I took a trip to Queens University last week with OCUFA’s Senior Policy Analyst Karen Wheeler, who also chairs OCUFA’s Status of Women committee. We were on a “listening tour,” to visit the university campus and to speak with women academic staff, librarians, and faculty about the challenges they faced as women at the university. I was surprised to hear how many barriers women in the workforce continue to face, even the smart and professional women I was able to meet on the tour. Most of all, I was surprised at myself. After three years in a university setting, I was still unable to recognize the power relations present in that environment and the impact these relations have on equity. Kingston was also beautiful; it was nice to be out of the city for a little while and to walk along the water. All in all, I have learned a great deal from the tour, and a few life lessons I hope to take with me when I enter the workforce.
Back in the city, I was right downtown again in no time. On Saturday , I attended OCUFA’s annual Teaching Awards luncheon at the Fairmount Royal York. It was inspiring to hear from professors who love sharing their subject area with their students and are committed to building classrooms that help their students to excel. The citations read about the recipients was my favourite part of the event; it was great to hear the anecdotes that brought to life each recipients unique teaching style. The award is a reminder that teaching at universities should be recognized and rewarded when it is done well; after all, it is not easy. I also loved the lunch, the soup in particular. If anyone says there is no such thing as a free lunch, then they haven’t been an OLIP intern.
On Friday, 7 of us made the long trip out to Scarborough to visit the Elections Ontario office while it is full swing. We met with Loren Wells and Greg Essensa, Deputy Chief and Chief Electoral Officers for the Province of Ontario. We learned about the details of administering the Election’s Act and the Election’s Finance Act, and were blown away by how much Elections Ontario is responsible for – from hiring 80,000 people on election day to ordering the pencils used to mark ballots. We were able to realize the scale of an election in a province as big as Ontario; the Office sent off 58 18-wheeler trucks to distribute election material and receives over 5,000 election-related questions at its call center each day. Ms. Wells and Mr. Essensa shared their vision for Elections Ontario, which aims to put the voters at the centre of the process and to make voting as easy and accessible as possible. The Office arranges home voting for those who are disabled, and will be piloting online voting in the coming year. It was also interesting to learn about the Office’s “Minority Strategy,” their plan of action in the event that there is a minority government and an election can be called any day. Finally, it was great to learn from the Electoral Officer’s themselves, who have extensive experience overseeing elections across Canada and internationally.
Meeting with Dr. Cavoukian was definitely a highlight of our Orientation. It was a blur of a meeting; she was in and out in 20 minutes but left us all feeling inspired by her vision for proactive privacy. Dr. Cavoukian framed the discussion on privacy in terms of freedom and the right to control how one’s personal information is used. She shared her vision for ‘Privacy by Design,’ a framework to encourage companies to guarantee privacy for users as a default setting. What was truly amazing was how Dr. Cavoukian has taken her mandate on a provincial level to a global scale, working on the international level to change trends in data ownership and surveillance. We also learned about ‘Privacy by Re-Design,’ a model to transform existing systems into ones that respect individual privacy, as well as Access by Design,’ whereby public information would be made accessible to all in order to encourage open government. The Commissioner and her office are clearly on the cutting edge of privacy and information issues, and she certainly challenged us all to think in innovative ways about informational self-determination.
On September 14th, we met with Patrick Kennedy, Government Affairs director for CIBC. Our talk with Patrick was very informative and down to earth. It was great to speak with someone who pretty recently was in our position, starting out and trying to find their place in the public sphere.
Patrick gave us great insight into the job of a government relations expert, some of the issues that matter to the banking sector, and the importance of choosing a career you are skilled at and enjoy. Most importantly, Patrick’s talk showed us why GR is important to educating decision-makers on complex policy issues.
A valuable insight we drew from Patrick’s talk was the importance of understanding the structure of political systems and rather than the who’s who. We hope this year will give us the wide angle on Queens Park that will allow us to really understood how government works and how policy flows through the system.
Last week, we had a chance to sit down with Ted Wigdor and Puneet Luthra of the Certified General Accountants (CGA). For many of us the meeting was our first foray into the world of accounting. We realized that while accounting may appear a little dry on the surface, the concerns of accounting associations are actually very interesting and important to the development of policy. We also learned of the important role played by stakeholders in promoting regulation they judge to be in the public interest as informed by their particular expertise.
One of the most valuable aspects of the meeting was the personal mentorship we recieved from Ted and Puneet on the skills we will need to succeed at Queens Park. Puneet emphasized the importance of knocking on doors, talking to people, and never being afraid to ask for meetings with MPP’s or future employers. Ted gave us advice on how to get into Government Relations work and how to choose a masters program that would prepare us for work in the field if we choose it.
Lastly, we have to thank the CGA not only for their sponsorship but also for inviting us out to lunch! The advice and insight was great but topped only by the chocolate chip cookies!
This past week has been an exciting whirlwind. Its been great meeting with so many knowledgeable individuals and to learn about the politics of this province through their eyes. I have a longstanding interest in media so it has been particularly interesting to hear from former Queens Park reporters such as Jim Coyle and Murray Campbell. At the same time, I have been introduced to many new viewpoints through meetings with polling, business, and GR professionals, as well as various stakeholders.
One of the most important insights from the first week has been the value of collegiality and cooperation in the policy process. We’ve had the opportunity to hear from a wide-range of individuals from across party lines who care deeply about good government and the development of policy that benefits Ontarians. I found their willingness to listen, collaborate, and compromise on various issues inspiring and a reminder of why its important to hold even those who disagree with you in esteem.
But by far the most captivating part of the first week has been just trying to get a feel of Queens Park, of the people and personalities that make the legislature what it is, and the culture of its political life. So far I’ve picked up only pieces of the picture, some contradictory and others consistent. I look forward to the return of MPP’s to the Park and the chance to understand the subtleties of the place as the year progresses.