Randall B. Ripley - Emeritus Professor - Department of Political Science - Ohio State University - November 2007
CANADIAN PARLIAMENTARY INTERNSHIP PROGRAM: THE PERSPECTIVE FROM OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
[Prepared at the request of the American Political Science Association]
One “overseas” location for political science students to gain some real world experience that sharpens their understanding of politics in general is
usually overlooked: Canada.
Particularly for students with some knowledge of and interest in American politics Canada provides a natural and wonderful comparative laboratory.
Students can explore a number of institutional arrangements for governing that are different from those in the United States: a Parliamentary system; more
than two national parties who elect members of Parliament; a very loose federalism with provinces more powerful than American states; spotty articulation
between federal parties and provincial parties; a written Constitution only 25 years old that, among other things, suddenly elevated the Supreme Court to a
position as a major interpreter of rights and freedoms; and, of course, a linguistic minority, primarily in Quebec, that is much more potent politically than
linguistic minorities in the United States. They can also make comparisons between major national policies in areas such as health care, same-sex
marriage, taxation, foreign policy, and immigration.
I have long been interested in Canadian politics. But, for a variety of reasons, I did nothing about that interest for many years except read and add
occasional footnotes to studies of various aspects of American politics noting different Canadian practice and experience. In a brief period of time in 2003 I
found several ways to make my interest concrete.
As I was nearing the end of a long college deanship at Ohio State I became aware of a program open to students from U.S. colleges and universities that
sounded like a splendid way to get some Ohio State students to Canada in a position to see the working of part of the political system there first-hand. This
program, run throughout its ten-year history by historian James Baker, offers an opportunity to about 30-40 American students annually to work in Ottawa
for five weeks in May and June as interns assigned to individual Members of Parliament. See his program website: http://bakerincanada.com.
I learned about the details of the program, talked with Professor Baker at some length, and decided this was a marvelous opportunity to get Ohio State
students to see a bit of another political system first-hand. For the 2004 program the principal counselor in the Political Science Department at Ohio State
successfully recruited three good students who applied to Professor Baker and were accepted for the program. Although I was still wrapping up my job as a
college dean I made arrangements to have a seminar on Canadian politics with these students for the first seven weeks of spring quarter before they went
to Ottawa. None of them knew anything about Canada but they were all smart and through considerable reading, discussion, and use of the internet
[especially to watch Parliament in action, especially during Question Period], they went to Ottawa with some basic knowledge. They were each assigned to
an MP from a different national political party: the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party. [Professor Baker assigns students to MPs
from all four parties currently represented in Parliament, including the Bloc Quebecois as well as the three just mentioned.] As it turned out, the Prime
Minister called an election for late June, 2004, so they each got to work in a national campaign rather than in Parliament itself. Collectively, they had duties
both in the constituencies [ridings] of their members and in Ottawa at the national party headquarters. They all had fine experiences. I was hooked on the
I returned to the faculty from the college office in July 2004 and also saw this as a teaching opportunity for me both during 2004-05 when I was still a full-
time faculty member and into the years of formal retirement. Consequently, I designed a regular course on Canadian politics that I first gave in the winter of
2005 [winter quarter runs from right after New Year’s to mid-March] and have given every winter since then. It is open to any student who is interested and
is required of students accepted for the program in Ottawa. It is a general introduction to Canadian politics and necessarily also contains some treatment
of Canadian history, geography, culture, ideology, and socio-economic matters. I also decided that the students going to Ottawa should continue to have a
seminar more specifically focused on Parliament for the first seven weeks of spring quarter [late March to early May] before their journey north.
Three different chairs of the Political Science Department have supported me in this teaching pattern. Our department has long been involved with a
number of study abroad programs as well as a number of internships in both central Ohio and Washington. The program in Ottawa contains elements of
both study [the students are required to do some written work in Ottawa that is evaluated by Professor Baker] and internship [they are responsible to an MP
and, in practice, to his/her principal staff member]. Naturally, I am grateful for this continuing Departmental support.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE PROGRAM
The program is, of course, not exclusively for students from Ohio State, although we have developed a sizeable presence in the program over the last few
years. I will describe that presence after I describe the program in general.
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