By Annyse Hawkins
Ten months, ten interns, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience parliament during one of the most challenging periods the country has faced. The interns applied to the Programme while most of the country remained in lockdown, unaware whether or not public health restrictions would limit its capacity. Without any knowledge of how the PIP would be structured, ten individuals from across Canada chose to move to Ottawa and become the Programme’s 52nd cohort.
Since the start of the pandemic, adapting and adhering to public health recommendations and House of Commons protocols has become the basis for all PIP activities. The Programme has also prioritized the Interns’ individual concerns, asking us from the very first day what activities we would each be comfortable undertaking within the existing measures. In each case, the goal is to ensure that Interns feel safe in the Programme, and that no one feels at risk at any point.
The Programme orientation looked different than it had previously. Recognizing the severity of COVID-19, in person interactions were limited to situations with adequate social distancing and preventative measures were put in place to guarantee the interns’ health and safety. The House of Commons provided a special exception allowing the interns to spend the first two days of orientation in socially distanced in-person meetings. These sessions were immensely helpful for us to get to know each other and the Programme Director. For the rest of the orientation, Zoom meetings provided the opportunity to meet with House of Commons employees, members of Senate, and honorary guests to gain a better understanding of parliament and the legislative process.
Interns completed their sponsor placements through a hybrid mixture of in-person and virtual activities. Working on Parliament Hill then quickly became a reality as Members of Parliament made their way back to Ottawa from their constituencies in November. While following House of Commons protocols, the Interns were able to experience life on the Hill in MPs’ offices in much the same way the interns before them have. We also attended several in-person events, including the Speaker’s Welcome Luncheon for the Interns and their host MPs and the Equal Voice Foundation Gala honouring the 100th anniversary of the election of the first woman MP (both in December).
In line with public health measures and House of Commons protocols, the PIP has responded to the rise of Omicron by moving to remote work until the situation improves. In addition getting back to life on the Hill, interns are looking forward to the possibility of in-person legislative study tours later in the spring.
The Parliamentary Internship Programme may look different than it had five years ago, but the opportunity afforded to ten individuals from around Canada remains the same. Ten interns have the once in a lifetime opportunity to work closely with Members of Parliament in a non-partisan position and gain a deeper upstanding of the role of a public servant. We hope that future interns will have the opportunity to experience life on the hill in-person, but regardless of whether virtual or not, it is an experience you will never forget.