Full disclosure, I was nervous as I boarded my train from Toronto to Ottawa one morning in early May. Beginning my journey as a Jaimie Anderson Parliamentary Intern, I set out unsure of what this summer would bring. The internship is the first office job I’ve had. Prior to this summer, my workplaces have had more mosquitos than managers, and here I was working for people who I knew only from the national news. But as the kilometers clicked by, the anxious turmoil somewhat abated as excitement took its place.
As an avid observer of Canadian politics for as long as I remember, words like prorogation came into my vocabulary long before they had any business being there. Finally, I would be in a place where their use would be met with more than a suspicion that I was trying to invent new medical terms. By the time I reached Kingston I was looking up the House schedule for the upcoming week, trying to plan which question periods I would most like to sit in on. But I restrained the bulk of my excitement until we had passed by, knowing that it might be insensitive to think about the national capital while in an ex-national capital. Blame the Americans, Kingston.
The train rolled into the station in Ottawa and I rolled off. Soon after, Joudy, Nicole, and myself were standing in Bruce Anderson and Nancy Jamieson’s kitchen along with the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications Kate Purchase. It sunk in that we were about to dive into Canadian politics from the deep end, albeit with some pretty good lifeguards standing by. Sure enough, showing up to my first day of work in MP Erin O’Toole’s Office was a bit surreal. Erin’s legislative assistant Mary, who met me my first morning and has since kindly helped me figure out life on the Hill, told me: “In this job, it’s best to figure things out by doing them.”
I’ve tried to heed that advice and immerse myself in Hill life as much as possible. Over the past month, I have taken notes on court cases about Indigenous rights and trolled the Hansard in preparation for speeches on marijuana legalization and the budget. I’ve sat in on the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs as they discussed eliminating gender discrimination from the Indian Act, and have toured around the CBC with Rosie Barton and Chris Hall. (I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much, I was a bit star struck. Listening to CBC’s The House is a high point of my weekends).
Over the past month, the other interns and I have gotten used to the job together and helped each other out. Question: how do I find the parliamentary lobby? Do we have to RSVP to the wine and cheese in Centre Block after work? From walking past senators to watching Senators’ games, the small size of the programme has meant Joudy, Nicole and I have really gotten to know each other. Thank you both, to Bruce and Nancy, and to past interns, who have all made this job a political junkie’s dream.
After my short time on the Hill, I am struck by the enormous amount of work that is required to keep the gears of governance turning. Behind each MP is an army of smart, dedicated people who make sure that speeches are ready, meetings are kept, and constituent letters are answered.
While I have never thought being a Member of Parliament is a cakewalk, working on the Hill has also showed me the amount of dedication that is required to do this job. Early mornings, late nights, constant surprises, and a constituency to go back to on the weekends, the life of an MP is constant motion. Watching question period shenanigans may not always instill confidence in our representatives, but firsthand exposure to the hard work of parliamentarians of all political stripes in committee and off-camera has certainly been reassuring. In particular, the energy, respect, and thoughtfulness Erin brings to his job has been amazing to see.
As the House prepares to rise in the coming weeks, many of the parliamentarians probably look with exhausted anticipation towards the respite from their non-stop schedule. I can’t help but feel slightly indignant. I just got here! Part of me wants to knock on the door of the Speaker’s office and motion to keep the House going throughout the summer. Yes, Mr. Speaker, I know I’m just an intern. I know I can’t do that. But consider it, okay?
At the same time, I am looking forward to delving into research projects this summer (stay tuned) and going back to Durham to explore the riding in person. The beauty of the internship is it gives you an excellent sense of the whole job of an MP, from house duty to constituency work. Jumping from one amazing experience to another, I can’t help but look eagerly forward.