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Ms. Smith goes to Ottawa: Student Laura Smith to spend 10 months as parliamentary intern

Laura Smith. Image: Stephanie Lake

Laura Smith will spend the fall in Ottawa interviewing MPs.

No, she’s not a high-level headhunter; she’s a U of T Scarborough student accepted to the prestigious parliamentary internship program in Ottawa.

One of 10 students nationwide selected by the Canadian Political Science Association, which administers the program, Smith and her colleagues will interview MPs interested in their skills before choosing a staff to join. Her tasks will include research, policy analysis, committee monitoring and speechwriting.

“It’s a chance to put what one has learned in the classroom — in a course on Canadian politics, for example — into practice,” says Professor Grace Skogstad of political science. “Students invariably discover that what we are teaching them in the classroom does have considerable relevance for daily political life.

It was time spent doing international development work abroad that sparked Smith’s interest in the political scene at home. As part of the co-op program in international development studies, she spent 10 months working on AIDS, agriculture and nutrition projects in a hospital in Malawi.

“I saw what a democratic government that couldn’t function was like,” she says of her time in Africa. “It made me appreciate a lot more what we have in Canada. Short-term development projects are necessary, she says, but at the same time, “concrete action and policy change in industrialized countries is important. It’s a matter of petitioning your own government. The world is not going to become more equal until Canadians recognize their position of privilege in the world.”

Smith will graduate this month with a major in political science, in addition to a specialist in international development studies. She credits a teaching assistant and a professor with sparking her interest in politics and in the parliamentary internship program.

“Laura is an exceptional student who combines a keen intellectual curiosity with a desire to make a difference for people less fortunate than herself,” Skogstad notes.

In addition to working for MPs, Smith will attend weekly seminars on topics related to Parliament. She and the other interns will spend part of the year visiting another parliament as part of an exchange program designed to give them a broader perspective on the Canadian system. Past cohorts have visited parliaments in places as far flung as Nunavut and Belgium.

Following in the tradition of recent high profile political defections, Smith will cross the floor halfway though her internship: she’s required to work for two MPs from different parties.

“It will challenge my ability to be non-partisan. I’m a pretty political person. It will be hard to work with someone whose views I don’t agree with. I may have to write speeches that are difficult for me to write. But I’m looking forward to it. It will be a good exercise in diplomacy.”

Smith is pondering several career options and is thinking about graduate studies in law, planning or public administration. “I’m just looking forward to soaking up as much as I can. I don’t think that politics is what I want to do with my life forever but I think it will be incredible to see how it works and if lobbying and advocacy is what I want to get into. It’s so important to know how the system works.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough