Political Intern

Donna Mandeville, 25, is originally from Yellowknife, NWT. She has an honours degree in history from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where she also studied political science and women's studies. She also has a master's degree in history from the University of Victoria. She was a parliamentary intern in the Ottawa office of member of Parliament (MP) Dr. Carolyn Bennett, who represents the urban riding of St. Paul's in Toronto, and also worked for a member of the Canadian Alliance.

Stephanie: What was your job, and how did you get into that position? What do you want to do eventually?
I was an intern in a federal member of Parliament's office. My position was with the Parliamentary Internship Programme, whose Web site can be found at http://www.pip-psp.org. Each year 10 post-graduate students (each with at least one university degree) are selected to come to Ottawa and work on Parliament Hill. To be selected, applicants must speak both official languages, and have an interest in parliamentary procedure and current events.

Eventually, I would like to run for public office. During my time on the Hill, I was struck by the small numbers of young MPs, MPs who are women, and MPs who are visible minorities. I think it is extremely important that we have a Parliament that represents Canada.

Stephanie: What kinds of things could you move on to with the experience you have gained as an intern?
Former interns have gone on to do many things: many enter law school or graduate school and are established laywers and academics. Many enter the civil service. Perhaps the two most famous alumni from the Parliamentary Internship Programme are Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the current MP from Winnipeg North Centre, and Jeffrey Simpson, the national affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail. Both got their starts in this programme.

Stephanie: What did you like about your job?
I loved the variety of tasks that an intern gets to tackle. As interns, we were expected to shadow the MPs who we worked for, which means we got to see what an MP does. We accompanied them to meetings, which generally also entailed helping them prepare for these meetings. We did research, wrote speeches that were read in the House, helped formulate questions to be asked during daily question period, helped prepare our members for committees and also helped the office run smoothly by lending a hand with administrative details.

As well as working with our members, the 10 interns also worked as a group to organize a series of study trips to provincial and territorial legislatures in Canada, as well as to the US and abroad. We also received interns from other similar programs, and were responsible for organizing their time in Ottawa. Each intern also had to write a research paper and attend weekly seminars where we discussed readings that helped us better understand our parliamentary system. Getting to work so closely with these other nine accomplished, dedicated and brilliant young Canadians was also a highlight of this experience.

Stephanie: What was your least favourite part of the job?
I think that one of the most challenging aspect of this job was how busy we were! There was so much to do - many evenings were taken up by receptions, meetings, etc.

It was also sometimes challenging to work in a very partisan place, and to remain non-partisan. As interns, and because we switched from working with an opposition member to a government member or vice versa, it was sometimes be hard to remain outside the political wrangling that goes on. However, our programme has been in existence for over 30 years and is well respected by the Parliamentarians themselves, and so our non-partisan nature is not generally a problem. Most MPs consider themselves extremely lucky to have a qualified assistant to help out in their office!

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a politician or intern?
Get involved in the political process! Volunteer to work on someone's election campaign. Get involved with the youth wing of a political party. As a teenager in Yellowknife, I was a part of the Young Liberal Association and attended two national conventions in Ottawa. This provided me with a wonderful look at what party politics was all about, and fed my belief that we can make a difference. Political parties need young people, and the political process in general needs more young voices and ideas. We can help shape public policy!

Party politics are not the only way to make a difference. Volunteer with a community group, or a non-government organization. Just get involved!

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be an intern? What kind of education did you get?
To be an intern, one must have a university degree. Although this programme was once only open to those who had studied political science, any graduate, regardless of background, may now apply. This year, there were parliamentary interns with such diverse academic backgrounds as history, contemporary German studies, psychology, indigenous governance, political analysis, English and French literature, and international political economy, as well as political science.

I have an honours bachelor's degree in Canadian history from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where I also studied political science and women's studies. I also have a master's degree in history from the University of Victoria.

Stephanie: What is your favourite book, and why?
I loved the book Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. It is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read, and has it all: love, loss, history and characters that come alive on the page.

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