By Ramna Shahzad
Eleven-hour work days, countless meetings and dozens of obligatory work events – it doesn’t sound like the ideal job to most people. But for the Queen’s Park interns, it’s a dream job.
The Ontario Legislature Internship Program (OLIP) is less like an internship and more like a full-time job. Ten graduates with exceptional academic and career backgrounds are placed in a demanding and fast-paced political environment where they become part of the inner workings of Queen’s Park.
Throughout the year, the interns provide support to MPPs as highly qualified assistants. Each intern is placed with two MPPs per year. These placements include everything from historical or political research, writing speeches, setting up meetings and attending events with major political figures. As political staffers at Queen’s Park, the interns attend many receptions and events, many specifically for the interns.
“To be able to go to a reception and speak to the Premier (Kathleen Wynne) or Tim Hudak or Andrea Horwath – it’s incredible the type of access we get,” says Aaron Denhartog, a current intern and York university political science graduate.
Taylor Lew says being and intern opens up a lot of doors. “During orientation, we had meetings with many accomplished people from diverse backgrounds. For example, we met with all the party leaders, the independent officers, and of course, our incredible sponsors,” says Lew, who has an honours BA in international relations from the University of Toronto. “It’s key to always have your business cards on hand.”
Becoming an intern is a highly competitive process, involving 200 to 250 applicants, who may hold degrees in various disciplines, such as history, journalism, English, philosophy and chemistry. They all share an interest in politics; they must all have and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the legislature, says Henry Jacek , the program’s director and the chair of the selection committee.
“We try not to give too much of an edge to masters students,” Jacek says. “But it’s getting harder because the number and quality of applicants who have masters degrees has gone up dramatically.” Usually, half of the successful interns have post-graduate degrees.
Mitchell Davidson attended the University of Western Ontario where he completed both his honours BA and master of arts degree in political science. He is a current intern who is in charge of recruitment for the next batch of interns, contacting schools to encourage students to apply. “One of the key things that the program wants is diversity,” he says. “You don’t want an internship program where only certain views or areas are represented. The idea is to take people from all walks of life.”
Andrea Ernesak , who was an intern in 2012-2013, says a benefit from the program is in the relationship-building. “It’s a tightknit group of people,” says Ernesak. “It’s an awesome professional network but we are all really close personally as well.”
An internship lasts a year – but it can be a ticket to an interesting career in politics.
In fact, Ernesak’s current position as the legislative assistant to Steven Del Duca, the MPP for Vaughan, was a result of her being hired full-time after her internship.
Igor Delov, who was an intern in 2008-2009, is an executive assistant at the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. He says the OLIP experience had a decisive impact on getting him his current job. “There’s a lot of crossover between the responsibilities that I have in my current position and the types of things I did as an OLIP intern. You could say it’s almost an extension of the type of work I did before.”
Leslie de Meulles, an intern in 2009-2010, says the internship led to her current job as senior policy adviser in the minister’s office of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. She interviewed her current employer, Michael Gravelle, for her academic research paper for the program, and kept an eye open for any openings in the office. “I wouldn’t have the job if it wasn’t for the internship.”
Other internship perks include taking trips to understand different legislation processes. These include Ottawa, Yellowknife and even Britain. The interns are paid $20,000 in stipends, plus additional payments when they complete a draft and final version of an academic paper.
Future plans for the current interns include everything from political staffing, teaching, more graduate studies, law school and even running for office. While nothing is certain, the OLIP experience helps the interns decide whether political staffing, Queen’s Park and politics in general is the right fit for them.
“I’m excited to come to work every day,” says Denhartog. “It might be a slow day but then there will be late breaking news, something will happen in the legislature and the office will go nuts.”
Davidson says the experience makes it very difficult to leave Queen’s Park. “The type of work we do, whether it’s writing speeches or attending meetings with stakeholders, is pretty meaningful,” he says, “it’s a relatively addictive place to be.”