise – former OLIP intern Rob Nicol
graciously set aside time in his busy schedule to speak to us about
his new role as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Director of
Communications. It was great to get his insight into what a regular
day as the PM’s Driector of Comms looks like (spoiler alert – no day
is regular!) and to learn more about his adjustment into his new
position.

We ended the evening with the Canadian Political Science Association President’s Dinner which was held on the roof top terrace of the National Arts Centre. Congrats to all those that won awards that evening – including our very own Director Dr. Henry Jacek, who was recognized for his contributions to OLIP!

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Thursday

Thursday we had the pleasure of meeting and learning from the Honourable James S. Cowan, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. As Mr. Cowan is from Nova Scotia, he spoke of the importance of representing this region’s interests in a non-partisan manor through committee work, policy research and debates.

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It was quite surreal to meet with an OLIP alumnus, MP Chris Charlton for Hamilton Mountain. We learned about how her time as an OLIPer shaped her role as an MP and discussed her experience working in the official opposition.

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Thanks to the Speaker’s Office, we were able to sit in the Speaker’s Gallery and watch Question Period. Being inside the four walls where for over 100 years many of the most influential Canadians have made monumental decisions was a great opportunity.

After Question Period we met in the Rotunda with Ed Holder, the Minister of State for Science and Technology. He explained to us the importance of networking, and was kind enough to exchange business cards with each of the interns.

Our Thursday ended with an Alumni social event at the famous Sir John A MacDonald’s pub. It was great meeting with past interns from the Ottawa area, and to hear their perspective about what it’s like to work and live in the nation’s capital.

Friday 

On Friday, we had a busy day filled with exciting meetings. We started off at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages where we met with Graham Fraser. It was very interesting to hear him add a federal and multilingual lens to the issues we have learnt of at the provincial level in terms of French Language Services. Next up, the CBC studio with Rosemary Barton. Her frank and open nature made for an interesting discussion about media and politics on the Hill.

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For lunch, Loretta O’Connor hosted us at the Council of the Federation where we were able to gain a more in depth understanding of what the council does and the interaction between provinces.

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We also had the opportunity to meet with Vincent Rigby who is the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Strategic Policy Branch at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. Mr. Rigby gave us a thorough and fascinating rundown of various foreign affairs issues pertaining to Canada, as well as our nation’s convoluted international development efforts. Afterwards, we met up with former OLIP intern and now President and CEO of Universities Canada, Paul Davidson. Mr. Davidson happy to meet with us and even gave us some great professional advice for our future lives after OLIP.

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We ended our incredible trip to Ottawa with a bang by going on a tour of the Supreme Court. We had the chance to get an exclusive look at the judges conference room, which is also connected to their change room. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to try on their robes. The tour ended with us getting to see the beautiful and grandiose Supreme Court itself.

All in all our trip to Ottawa was simply amazing. We would like to thank everyone who met with us for taking the time, the PIPs for helping to host us, and the CPSA for a wonderful annual conference. This was truly a study trip that we won’t soon forget!

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