Autumn 2001 issue, Volume 20, Number 3 of the The Canadian Studies Update had the following to say about the Canadian Parliament Internship Program:
The Canadian Parliament Internship program, which places students in the offices of members of Parliament, either the House of Commons or the Senate,
was formed more than 15 years ago by Helen Graves, a professor at the University of Michigan. When she retired in 1998, James Baker, a professor of
history... stepped up to take over the program after hearing about the opportunity at a Canadian studies roundtable. When Baker took over, the program was primarily targeted to University of Michigan students. Baker has since broadened the program and taken it nationwide. This past spring, Baker's fourth year of operating the program, interns came from nine different universities in seven different states.... Baker, who teaches a number of history courses, offers one course in Canadian history that is considered to be the keystone of [CPIP's] program.
In the four years that Baker has been handling the five-week program which runs from the end of May through June, he has collected names of Parliament
members, such as Bob Speller, Peter McKay, and David Kilgour, who have been particularly receptive to sponsoring interns and who understand that the
program's primary goal is education. Baker placed two interns in the Senate for the first time this year. He tries to place interns with all the parties if he can:
"That way they hear varying sides of the issues when they talk among themselves." Interns may request which party and what area of expertise the member
represents, and Baker makes every effort to fulfill each request. Interns may also be placed with the Assembly of First Nations. Baker generally places between 12 and 15 interns each year - this year he had twelve. Although it may seem odd for a member of Canadian Parliament to use an American intern, Baker notes, "It's an educational thing. They like Americans to learn more about Canada and this is a way of doing that."
Many of his interns are pre-law students or are interested in political science. Several have been mass communications majors, and Baker notes that those
who excel in communications work out well "because a lot of the work that they do in the offices has to do with communicating with constituents, answering
letters and things like that, so people who can write and who are good at communications are a good choice." Interns may be asked to answer constituency
mail, assist in writing and editing materials to be sent to the Member's riding, research issues of importance to the member, write a statement/question for
Question Period, write speeches, take constituents on tours of Parliament, digest newspapers and magazines, and do general office work. Being a Canadian studies minor or major is not a criterion for qualifying for the internship, as long as a student has an interest in international politics, says Baker. Although it's not an absolute, Baker prefers for interns to be at the end of their junior year. Students do have to have a strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member. In addition, they have to fill out a form indicating their accomplishments and provide a sample of something they've written. "I need to know that they can write well because so much of [the] work they do is correspondence," explains Baker.
Baker starts publicizing the program each September and soliciting applications in the fall for a winter decision on the spring placement. The number of
interns he can place is flexible and Baker says he would accept as many people who are qualified. The internship program is mainly publicized through other
Canadian studies professors or professors who are Canadianists around the country so that Baker can do a mass e-mailing. Baker also has a link on a web
site dedicated to summer programs and internship opportunities. Interns are unpaid for their work, which often entails long hours. The first weekend, before the interns begin working, Baker takes them around to various museums and other key sites for an orientation of the city. The program cost includes lodging at a University of Ottawa residence center with kitchen privileges.
Baker himself lives at the dorm during the duration of the program in order to provide oversight. He drops by the offices to make sure each intern is working
out and also takes each intern and the workers in each office out for lunch at least once during the program's duration. Baker will arrange for credit at each
student's university, which can range from three to six credit hours. He has also helped discover what each student's school might offer in terms of loans or
scholarships. Indiana University, notes Baker, gave half scholarships to two Indiana University students this year.
By being on site, Baker can resolve any problems and counsel interns. "I really haven't had too much trouble with anybody being misplaced yet," he says.
"But if that were to happen I could find a new office for them and keep everything straight." Baker tries to get every member of Parliament who hosts an
intern to speak before the entire group which invariably turns out to be a highlight for the interns. This last year eleven out of the twelve members had a
chance to talk. The major advantage of being in the internship program, emphasizes Baker, "is the ability to study a different form of democratic government. Both the Canadian and US government are democratic forms but they're very different and this is a good way to compare and contrast. Secondarily, it makes interns acquainted with Canadian issues and Canadian ways of doing things. I really feel that with NAFTA the opportunities are going to be much greater in the
future than ever before for people to either do business or law across the border. If this group of Americans can learn a lot about Canada they'll be in a good
position to take advantage of some of those opportunities later on."
Feedback from the interns has generally been positive. "I've discovered that it takes a year maybe for the students to realize the value of the program. It's
pretty hard work, it's a little bit of a strange circumstance. Sometimes when I ask them at the end they'll say, 'Well, it's been all right.' Then I'll get letters six
months or a year later in which they say they've begun to value their experiences, then they'll start writing and asking for letters of recommendation. Many of
them keep in touch with their offices and people back in Ottawa." Members of Parliament have been more quick to compliment the program. As Baker notes, interns arrive at a busy time, legislatively, "so a student who is aggressive can really jump right in and help them out a lot....Many of those students really make a contribution." Baker feels that the 2001 group was the best so far, due to the personality of the students, their enthusiasm as evidenced by the questions they asked, and their level of involvement. He believes that this indicates that the program is growing.
Baker is glad he has adopted the internship program. "For a long time I had taken students to Britain for summer studies, but it was with a large organization.
[I was attracted to the idea of] being my own boss, planning things, and being able to make changes without having to consult people all the time. I'd been to
Canada and I taught Canadian history and I enjoy being there. It's a very pleasant place to go and be."