Visiting Calgary

Having extensively explored Edmonton, the centre of Alberta’s legislative activity, we had the privilege of concluding our trip with a few days in Calgary, the province’s economic hub. The opportunity to compare the two cities was extremely interesting. Both boom towns, both driven by oil, the economic profiles are nonetheless quite different. Edmonton’s economy is very blue collar, defined by its many processing facilities on “refinery row,” with a relatively quiet downtown. Calgary, on the other hand, is white collar, with skyscrapers housing oil company head offices towering over a vibrant, frenetic downtown.

The contrast with Ontario was also quite interesting to explore. Our political discourse for an entire year has largely been defined by job creation, austerity, deficit, and debt. In Alberta, the discussion was different. Discourse and debate revolved around prosperity, and making the most of the province’s wealth. With such prosperity, why are ER wait times so high? With so much wealth, why do our social services lag behind other provinces? With such a productive economy, why do we run a (small) deficit? These were the questions we heard, a pronounced change from the questions Ontarians are asking. Placing the issues and questions in juxtaposition gave a fascinating perspective on the fiscal realities of our federation.

After a great week in Edmonton, our Calgary meetings had a lot to live up to, and they didn’t disappoint. In our short time there, we were able to speak with several fascinating political players. William McBeath was Deputy Campaign Manager for the Wildrose Party in Alberta’s most recent election. He spoke very candidly about the issues faced both in the campaign and going forward in the current Parliament, as well as some unique strategies the party implemented along the way.

Ted Morton was able to draw both from his experience as a political science professor and as a former Minister and long-time political figure to provide a fascinating glimpse into Alberta politics and political culture, as well as personal reflections on his PC leadership and electoral campaigns.

Finally, we had the opportunity to sit down with the Pembina Institute. After spending a week hearing government perspectives on oil sands prosperity, it was refreshing to hear arguments from an environmental think tank that didn’t share the same views. Doing so, we were able to get a fuller understanding of the issue.

Our flight back to Toronto marked the end of our final trip as an intern cohort. It was certainly sad to see the end of the internship approaching so rapidly, but a comparative visit to a province as unique and exciting as Alberta was a perfect note on which to end our travels.


Scoops at The Star – Meeting with Robert Benzie

With all the information leaks that happen around Queen’s Park, you’d think the walls have ears – but as we learned a couple of weeks ago, it’s more to do with journalists like Robert Benzie.
The Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star, Mr. Benzie joined our group for an enlightening conversation on the press gallery, politics at Queen’s Park, and journalism in general.
As Mr. Benzie noted, the Star maintains the largest bureau at the Legislature because they view themselves as the institution’s paper of record. They’ve certainly managed to break a fair number of stories, including about the Ornge air ambulance service this past fall.
The rest of our discussion ranged over numerous issues: from his sources (tip: keep an open door and walk the corridors) to why a smaller press gallery may be better for media scrutiny.
Thanks again for a great conversation and some fascinating insight!

A Feast for the Senses: OLIP Alumni Dinner

Thursday, January 19 marked one of the high points on this year’s interns’ social calendars: the OLIP Alumni Dinner. Thanks to the hard work of Alumni Chair Lauren Hanna, we knew we had a stellar list of former interns who were joining us to reminisce and reconnect.
It was great to have the opportunity to mingle with some old and new friends, and hear about what exciting careers they had forged. As the year progresses we’re all thinking more about what comes after, and it’s reassuring to hear about the wide variety of fields in which OLIP alumni are now working.
Although the food was delicious, my highlight was the speech by Michael Bryant. Although he couldn’t give us a sneak preview of his forthcoming book, Mr. Bryant certainly charmed us with his candour and reflections on his time in office.
He focused particularly on his time as Minister of Economic Development, and the challenges of taking on that portfolio just as Lehman Brothers went under. It was great to get a small glimpse inside Cabinet’s thinking at this critical economic time. I also appreciated his reflections on inequality and poverty as some of the most pressing issues facing society today.
Mr. Bryant certainly enhanced a memorable evening, and we’re very grateful he agreed to come. To all the other alumni, it was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to reconnecting at the next alumni dinner four years from now (and hopefully before that too!).

Craig: Of Potholes and Patties

n”: address the concerns of some local seniors about an uneven sidewalk. Mike took the matter into his own hands, which is how I found myself shaking pothole filler into the hole as Mike pounded it down with a shovel. What a great introduction to the intimately local level of provincial politics – enhanced by the fact that he knew at least half of the people who walked by while we were doing this.

It was a great chance to start seeing the diversity of his Toronto riding. Having gone to the University of Toronto, I must admit that my conception of Toronto used to end just north of Bloor Street – but after seeing everywhere from Lawrence & Dufferin to Eglinton & Caledonia, I’m starting to realize the incredible socio-economic and cultural differences within the riding.

Another notable stop we made was at Randy’s, which I’m told has the best Jamaican patties in Toronto. After eating two of them, I can attest that they’re pretty incredibly delicious, with a good amount of spicy fire that left my lips tingling. Seeing Mike transition easily from meeting Italian seniors to joking with the staff at Randy’s has given me a taste of the lifestyle of a high-calibre politician, who seems to be ubiquitous and recognizable all over his riding.

Needless to say, my day was the envy of the entire intern cohort, and I’m looking forward to even more days like it (although next time, some of the constituency’s Italian food may have to be on the menu!).

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!

Mini Placement at the British Consulate in Toronto

The past few weeks have been quite exciting at the British Consulate. Everyone in the office has been wonderful at including us in the events and activities they have going on – and it’s been keeping us quite busy! We’ve had the opportunity to learn about the British Government’s policy priorities, and to contribute to the Toronto Consulate’s activities to promote them.

We’ve had the privilege of experiencing a number of events with different departments based at the Consulate, including Greenbuild and a fundraiser for the Canadian Friends of the National Trust of Scotland. Greenbuild is an annual environmentally-focused trade show and conference, mostly for the construction industry. We attended it alongside UK Trade & Investment, who hosted a booth for a visiting trade delegation from the UK, as well as the Science & Innovation team, who were on the lookout for potentially fruitful partnerships. It was fascinating to get a chance to see inside the trade show world – massive and impressive are two words that spring to mind. There were a good number of booths hosted by countries, which I found novel, but makes quite a bit of sense to sell the ‘brand’ of a country and provide a forum that allows smaller companies to be represented.

Belinda and I also had a pleasure of attending a fundraising dinner sponsored by Scottish Development International, the territory’s overseas commercial and cultural representatives. It was a wonderful evening to get to know our colleagues a little better – SDI also works out of the Toronto Consulate – and sample some of the finest culinary and bottled wares Scotland have to offer. It was also a pleasure to support the work the National Trust is doing for heritage Scottish properties (most of which, it seems, Mary Queen of Scots stayed in at some point!). Many thanks to our Scottish, British, and Canadian colleagues for a memorable evening and a fantastic experience in the office – I know both Belinda and I had an enriching and enjoyable time.

Craig’s Mini Placement with Sponsor: British Consulate in Toronto

I’ve had a great first week at the British Consulate-General. Not only is the office conveniently located (with spectacular views from the 28th floor), everyone who works there has been warm and welcoming. It was nice to meet everyone who works in the office – a smaller team than I was expecting for the work they do. And it’s been interesting seeing some of the dynamics of how the cross-Canada network (the High Commission in Ottawa, consulates in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and a trade office in Calgary) functions. I’m also quite excited about the project I’ll be working on over the next month, in addition to whatever urgent needs develop! It’s definitely going to be a memorable experience.