Insight and Inspiration with Michael Bryant

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Michael Bryant, former Member of Provincial Parliament for St. Paul’s and Cabinet Minister during the 38th and 39th Parliaments of Ontario, arrived back at Queen’s Park in March for an exceptional meeting with the OLIP interns. Mr. Bryant discussed his ten years as an MPP, Cabinet Minister, how he became elected, and what the future holds for both him and ourselves.

With Mr. Bryant holding the distinction as the youngest Attorney General in Ontario’s history at age 37, it should come as no surprise then that his drive to enter politics began at a young age. Having decided during high school that he wanted to become a provincial politician, Mr. Bryant’s amazing intellect and drive propelled him to Osgoode and Harvard law schools following which he clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada. After practicing law and instructing at the University of Toronto, Mr. Bryant decided to follow his dream as a youth and “just run” in the Ontario provincial election of 1999. “Just run,” those words summed up more than just his resolve to run for elected office but were advice he had for us as young professionals to pursue our dreams and make the effort to achieve our goals no matter how lofty they may appear.

Having won the riding of St. Paul’s in Toronto in the 1999 election and subsequent 2003 election that ushered in the government of Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, Mr. Bryant fulfilled yet another dream by being appointed as Attorney General. His tenure in the office saw him deal with the contentious Douglas Creek land claim dispute in Caledonia where the need to find justice and restore peace to the communities proved difficult. Having a great empathy and compassion for Aboriginal peoples of Canada, Mr. Bryant went on to serve as Ontario’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and now as a Principal of Ishkonigan Consulting & Mediation following his departure from the Ontario Legislature in 2009.

Throughout our meeting with Mr. Bryant, he spoke to the challenges of politics in Ontario, Canada, and the United States with politicians playing on the growing anger among many electorates while neither working with their opposing counterparts to find solutions or even having solutions themselves to the major problems of today. Mr. Bryant also spoke to his own struggles while an MPP with alcoholism and the tragic death of Darcy Allan Sheppard in 2009. While Mr. Bryant cautioned us as to the pitfalls and challenges of politics, he also spoke about the importance of serving one’s community through politics and doing what is right regardless of what one’s party or peers might think.

Our meeting with Michael Bryant will be one that will remain as among our most memorable meetings of our ten months in OLIP and serve as an inspiration in our years following the program. Who knows, many of us might “just run” someday.

On the Set of the Agenda with Steve Paikin

There is an incredible amount of work that goes into creating a television show and we were lucky enough to see it in action. We recently went for a visit to the TVO Studios in uptown Toronto to watch a taping of The Agenda and meet host Steve Paikin.

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We began our visit with a tour of the recently renovated set. The new set of The Agenda features multiple seating formations, large screens and artwork with characters from Canada’s history. We were especially enamoured by the large picture of the Ontario Legislature! We then watched The Agenda’s host Steve Paikin interview a theoretical physicist about her book on the atoms that make up our universe. It was definitely a topic that expanded our typical discussions about politics and policy!

We later had a great discussion with Mr. Paikin on his experiences as host. He mentioned how he finds something interesting about each person he interviews whether it is a famous politician or an average citizen. When Mr. Paikin had to do a read-through for the next segment, he offered to let us participate which was a fun chance to try out our skills as host. Olivia, Brittany and Alison knocked it out of the park. For the next segment, we observed the filming from the control room. This offered us the opportunity to see the producers manage the multiple cameras and a Skype feed into one seamless interview. It is definitely not an easy feat! 

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Our visit to The Agenda was a great behind-the-scenes tour on the making of television. We are thankful to the producers and host Steve Paikin for taking the time to meet with us.


Learning from the Expert EA: Our meeting with Tracey Sobers

There’s an old proverb that behind every great man stands a great woman. This saying has been iterated in various forms over time, including Former Prime Minister’s wife Maryon Pearson, who famously stated that “behind every successful man stands a surprised woman.”

While we have (fortunately) progressed beyond the gendered norms that tempered this proverb, the essence of the quote rings true: every successful person is supported by a team of talented individuals.

