Keeping Ontarians Informed about Queen’s Park with Martin Regg Cohn

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We had the pleasure of meeting Martin Regg Cohn, a political columnist with the Toronto Star. He has enriching international experience from his time as a reporter within over 40 countries and in his role as acting chief for the Middle East and Asia bureaus, and he candidly shared stories about his experience finding his voice as a reporter and a few of the challenges that arose while working abroad. Despite this international experience, it is evident that Mr. Cohn is passionate about Ontario, his home. He told us about his genuine care for informing Ontarians about the decision-making processes and outcomes of our provincial government as well as the daily happenings of Queen’s Park. It is evident that he understands what motivates people, and as he incorporates this into his stance, his articles are relatable and successful at conveying a message to the readers.

Our meeting came at an opportune time. We had just visited the CBC and were in the mindset of communications, the importance of public awareness about government processes and ultimately, the power of media. We appreciated how open and transparent Mr. Cohn was and his genuine responses to our many questions. We look forward to reading his column each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday!

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Giving Ontario’s Children and Youth a Voice: OLIP Meets Irwin Elman and Laura Arndt

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We were humbled to meet Irwin Elman, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, and Laura Arndt, the Director of Strategic Development. When we arrived, all of the interns commented on the openness of the office space. We learned that employees consulted with youth, who determined that an open and transparent office space was important. In other words, youth linked openness to the ability to speak freely, without prejudices and/or bias. The interview structure was relaxed, whereby Mr. Elman provided a brief overview of the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate (which is relatively new, and derived from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007). Some of the major responsibilities included: providing an independent voice for children; encouraging communication between children and families; and educating youth of their rights. Child, within the Act, is defined as: students of the provincial and demonstration schools, youth in court holding cells, children and youth with special needs, and First Nations youth. Nevertheless, the Provincial Advocate specified that he interprets the Act to include all Ontarian children.

Given that Mr. Elman established the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth from the ground up (i.e. without precedent or other provincial authorities), he thoroughly understands his mandate. We are not surprised that the Office has been successful, given that he received the Outstanding Achievement Recognition Award (2007) from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services; named a Canadian Hero by MacLean’s Magazine (2006) and received the Outstanding Youth Service Award (2003) from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Nevertheless, Mr. Elman is extremely humble, and emphasized that government should aim to provide assistance to all Ontarian children who need it.

Mr. Elman ended our meeting by explaining the “Orange Shirt Day” campaign and why everyone working in his office was taking part in the important cause. The campaign is a day to remember the trauma Aboriginal people, including Aboriginal youth, faced and continue to face and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.

Thank you Mr. Elman for the insightful conversation! We look forward to following the work of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth as you continue to be the voice for the children within Ontario.

Safeguarding the Democratic Process with Sergeant Jackie Gordon

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Sergeant Jackie Gordon, the Ontario Legislature’s Sergeant-at-Arms, has climbed six-foot high walls and shattered glass ceilings. She is a trailblazer, a role model, and force to be reckoned with. It was a delight to meet with her; she told us about her career trajectory, explained her current role as the Sergeant-at-Arms, and gave us sage advice about how to grow as leaders and professionals.

Sergeant Gordon served with the Halton Regional Police Service for 34 years before being appointed Ontario’s first female Sergeant-at-Arms. Yet it is her competency, not her gender, that sets her apart. “Respect comes from being competent,” she told us. “When you beat a path, you create opportunities for women to succeed.” As a young officer, Sergeant Gordon – who stands 5’5’’ – dedicated herself to learning athletic techniques so she could meet the same physical strength requirements as her male colleagues. Instead of being deterred by the challenges associated with being a woman in a male-dominated profession – including interacting with colleagues and citizens who had never met a female officer – she focused on developing and demonstrating her competency. She is living proof that hard work and determination are key to changing cultures that limit opportunities because of one’s gender.

Today, as the Ontario Legislature’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Sergeant Gordon is responsible for guarding the democratic process. She protects the safety of MPPs by overseeing security services as well as the maintenance of prescient properties. She also helps ensure proper decorum in the Chamber; that is, she will escort rowdy MPPs from the room if asked to do so by the Speaker. Working in the Chamber requires wearing the traditional garb of the Sergeant-at-Arms, which includes a hand-stitched swallowtail jacket containing 25,000 stitches and a hand-made bicorn hat. Another symbol associated with the Sergeant-at-Arms is the golden mace. A symbol of both parliamentary privilege and the authority of the Crown, the mace must be present in the room for the Chamber to sit. Only the Sergeant-at-Arms is authorized to touch the mace. Originally bestowed by the Crown, the mace was chosen as the weapon available in the Chamber because it was not bloodletting and could be easily defended against. As democratic institutions became more robust and respected the Sergeant-at-Arms was granted the right to wear a sword, which is still part of her uniform today.

