Berthier-Maskinongé is a rural riding that sits between Montreal and Quebec City on the St. Lawrence river and it’s a place I didn’t know too much about before the start of my internship.
As a student of international relations, I chose to pursue this internship specifically to remedy my lack of experience in Canadian politics and to gain an understanding of the minutia of policy making through real experience in legislative affairs, while also potentially learning about some new places and people. It’s fitting then, that the thematic focus of Ruth’s work as the NDP Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food was also relatively elusive to me. A week into the internship, I found myself immersed in the policy foundations of farming, and trying to learn about everything from environmental resilience programs, to federal-provincial partnerships and investment for agricultural growth.
Communities like Bertheir- Maskinongé, along with 338 others, play an integral role in the legislative system of Canada, quite literally providing the infrastructure of seats for regional representatives to fill.
I quickly learned that this relationship is not so simple. MPs who represent Canada’s communities are supported by staffers, reported on by the press, draw on research from public servants, shape their position based on consultations from constituents, and anchor their activities closely in line with those of their political party. Still, they influence, and are influenced, by so many more people. Policy is complicated, and people are in the trenches, working along lines of difference to make the right decisions and find meaningful impact.
That’s why I really appreciate the way this internship provides the opportunity to meet people, whether its stakeholders at the office, or Ministers who you quite literally run into in the hallways or at frequent receptions and garden parties. The conversations organized by the internship board are especially fascinating and curated in a way to make you really think about what the idea of personal relationships in politics mean. I particularly enjoyed meeting MP Marco Mendocino and Minister Scott Brison and of course the Prime Minister!
It turns out the divide between the familiar and unfamiliar is very thin and that I know much more about agriculture than I had initially thought. Connected closely to issues like Canadian trade, industry, environment, and health, agriculture is incredibly important. The concerns of Canadians and constituents like dairy and lumber producers about NAFTA have made my work particularly interesting and my awareness of the importance of politics very acute. What’s more, is that farming is a very personal, family-driven practice where connections to land and labour have deep roots – something to keep in mind as I work with a highly organized agricultural community that fights to protect its interests.
In addition to my work researching major policy issues like NAFTA and CETA, writing questions for question period, dealing with correspondence, and attending technical briefings, I am responsible for helping to prepare Ruth Ellen for Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee. She is Co-Chair of the Committee, where cordial relationships and an easy non-partisan effort allows parliamentarians to engage in serious research studies and initiatives, like when the Committee recently travelled to Washington to speak with Congressmen and Senators about the merits of NAFTA. For Agriculture Committee, I have had the opportunity to prepare questions for the Auditor General, break down the budget to understand how agricultural financing is doing, meet witnesses representing industries from all over Canada, research debt and financial sustainability, identify steps forward for Canada to remove non-tariff trade barriers with its existing and emerging trade partners, and investigate payment protections insurance schemes for Canadian exporters.
Something curios has happened to me while doing this work. I am seemingly incapable of removing myself from the 24-hour news cycle. Every morning I am responsible for creating a press review and sending it to our team. Having the responsibility to comb through the media and follow up daily has probably contributed to this, but being on the Hill and wanting to know more about every cool meeting that is happening in my building, press conference announcing something historic, or landmark speech like Minister Freeland’s on foreign affairs, has contributed to my obsession too. We have been lucky to get a real sense of media operations and the creation of the news, with visits to newscasts in Ottawa including CBC’s Power and Politics with Rosemary Barton and Global’s National News with Vassy Kapelos. Being there on Canada Day steps away from Peter Mansbridge as he said his last words as a broadcaster were also pretty special. I am fascinated by the cyclical nature of the relationship between the press and politicians, and just how much they rely on each other’s work.
I feel extremely lucky that my first foray into Canadian politics has been as a Jaimie’s Intern. Hard work, graciousness, and good public service are principles unquestionably embodied in this internship and the people who are a part of it. I will always be thankful for the way this internship has genuinely motivated me to stay connected and involved in Canadian politics in the future and to understand the roots of Canada’s position in the world not just through practice from abroad, but right here at home.