Last Friday, we had the good fortune of meeting with Tracey Sobers, one of the most influential and talented figures in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office. Ms. Sobers served as Mr. McGuinty’s Executive Assistant for nine years.

You can imagine the wealth of information and advice she relayed to us.

Tracey outlined her career arc with grace and humour, highlighting some of the more pivotal moments in her professional  life. One message resonated with the interns: personality matters.   From file clerk to communications expert to the Premier’s Executive Assistant and to consultant, Ms. Sobers credited much of her professional success to her personality, professionalism, and strong work ethic. While important, we weren’t surprised that Tracey’s personability has helped her succeed. The interns have noticed Tracey’s warmth and compassion from the first time we met her at Dalton McGuinty’s book launch. Since then, Tracey has been nothing but kind, helpful, and thoughtful towards the interns.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us Tracey! We wish you all the best with your consulting projects, and are looking forward to seeing you at the Pearson Centre’s launch of the Pursuing Justice Project!


Promoting Public Education with the OSSTF

As citizens, we are all invested in Ontario’s public education system in one way or another. Most of us have studied or worked in Ontario’s public schools, and we all know someone – be it a friend, family member, or neighbor – who is a student or works in an elementary or secondary school in Ontario. Our schools are an important part of the public sphere and are much more than a classroom or workplace.


A few weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to meet with one of our proud sponsors, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. We had a lovely chat with Mr. Paul Kossta,a gentleman who undoubtedly has one of the coolest job titles around: Legislative Observer. We learned how the OSSTF promotes the cause of public education while also defending the rights of students, educators and educational workers. We discussed teacher hiring practices in Ontario, the collective bargaining process, and the OSSTF’s political efforts to strengthen the public education system.


We are thrilled to have the support of the OSSTF and would like to thank the organization’s 60,000 members, which include teachers, educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, secretaries, and many other education professionals!

The Last Day: Yellowknife Wrap-Up

Our last day in Yellowknife marked the end of a whirlwind of knowledge. After meeting with various agents across all sectors representing different areas and industries of the NWT, it was hard to imagine what else we could possibly learn on our last day. Of course, Yellowknife has no shortage of passionate individuals and so we spent our last day meeting with representatives of NGOs and Public Servants working in both research and education.


First, we met with Bob Bromley and Karen Hamre from Alternatives North. Alternatives North is a social justice coalition operating in the NWT. Their work ranges on everything from health and social issues, poverty, finances, mining/oil/gas, regulatory affairs, public policy and of course, devolution (A topic consistently making its way into our learning experience over the course of the week). After spending a week learning from such amazing people within the government, at all levels, it was amazing to meet with those that create an alternative platform to ensure that constituent and stakeholders’ voices are heard. In that regard, it was no surprise that Alternatives North has been called the ‘unofficial opposition’ of the consensus style government!

Next, we met with John Stewart, Director of Instructional School Services Department of Education, Culture and Employment. After visiting Six Nations on a day trip and seeing the Woodland Cultural Centre prior to NWT, we as interns were all curious as to why something so close to us was not educationally apparent earlier in our lives. Well, Mr. Stewart and his colleagues were looking to change that in NWT: They have created a template for a Residential School Curriculum which will be entirely created by the teachers themselves, based on the template provided. This will allow for local stories to be told by those who were affected. This, will engage the communities with the students. This passion project inspired us all, so much so, that we were often moved to tears.


Our afternoon continued in a slightly different vein when we had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Lee Selleck, Director of Research, Information and Library Services and learn more about the important role research has in the workings of the Legislature. His illustrious career includes co-authoring the book Dying For Gold: The True Story of the Giant Mine Murders and working as a journalist for the CBC.

And last but certainly not least, we ended our day meeting with Mandee McDonald at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning. Dechinta is a northern-led initiative delivering land-based, University accredited educational experiences led by northern leaders, experts, elders and professors to engage northern and southern youth in a transformative curricula based on the cutting-edge needs of Canada’s North. It was interesting to learn more about their applied teaching methods. 

Our trip to Yellowknife was an incredible learning experience and allowed us to get a better sense of just how big and diverse our Country is. With the incredible hospitality and breathtaking views, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some of this year’s interns relocating to Canada’s subarctic post OLIP!

