Zac Smith's First Month on The Hill

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.



2017 Jaimie's Intern: Joudy Sarraj

Joudy studies International Relations and Ethics, Society and Law at the University of Toronto. She is interested in policy innovation, public-private partnerships, and global governance in a changing world. Joudy is drawn to Ottawa by a desire to learn about the foundations of national and international Canadian policy through practice, and to see how government can balance accountability to constituents with strides forward towards innovation and change.

Joudy has worked on reform of the humanitarian sector as a Research Intern at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. At U of T, she has been involved in research on Canada in Afghanistan, the evolution of the responsibility to protect principle in the Middle East, and G7 commitments on international cooperation to counter-terrorism. She is President of the Hart House Debates Committee and Head of Non-Resident Affairs at Trinity College. She is passionate participant in several refugee support initiatives, serving as an interpreter with Lifeline Syria in Toronto, and assisting with supplementary educational programming at Small Projects, an NGO for urban refugees in central Istanbul.



2017 Jaimie's Intern: Nicole Spadotto

Nicole Spadotto is a native Torontonian completing her final year at McGill University in Joint Honours Political Science and English, with a minor in History. While at McGill, Nicole has earned many awards for scholarly merit and has had journalistic and academic papers published. Nicole is passionate about civil activism and international affairs, and has facilitated fundraising campaigns for the Native Women’s Shelter in Montreal and to build an all-girls school in Sierra Leone. Nicole has also represented McGill athletically, winning the Canadian University National Championship in 2014 while playing varsity hockey with the McGill Martlets. 

Prior to being a Jaimie’s Intern, Nicole worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers where she analyzed global and Canadian data to help develop a salient report on the Canadian utilities sector. Nicole also interned at TELUS, where she worked intensively with multilingual, multicultural campaigns and with the legal team. In September, Nicole will be entering law school in Canada where she hopes to build a career centered around human rights, refugee law, and foreign relations.



2017 Jaimie's Intern: Zac Smith

Zac Smith is currently finishing his Honours BA in Political Science from the University of King's College, Halifax. Throughout his undergraduate degree, Zac had studied political institutions and how they are perceived by the citizens they serve.

Academically and throughout his life, Zac is deeply engaged with the issues facing Canada's Aboriginal peoples.

Passionate about the Canadian North, Zac has canoed from Yellowknife, NWT to Baker Lake, NU. Last summer he worked in Arviat, Nunavut, where he was a literacy camp counsellor with Frontier College. In addition, he has been a research assistant for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a tree planter.

During his spare time, Zac volunteers with new Canadians and inmates to improve their literacy skills. He also draws great stick people. 

Zac is absolutely thrilled and deeply honoured to have been chosen as one of this year's Jaimie Anderson Parliamentary Interns.



Jaimie's Intern Jeremy Ryant summarizes his time on the hill

One thing has become apparent to me after spending four months interning on Parliament Hill. There is no “I” in “Government”. In other words, I have learned that politics is a team sport and that representing the public will is not something that can be achieved by any person alone. Instead, my time in Marco Mendicino’s office has shown me that effective governing requires people to work together; to constantly communicate, coordinate, and cooperate with one another.

The notion that politics is a team sport has been demonstrated to me time and time again over the past several weeks. From constantly liaising with staff in Marco’s Constituency Office, to organizing events, to crafting speeches, to doing research assignments, Marco and his staff have allowed me to witness the power that a group of dedicated people possess when they work together towards a shared goal.

And work we did. A particular highlight of being part of team Marco has been learning how to work effectively in a variety of new and, at times, unfamiliar settings. In mid-July, for instance, I was tasked with organizing a Climate Change Town Hall in Marco’s riding, Eglinton-Lawrence (colloquially referred to as ‘EgLaw’). The Town Hall was particularly interesting to help organize because it allowed me to see how deeply the residents of EgLaw care for their community. The Town Hall also gave me an idea of how much work is involved in bringing people together; and more importantly of how much a community benefits when its members are given the chance to engage with their elected representatives in robust discussion and respectful debate. It has been through spending time in Marco’s riding that I have seen democracy at work and become familiar with a once unfamiliar corner of Canada – and for that I will always be grateful.

I have also been lucky enough to interact with a larger parliamentary team throughout my experience. Beyond forging wonderful relationships with a number of MPs and their staff, I have had the chance to meet with a few big names from “Team Journalism” and “Team Bureaucracy”. Together, by interacting with people from different professional backgrounds and skillsets, I have gotten a holistic taste of what it means to devote one’s self to public service. I have learned that “Team Hill Office” cannot operate without “Team Constituency Office” and vice versa; that “Team House of Commons” relies “Team Journalism”; and that “Team Government” works alongside “Team Opposition” more than one might think. Indeed, my internship experience has illustrated to me the importance of teamwork in serving the public.