Michael Smith, a recent MA graduate from the University of Victoria, is approaching the school-to-work transition confident that he has the skills employers are looking for.
He is currently participating in the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme (OLIP), a program that gives recent graduates an up-close and personal look at Ontario’s political process from September through June.
“You get to see how a political party makes decisions, and that is an incredibly valuable skill, as many companies are looking for someone with an understanding of government functions.”
—Michael Smith, Intern, Ontario Legislature Internship Programme
Keep reading to learn more about the program, what it entails, and Michael’s recommendations for future applicants.
If you’re interested in a career in politics or public service, this interview is a must-read!
Q. What’s your educational background?
A. I have an Honours B.A. in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario and an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Victoria. However, a master’s degree is not a requirement to participate in the program, an undergraduate degree is sufficient.
Q. What is OLIP?
A. In the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme, interns spend 10 months working for Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
They spend half their time working for an MPP from the governing political party, and the other half with an MPP from one of the opposition parties. In this way, the programme is non-partisan and is not affiliated with any one political party.
The interns support the MPPs in every way except campaigning/soliciting donations for the political party. Our duties can include drafting legislation, writing research papers, composing speeches and press releases, handling stakeholder meetings, writing questions for question period, and assisting citizens with issues they have with government.
Throughout the year, we also have the opportunity to sit down and speak with many important public figures (former premiers, the mayor of Toronto, etc.), as well as take comparative educational trips to other legislatures around North America and the world.
We also complete a research essay, which we present at the annual Canadian Political Science Association Conference. It is a paid internship, with each intern receiving $20,000 for the 10 month period, as well as an additional $1,000 for successful completion of the essay.
Q. What is the OLIP application process like?
A. OLIP solicits applications from across the country. You do not have to be a Canadian citizen, however you do have to be a graduate of a Canadian university and you have to be legally entitled to work in Canada.
The application begins with a written submission that includes academic transcripts, a cover letter, three letters of reference (two of which have to be from professors you have studied under) and a statement of interest that describes what you think you will get out of OLIP. The application is assessed on academic excellence, a demonstrable knowledge and interest in politics, and personal maturity.
A degree in political science or public administration is not a requirement, and students of all academic backgrounds apply (however, as a knowledge and interest in politics is a necessity, these disciplines tend to dominate the applicant pool.)
The deadline for submission is at the end of February each year, and OLIP typically receives over 100 applicants a year. From these, 24 are chosen for a personal interview in late April/early May, with 8-10 of these being offered an internship.
This year, I had the chance to serve as the intern representative on the hiring committee for next year, and was very impressed at the calibre of applicants.
Q. What has your own experience in the program been like?
A. I had the chance to work for Dave Levac, the Liberal MPP for Brant and the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Energy. I also worked for John Yakabuski, Progressive Conservative MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, House Leader for the Official Opposition and PC Party Energy Critic.
This insider look at the political process cannot be found anywhere else. It teaches you how policy-making works in a way that your university degree never could.
You get to see how a political party makes decisions, and that is an incredibly valuable skill, as many companies are looking for someone with an understanding of government functions.
I also sharpened my research and communication skills, learned how to build professional relationships with stakeholders and interest groups, and got an intensive education in something that has always been of interest to me: the formal procedure of parliamentary government.
Through my placements I also learned a lot about energy policy in Ontario, something I knew nothing of before but now find quite interesting, and hope to use in a future career.
The comparative trips have also been incredible, as we learned how other jurisdictions operate, some of which are vastly different than our own. This year we got to travel to Ottawa, Quebec City, Yellowknife (an experience like no other) and will be travelling to London, England, in a few weeks.
OLIP has served as an amazing transition from school to professional life, and I am confident it has given me the skills to succeed. Graduates of the program have since established themselves in a variety of esteemed positions in government, business, journalism, law and academia.
Q. Any recommendations for students looking to apply next year?
A. Three big things:
1. Make sure you can really demonstrate a knowledge and interest in politics. Use your statement of interest to prove that Ontario’s public life is something you care about. Read the newspaper!
2. Show personal maturity. We’re looking for experience in your cover letter that proves you’re level-headed and capable of handling responsibility. We want to give positions to people that we know can handle it and that will make the most of the opportunity.
3. Be as non-partisan as possible. As mentioned, the program has the support of all political parties, and interns will work for two parties in their time at Queen’s Park.
It is therefore vital, both for your own experience and for the integrity of the program, that you are seen as trustworthy and independent. While being a member of a political party does not preclude you from being an intern, heavy involvement with a party will be a hindrance because it casts doubts on your ability to be neutral, to work for a different party and keep their secrets.
During your time as an intern you will be expected to never reveal your own personal political leanings. So, without falsifying your application, use your application to prove that partisanship (if you have one) doesn’t define you.