Parliamentary Internship Updates
March 26, 2021
Dr. Alexander Kostenko
First of all, I was very surprised to see the extent to which I, as an intern, can contribute to the messaging and positions of my MP’s office. Although there are several core issues on which MPs focus personally, people in the office have the ability to educate the MP on issues important to them and to encourage the office to take appropriate positions (which I did with respect to Magnitsky sanctions against Crimean occupation authorities). Secondly, I saw how “casework” – the work of our office to respond to issues raised by our constituents – can influence policy. For example, the large number of people contacting our office about internet problems (which have only been exacerbated by COVID-19) led to our office focusing much of our activities on improving high-speed internet in our riding. As simple and naïve as it seems, both of these things really illustrate that our system is democratic to its core – at every step of the way, its success depends on people speaking up and doing what is right.
I get to my MP’s office (in the Confederation building, a stone’s throw away from the House of Commons) at about 9. Over the course of the day I do everything from resolving issues from constituents, working with internet providers on improving broadband infrastructure, attending meetings or working groups, writing letters to relevant ministries and agencies, preparing social media posts, writing speeches or whatever else is needed. At some point in the day I come to the cafeteria, getting one of its delicious and affordable meals.
During the first half of my internship, especially with the stay-at-home order, covid meant that most of my work was done from home. Since the beginning of March, however, I have been in Ottawa, working in-person in the office (with necessary safety precautions, and with most meetings still being virtual). In addition, covid has changed the nature of requests our office gets from constituents: in normal times, the biggest problems would be regular immigration or CRA issues, but now we focus much more on questions of vaccines, CERB/CEWS, covid-related travel restrictions and more.
Due to the continuing spread of COVID-19, participating in this internship remotely had arrived with oddities and limitations. Because of this, I made sure to prepare in advance. I am currently interning for MP Daniel Blaikie. Since February, despite working online, his office continues to provide me with a wide array of options to learn and apply practical knowledge in politics. Having an academic background in politics and volunteerism has helped considerably.
Still, I know that there is much more to explore. For instance, I’m gaining more insight into the tangible political decisions that are made and eventually expand into policy and inform outreach. This is something that you cannot fully grasp in the classroom alone.
My workdays begin very early. At first, Saskatoon and Ottawa’s time difference was an hour; now, it’s two hours. Getting up around 6:00AM is not a problem that a couple cups of coffee cannot fix. At least the mornings are no longer -50 degrees. On the work side, Mr. Blaikie’s office has done a fabulous job of integrating me as a part of their team, first by introducing me to constituency outreach and numerous projects. I hope that once cases fall both in Saskatchewan and Ontario, I can head out to Ottawa safely. There, I expect to delve into more of the legislative and committee work that Mr. Blaikie is doing.
The pandemic’s impact on parliamentary work serves as a constant reminder of the struggles we all face. In addition to the legislative and committee work related to the pandemic, MP offices are heavily occupied with answering constituents’ concerns about benefits and the vaccine rollout. The lack of physical contact with my colleagues requires us to spend extra time checking in regularly via phone or e-mail. For that reason, maintaining cohesion between office staff, who might also work remotely, remains difficult but not impossible to navigate. Despite these challenges, my colleagues always keep in touch, which leads me to believe that, in the coming months, I have a caring and dependable team with whom I look forward to working.