In addition to letting us examine her hat and sword, Sergeant Gordon shared some of her professional wisdom with us. In her opinion, “The best part of being in the police force is continually learning,” and she encouraged us to find ways to continually expand our knowledge through reading and taking courses. While working with the Ministry of Education she went back to school to become a fire inspector, and she is currently taking university courses in her free time. She advised us to seek out a range of different perspectives and to work tirelessly in pursuit of our goals.

We left our meeting with Sergeant Gordon feeling motivated to go the extra mile and make the most of our internship. Thank you Sergeant Gordon for taking the time to meet with us! You are a trailblazer and an inspiration.

A Lesson in Advocacy with Ryan Clarke from Advocacy Solutions

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During our orientation period, we have met many passionate and talented individuals, one of which was Ryan Clarke, the President of Advocacy Solutions. As a former political staffer and lawyer focusing on family law, Ryan Clarke has an expansive knowledge of the Ontario Legislature and provincial politics. He believes in ‘change from the outside’ and making good public policy. Mr. Clarke gave us a compelling presentation about the work he carries out, the nature of advocacy and how we can be effective in practicing advocacy.

Mr. Clarke’s company, Advocacy Solutions, provides effective advocacy based services for organizations and individuals. Ryan trains both individuals and organizations in ‘advocating for themselves’ in a professional manner. In simple terms, Ryan demonstrated to us how advocacy can be used as a key tool to communicate a clear message to government decision makers. Before advocating, Ryan ensures that his clients receive an understanding of the hierarchical structure and bureaucracy of government, which he deems crucial, to accomplish the client’s end goal or asks of government. Advocacy Solutions is unique because it serves small to medium organizations and fills a vital niche in the government relations market because these organizations do not have the capital to access large scale government relations firms.  

Thank you Ryan for the wonderful presentation and for your contributions as one of our sponsors. We were pleased to learn more about the different kinds of advocacy, the essence of good advocacy, and the process for developing an effective advocacy strategy. The interns are positive that your advice will be valuable as we interact with key decision makers within the political process and progress in our careers.

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Meeting Dan Newman, Former PC MPP and Cabinet Minister

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We had the pleasure to meet Dan Newman, a Progressive Conservative MPP & cabinet minister who served in the legislature for eight years under the Harris and Eves governments. Mr. Newman began by describing how politics and political campaigning had changed since 1995. Back then, there was no email and Mr. Newman was one of the first MPPs to have a website, which he proudly named “HelloNewman”, a reference to Seinfeld.  

He stressed to us that it was not impossible to get into politics and used the example of himself to prove it. Mr. Newman’s inspiration to get engaged and involved was driven because he did not agree with the policies of the sitting government. He started his political career by becoming president of his local riding association before running for MPP of his riding. When describing his years as MPP, he recalled the importance of serving everyone in the riding, even if they did not vote for you or did not vote at all. Mr. Newman recalled some of the tough situations he was in, including the E. coli outbreak in Walkerton when he was Minister of the Environment.

Mr. Newman also described life after politics and how for some, losing an election was difficult to recover from. His view after defeat was that if you did everything you could in terms of effort, you can live with yourself. After his political career, Mr. Newman transitioned into the private sector, working for POI Business Interiors. He was thankful for his experience serving Ontarians because the policy, strategy and people skills he learned in Queen’s Park stayed with him as he progressed in his career.

Thank you Mr. Newman for sharing your experiences and lessons with us!

 

OLIP in Quebec: Governing Quebec

“You need to know in your heart and soul what you want to do here”

     – Jean-Marc Fournier and David Birnbaum on Governing Quebec

Quebec’s political culture is distinctive. A review of not-so-distant Canadian history will suggest as much — the constitutional angst of the 1980s and early 1990s, followed by the 1995 referendum. Yet there is a profound difference between knowing academic facts and encountering Quebec’s political culture first-hand.

One of the most important lessons we learned during our time in Quebec City was how complicated identity politics are in la belle province. Existential concerns regarding the future of Quebec’s unique language and culture were a common theme throughout our meetings with government officials. The central issues of identity, language, and culture make governing Quebec a distinctive political challenge, given the predominance of English in much of the rest of Canada, as well as the continued importance of immigration.

To learn more about what it means to govern the Quebec nation, we met with two members of the ruling Liberal party. First, we spoke with the Hon. Jean-Marc Fournier, the MNA representing the riding of Saint-Laurent. He is currently Government House Leader and Minister Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie. Second, we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. David Birnbaum, a backbench MNA representing the predominantly anglophone and Jewish riding of D’Arcy McGee.