Challenges and Changes in the NWT

It’s unquestionable that life in the Northwest Territories (NWT) poses unique challenges for all its residents. Extreme weather conditions and far flung communities force both Legislators and public servants in NWT to find creative solutions in order to best serve their communities.

This commitment to innovation in the public service was best described to us by NWT’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Nicole Latour-Theade. Before being appointed CEO, Ms. Latour-Theade has served a Deputy CEO, Mayor of Fort Liard, been a small business owner, and the first female Sergeant at Arms for the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. This diverse career history has informed the manner in which Ms. Latour-Theade approaches her current role. In our conversations with Ms. Latour-Theade she shared her reflections on the territorial elections that were held only several months before hand. Part of her mandate is to remove barriers to voting, and Ms. Latour-Theade espoused a vision of a technologically modern election process. All of the interns enjoyed our frank and open conversation with Ms. Latour-Theade and we all look forward to reading her final report on the 2015 NWT election.


Our next meeting was with Mr. Alan Cash, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Executive and Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet.  As an avid history buff, Mr. Cash shared with all the interns the history of NWT and put into perspective everything we’d been learning over the course of our week in Yellowknife. Covering everything from health, education, and economic development Mr. Cash exposed the exponentially fast changes that have occurred in NWT. One of most fascinating topics of discussion between Mr. Cash and the interns was the role of roads and transportation in the territory. Looking at the maps of NWT we were able to better understand the reliance that many communities had on ice roads and the ever-present concern about transportation issues. We were also excited to continue our discussion about change in the territory over dinner that evening, hosted by Speaker Lafferty, and would also like to thank Mr. Cash for taking some of the interns out to Deta and onto the ice road that evening.


Thank you to Ms. Latour- Theade and Mr. Cash for their openness and patience with our questions!  


Rights in the Heart of the North

Nearing the end of our trip to Yellowknife, we had the pleasure to meet with the Director of the Human Rights Commission of the Northwest Territories, Deborah McLeod, and the Commission’s Deputy Chair, Yacub Adam. We learned quickly about all things human rights related to this great and grand territory.

The Commission began in 2004 through an act that was the most comprehensive and independent in Canada. It’s definition of discrimination included discrimination based on gender identity and expression, far before other provinces and territories adopted such a definition. The Act also stipulated that the Commission would report to the Assembly itself where only the assembly could vote to rescind an appointment of a director – ensuring that the whole Commission is kept quite independent.


After learning about the history of the Commission, Ms. McLeod and Mr. Adam told us about the Commission’s proposed future. From the many recommendations that the Commission had received, both Ms. McLeod and Mr. Adam, along with the rest of the Commission, are working to include more restorative processes into the Commission’s system. Making the whole complaint process a more restorative endeavour will hopefully encourage more people to bring complaints to the Commission and will promote and defend human rights in the Northwest Territories more effectively than before.


On the same day, we were also able to learn about the legal processes at the Legislature of the Northwest Territories from the Deputy Law Clerk, Glen Rutland. We deeply enjoyed learning about the process of bills becoming laws and the difference between Private Member’s Bills (PMBs) in the Northwest Territories and Ontario. In the Northwest Territories, due to its consensus government, there are rarely any PMBs, as regular members can work with Cabinet closely to get bills passed. Comparatively, in Ontario, almost every backbencher MPP will create a PMB in order to bring attention or bring forward a solution to an issue that they feel is important, as they usually do not have the same opportunity to work with Cabinet to create legislation as do MLAs in the Northwest Territories.

In general, it was a fascinating day in Yellowknife as we learned about the laws and the rights of our Northern compatriots.

Leading the Northwest: Meeting the Commissioner and MLAs

There have been many moments as OLIP interns where we have felt truly privileged to take part in the amazing experiences offered through the program and our visit to Yellowknife proved to be high among them. Throughout our trip to the Northwest Territories, we appreciated an amazing welcome and hospitality from our hosts at the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories while we learned about governance in the Territory and what lies ahead in its future.


