By Eleanor Harvey
Coming into the GreenPAC Parliamentary internship, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My education is almost exclusively in ecology and evolutionary biology, meaning that I could happily tell you about biostatistics, conservation, and natural selection, but not about how a law is made in Canada. However, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated that politicians refuse to incorporate the increasingly grim climate change predictions into their political machinations.
I decided that in order to be the most effective environmental changemaker I could be, I needed to understand what the barriers were to creating environmental legislation. And what better way to gain such an understanding than by spending a year in the thick of government!
Interning on the Hill
Because I am deeply committed to environmental stewardship and conservation, I naturally gravitated towards Green politics and found myself placed in the office of Ms. Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands for the GreenPAC Parliamentary Internship. As you might imagine, Ms. May’s office is fast-paced, efficient, and full of other young idealistic folks like myself. So, even though the content of what I was doing was new, the workplace environment was comfortably familiar.
The political world soon wrapped me up so completely that I quickly forgot just how insane a typical day can be for an MP and her staff. When I’m not running between countless meetings and receptions with Ms. May, I’m writing and doing research. And then all of a sudden, last-minute votes will be called and the day’s trajectory completely changes.
But interning on the Hill doesn’t always feel like work – I personally find it very fun to ride around in the shuttles that carry Parliamentarians and their staff back and forth between Parliamentary buildings. These shuttles are strange microcosms of Hill life that almost remind me of riding an elementary school bus – everyone knows everyone, and tongue-in-cheek comments abound. It was also incredibly fun to be able to give tours of Centre Block (not only to Ms. May’s guests, but also to my own friends and family) before it closed for renovations, and I have thoroughly enjoyed spending countless hours with the other interns in the Hill cafeterias gossiping about politics.
Since I joined Ms. May’s office in September, I have learned so much – about leadership, politics, communication, and about Canada. By writing correspondence to Ms. May’s constituents and assisting her at Parliamentary meetings, I have learned how to communicate about controversial topics in a political environment. By attending Parliamentary committees and receptions, I have gained an appreciation of the partisan and complicated nature of all interactions in Ottawa. By organizing events on the Hill, I now understand just how complicated it can be to accomplish even seemingly small tasks in a bureaucracy. By observing various events and scandals, I have learned how the media interacts with political issues and politicians. Finally, I have learned what the day-to-day life of an MP looks like, and what to expect if I ever decide to run for office.
I have also learned a great deal from Ms. May herself, her staff, and the other GreenPAC interns. They have shown me that energy and motivation is all about attitude – it’s not magic. Any seemingly insurmountable situation can be tackled, and any endless day can be tolerable if it is approached with the right attitude. They have also showed me the importance of taking time to pursue your own interests outside of work, because it’s easy to let the job rule your life if you let it.
Probably my favourite part of this internship so far has been the opportunity to meet and work with so many amazing people. I have formed friendships with many of the people I’ve met this year that I value very much, and that I’m sure will outlast this internship. In particular, I have very much enjoyed working with the other GreenPAC interns to produce a podcast about changemakers in the environmental movement. This experience has been especially gratifying, as we are using what we have learned and we are working with the people we have met to create something that we can share with the world.
You can read about politics in books and go to as many talks as you like, but there’s really no better way to learn what it’s all about than by spending a year on the Hill. This internship also has the capacity to springboard you right into the political scene, as lived experience on the Hill is a valuable and much sought-after asset here.
Although it has been tough at times, this internship has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I think that all future leaders need to familiarize themselves with the spaces where change happens, whether they be in politics, business, or advocacy. This internship has been an opportunity to become familiar with all three spaces, and I encourage any young people passionate about the environment and politics to spend a year on the Hill and learn how things work in Canada’s central hub of decision-making.