The Hon. Jean-Marc Fournier

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Mr. Fournier brought to our meeting a wealth of experience in Quebec politics. First elected to the National Assembly in 1994, Mr. Fournier has held a range of ministerial portfolios, including: Municipal Affairs; Sports and Recreation; Education; Access to Information and the Reform of Democratic Institutions; and Justice. He served as the interim leader for the Quebec Liberal Party in 2012 and 2013, and has also held the role of Chief Opposition Whip.

Mr. Fournier spoke to us about Quebec history, especially la revolution tranquille. According to Mr. Fournier, the rise of Quebec nationalism–whether ethnic or civic–created a divide between the Quebecois and francophones who live outside of Quebec. For Mr. Fournier, increased attention to French and francophone identity by provincial governments other than the National Assembly is good for federal unity. In Ontario, for example, enrollment in French immersion is increasing and the position of French Language Services Commissioner was recently created.

We left our meeting with Mr. Fournier with the sense that, from his perspective as the Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie, building bridges between Quebec and francophones living in other provinces is an essential part of governing Quebec.


Mr. David Birnbaum

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Mr. Birnbaum brought a slightly different perspective, being an anglophone and a relatively new provincial politician. He won his riding of D’Arcy McGee for the first time in 2014. During his tenure has served as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier, and is currently working as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education and Higher Education.

As pertaining to his PA portfolio, Mr. Birnbaum spoke about the importance of higher education, praising policies that encourage more Quebecers to pursue a post-secondary degree. He also commented on the need to develop policies to educate students about consent and reduce sexual assault on campus.  

Mr. Birnbaum reflected on the passage of Bill 62, a controversial piece of government legislation that prohibits people accessing or providing social services to wear a face covering, such as a niqab. He is well-known to have been strongly opposed to the Parti Quebecois’ proposed Charter of Values. When the time came to vote on Bill 62, Mr. Birnbaum voted the party line – but made a point of standing slowly, something that garnered press attention. His response to us was very similar to that which he gave to the Montreal Gazette: the world isn’t perfect; Bill 62 isn’t perfect; yet, it strikes a good balance in a highly controversial policy area.

Before we left, Mr. Birnbaum offered some advice for how we, as people from outside Quebec, should approach Quebec politics, as well as a vision of the ideal parliamentarian.

That is, he advised us to reflect on Quebec’s unique political climate, in which the preservation of French language and culture is essential, before judging politicians for how they choose to govern.

An ideal parliamentarian, according to Birnbaum, is somebody who respects the political process, but also sees it as a means to an end, not as a game in and of itself. “You need to know in your heart and soul what you want to do here,” he concluded.

 

OLIP in Quebec City: Modernizing the National Assembly

  As far as comparisons go, the National Assembly and Queen’s Park are perfect case studies. At Queen’s Park, we have grown accustomed to a legislative culture firmly grounded in tradition. Everything from the building itself, to the clothes that the Speaker, the Clerks and the Sergeant-at-Arms wear in the Legislature, have not changed much since parliament’s first days. When you walk around Queen’s Park, it’s hard to forget the history of those that have come before you.
  While the National Assembly also stands as a beautiful testament to Quebec’s history, we encountered there a spirit of modernization. We had the privilege of sitting down with three key individuals at the National Assembly who embodied this feeling.
Michel Bonsaint and Alexandre Regimbal
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  The House Clerk Michel Bonsaint and Parliamentary Counsel Alexandre Regimbal both sit at the Clerks’ table during assembly proceedings. Along with the Speaker, they do not wear traditional clothing, but show up in their professional suits. Mr. Bonsaint often enters the Assembly wearing a characteristic bowtie.
  Mr. Regimbal led us on a tour of the Chamber and the Clerks’ Table, which is equipped with computers and other technology. It’s clear that the National Assembly’s staff don’t shy away from innovation.
  Mr. Bonsaint described the National Assembly as the House of the People, and spoke passionately about several initiatives they have taken to open up the building — and what it represents — to the people of Quebec. Under his supervision, a vegetable and fruit garden was built in front of the Assembly. Most recently, the Assembly’s entrance is being reconstructed to feature a modern visitor’s pavilion, and a new high-security entrance. The public will be able to watch Committees of the National Assembly through the see-through glass built around the committee rooms.
Cedric Drouin
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  Mr. Cedric Drouin, a public relations professional at the National Assembly, gave us with a detailed preview of the new space and architecture. Although the new project will be a significant change for the National Assembly’s physical space, the vision behind it — of a modern space interacting with a historic institution — falls in line with their vision of a legislature that changes with Quebec’s society and culture.
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We can’t wait to see what the final visitor’s space will look like, and maybe even visit it ourselves one day!