During our week in Yellowknife, we had the honour of meeting with Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, The Honourable George L. Tuccaro. Commissioner Tuccaro has served in his role for nearly six years now and brings both an amazing wealth of experience of life in the north an great optimism for the future of the Northwest Territories. A survivor of the residential school system, Commissioner Tuccaro overcame a troubled early life to become a successful journalist with the CBC in Northern Canada that brought him both a knowledge and respect of the North and its residents. The Commissioner sees the future of the Territory as one that, despite facing the challenges of climate change and current economic troubles, has enormous potential for greater wealth and health of its residents along with the preservation of Aboriginal traditions. Commissioner Tuccaro left us with many inspiring lessons and words which we will all take to heart in our lives ahead.

Following our meeting with the Commissioner, we were treated for lunch with Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Our discussion with the members provide us with a glimpse into the unique model of governance practiced in the Territory and the members’, many of them new, perspectives on it. As well, our lunch provided a great insight into many of the issues facing the Northwest Territories such as a shortage of housing, challenges facing the mining industry in the Territory, and the crash of the caribou population which threatens the food security and viability of many small communities.

Our meetings with both the Commissioner and Members of the Legislative Assembly were amazing opportunities to learn more about the Northwest Territories and leadership as public servants, lessons that each of us won’t forget!


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The mining industry in Yellowknife

In the short time we’ve been in this spectacular territory, there hasn’t been a shortage of stories of those that initially came north of 60 for a short contract, but ended up relocating for good.

The word that is constantly thrown around when talking about the NWT is without a doubt “opportunity.” The opportunities of the North were certainly highlighted during a presentation from Mr. Tom Hoefer, the Executive Director of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. Mr. Hoefer delivered a powerful presentation on the past, present and the anticipated future of the mining sector. With detailed maps and concrete examples of just how the industry serves as the backbone of the NWT, Mr. Hoefer gave us a glimpse of just what mining means to the people here. More than that, he opened our eyes to the other sectors that have thrived due to mining and exploration. It became immediately clear why the NWT ranks at the top of the list, having the highest GDP per capita in the country.


We saw that mining means much more than mineral or resource extraction here in the NWT; it is a sector that cuts deep into all aspects of life here, especially on social issues. Mining cuts into everything from the obvious such as employment and economic well-being, to the not-so-obvious, such as indigenous land claims, self-government and education. All of us were thoroughly amazed at just how central this sector is in the lives of the people of this territory.



During that same day, we had the chance to see the flipside of the mining sector and the detrimental impacts it can have when not managed adequately. The Giant Mine environmental catastrophe that lies just outside of Yellowknife is an especially emotional topic of conversation here in the NWT. With the Remediation Project long-underway, the end seems to be in sight. The presentation by Natalie Porto, the Deputy Director of the Project gave us the facts, and showed us the timeline in place. With consultations completed, and the pilot site testing the thermosiphon technology to ‘freeze’ the toxic dust buried underground has yielded some positive results.

With both the good and the bad showcased, the interns had an in-depth view of what mining means for the NWT.

Change Abounds in NWT

The results of the 2015 federal election indicated a desire for change across Canada. In addition to a federal election, there was also a municipal and territorial election in Yellowknife around the same time period. During our visit, we had the chance to see some of the change in action in each order of government.

One of the most significant changes was within the Northwest Territories government. 9 incumbent candidates lost their seat and 11 out of the 19 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) are new. With this in mind, we attended the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning to observe a House planning meeting. The meeting of all regular MLAs (those not in the Executive Council) was a fascinating look at how the MLAs are settling into their new positions and are working on establishing the government mandate.


We had a meeting with Yellowknife’s mayor Mark Heyck who was recently re-elected. Mr. Heyck spoke a great deal about Yellowknife’s future. A central theme of the talk was about adapting to changes in the environment and economy, especially Yellowknife’s relationship to the mining sector.

For a federal perspective we met with the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, also known as CanNor. The representatives from the Northern Project Management Office gave us an overview of the projects they deliver to help spur economic development in the NWT. They highlighted the unique challenges of the development in the north but were optimistic for the future.

Our visit to Yellowknife proved how important it is for public servants and politicians to adapt to changes both within and outside of the government and we felt privileged to be there to observe it!