Dispatch from the LLC
Ten weeks ago I arrived in a distant city for a very unique internship.
I walked into the Justice Building dressed as a staffer, but feeling very much like a student and very much unsure of my standing, my place, myself. I was a stranger in a strange place. Today I slipped out the back door of the Standing Committee on Finance into a long and empty corridor in Centre Block. I didn’t need to ask the guard which way to go or for permission to go there, and he took little notice of me.
More important than the insight into how government works, my internship has introduced me to who government is. Parliament is a small town where everybody knows each other. The people I’ve met have welcomed and accepted me. I belong, and this is something I did not expect, especially after my first impressions.
The LLC internship promised lots of work, access to an industry unlike any other, and maybe even a job offer. Did I see myself in politics, in a parliamentary office, working as an administrative assistant? Potentially, and though I didn’t know what that kind of work would be like, it sounded important, prestigious, exciting, and definitely worth trying. The thin and glossy veneer of my particular posting began to wear almost immediately.
Politics is an unpleasant game. The lofty illusions I brought with me to Parliament didn’t take long to tarnish. The partisanship, scripting, posturing, and incessant rhetoric coming from all sides of the political spectrum left me fairly disenchanted. I was saddened to see that the primary desire driving all the entities that practice on Parliament Hill— individuals, parties, lobby groups, and the media— often seems not for the betterment of Canadian society, but for power.
Another disappointment I encountered in my internship pertained to the work itself. Whether in the halls of power, or in a trailer on a drill-site, office work is office work. Naïvely, I had somehow imagined that shuffling “official” paper would be more interesting, more exciting, more enjoyable. It’s not. Two weeks into the internship I was resigning to the possibility that the rest of my time in the office would prove to be a mostly-dull-sometimes-scenic byway on the trek towards my degree. But thankfully, my supervisor had different intentions.
Dan, my internship supervisor, who has worked on Parliament Hill in various capacities for many years, undertook his role as my internship supervisor seriously. Dan understands my starry-eyed, idealistic, rose-tinted, puerile, and lofty hopes about the way of Canadian politics. “You students are all the same,” he would say.
Just recently, I was wrapping up the day’s work at my desk when Kevin’s voice came questioning from the next room. “Tim, did you take any theology at that Bible school you went to?” As the M.P. for Crowfoot, he knows well the college in my hometown where I was a student a number of years ago.
“Yes,” I said, “It was an intro course. Why?”
It turns out that a speaker at Kevin’s church at home in the riding had raised a question in his mind. He had been unable to satisfy it since the service let out that previous Sunday.
“What do you think?” he asked.
Dan had gone home and the day was pretty much done, so for the next hour-and-a-half we sat and talked as the sun set and twilight descended on Gatineau, across the Ottawa River, from our fifth-floor office in the Justice Building. We talked about theology, told our stories, and otherwise visited as equals and as friends. In the wake of that conversation I realized what it is that this internship has really given me.