At the time this article was written David
Mitchell was Clerk Assistant (Procedural) of the Legislative Assembly of
Saskatchewan. This was a revised version of a paper presented to the annual
meeting of the Association of Clerks-at-the-Table in Canada, held in Ottawa,
August 11, 1981.
Parliamentary internship programs are one
of the most interesting developments in Canadian legislatures during the past
decade. Parliament as well as four provincial legislatures have established
programs varying in terms of administration and organization but with similar
goals and a high degree of success in achieving them. The programs provide
long-term benefits to the country by educating a knowledgeable group of young
people about the parliamentary process. At the same time they provide a
valuable service to individual legislators. In this article the author compares
and contrasts parliamentary intern programs in various Canadian jurisdictions.
The idea of a parliamentary internship
program had been discussed in Ottawa as early as 1965, however, the program was
not established until 1970. Much of the credit for the inauguration of the
program must go to Mr. Alf Hales, who served as federal Member of Parliament
for Wellington for seventeen years. After winning the approval and support of
The Canadian Political Science Association, The Donner Canadian Foundation, the
Speaker and House Leaders, Mr. Hales introduced a proposal to the House of
Commons in the form of a Motion on March 10, 1969:
That in the opinion of this House the
Government should give consideration to the advisability of establishing a form
of internship program in the House of Commons; the purpose of said program
being to better equip outstanding young political scientists, journalists and
law school faculty members, with a better understanding of the national
legislative process ....
The Motion which was referred to the
Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization, had wide support in the House
and formed the basis of a proposal which culminated in the establishment of
Ottawa's parliamentary internship program. In 1970 ten of the brightest
university students in Canada were brought to Parliament Hill to take part in
what former Prime Minister Pearson referred to as "the most important
experiment in parliamentary activity since 1867". It Is now widely agreed
that the experiment has been a success.
The Ottawa program is designed on a
ten-month basis (September-June) in order to approximate an academic year of
study. The ten interns, chosen by a selection committee from among several
hundred applicants, are assigned to individual Members of Parliament and serve
as "special assistants." The exact nature of an intern's
responsibilities is a matter to be resolved between the individual intern and
Member of Parliament but usually involves research, committee work,
speechwriting and some constituency work. Interns are not supposed to be
assigned partisan political tasks. Halfway through the year, each intern
switches to an MP from another political party. The success of the program is
evidenced by the fact that there are now always more Member's anxious to have
the services of interns than there are interns to go around.
In addition to their work for Members, the
interns participate in a variety of other activities including: academic
seminars, hosting inter-parliamentary delegations and travel to other
legislatures including London, Washington and Bonn. At the end of the ten-month
period each intern is required to submit an analytical paper on an aspect of
the legislative process in Canada. The Ottawa program sees itself as being
independent to both government and parliament; as a result, it is administered
completely by private funds. The Canadian Political Science Association
provides an academic director for the program. Interns receive a monthly
stipend and some travel expenses, with the remainder of the program's budget
being devoted to administrative costs. Support services for the interns are
provided through the Office of the Clerk of the House of Commons.
The first province to establish an ongoing
parliamentary internship program along lines similar to the one in the national
capital was Alberta. With the success of the Ottawa program in mind and after
much discussion among members of the political, legislative and academic
communities, the Alberta Legislative Internship Program was launched in 1974.
As outlined in the current "Alberta Interns' Handbook" the program
strives to achieve two main objectives:
First, it gives outstanding graduates of Alberta
universities an opportunity to understand better the legislative and
governmental process. In so doing, the techniques of traditional education are
not strictly adhered to. Rather than simulation or speculation as to how the
system works, the interns are involved in a real work situation. As a result,
their perceptions of the Legislative Assembly and government are more sharply
focussed than those of students restricted to a classroom lecture atmosphere.
The second object of the program, of course,
is that Members of the Legislative Assembly have available to them, competent
research staff to assist them in their duties. The interns' educational
experience is enhanced through this work for Members since they are given a
unique opportunity to observe governmental and legislative processes from the
point of view of the legislators themselves. In turn, Members may benefit from
the enthusiasm and ideas of each new group of interns.
Like the Ottawa program, the Alberta
legislative internship operates on a ten-month basis. Approximately eight
interns are chosen each year as a result of a competition among graduates of
the province's universities. The first month is devoted to orientation: the
interns meet with officials of the Legislative Assembly, government departments
and obtain a general introduction to the environment they will be working in.
Interns are then assigned to a party caucus where their workloads are designed
to reflect the multiplicity of tasks undertaken by Members of the Assembly.
Rather than working with a single Member, interns are assigned to a party
caucus and serve a general research function. Midway through the program,
interns are assigned to a different legislative caucus thereby ensuring that
each person has the opportunity of working with both government Members and
In addition to caucus assignments. interns
participate in academic seminars, monthly meetings with the Speaker and engage
in some travel within the province. Travel outside of Alberta is not a regular
component of the program. Each intern receives a monthly stipend and the cost
of some travel expenses are covered. At the conclusion of the program interns
submit a research paper on a specific aspect of their internship experience.
The province's universities accept participation in the internship program for
course credit at the graduate level.
The administration of the Alberta program is
notably different from that of the Ottawa parliamentary internship. The
individual in charge of the program is the Speaker of the Alberta Assembly. He
makes all policy decisions affecting the program and serves as Chairman of the
program's advisory committee. In addition, the Alberta Legislative Internship
Program is entirely publicly funded by appropriation through the annual
estimates of the Legislative Assembly.
The idea of a parliamentary internship
program was advanced in British Columbia as early as 1973. After securing the
active support of the Speaker and all political parties represented in the
Assembly, a five-month internship program was established in 1975. Ten interns
were selected and the program commenced in January 1976.
The British Columbia program differs
markedly from the one in Ottawa. It is designed to approximately coincide with
the province's spring legislative session and therefore operates from January
to May each year. The interns, graduates of British Columbia universities,
first go through a thorough orientation to the political process in British
Columbia. Following this, they undertake the administrative phase of the
program, working in a government ministry. During this period, they study and
explore the operation and functions of government departments by working as
research or administrative assistants wherever they are assigned. The legislative
phase of the program consists of an assignment to a party caucus where the
interns are attached to Members of the Legislative Assembly. One intern is
assigned to the Speaker's Office. During the legislative phase of the program,
interns do not switch from one caucus to another.
Travel to other jurisdictions is an
important part of the program. In the past, this has included visits to
legislatures in Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick, Washington State, and the
Parliament of Canada. The academic component of the program includes
fortnightly seminars conducted by faculty from the province's universities.
Interns are required to submit written reports at various points during the
program. The internship program is recognized for credit in graduate schools of
British Columbia universities. Interns receive a monthly stipend and travel
The British Columbia Legislative Internship
Program is administered through the Office of the Speaker of the Legislative
Assembly. A staff member of the Speaker's office serves as program coordinator.
In addition, the program maintains an academic director who plays an important
role in terms of organization and support. The program is fully publicly
In 1976 Ontario established a legislative
internship program similar in nature and purpose to the one in Ottawa. The
development of such a program was first recommended by the Ontario Commission
on the Legislature (Camp Commission) in its Second Report, December 1973.
Discussion subsequently took place between officers of the Legislative Assembly
of Ontario and the academic community which culminated in the establishment of
the provincial program in September 1976 in cooperation with the Canadian
Political Science Association.
The Ontario Legislative internship Program
operates on a ten-month basis and is closely modelled after the Ottawa program.
After a competition among graduates of Canadian universities eight interns are
selected. Following a brief orientation period, each intern is assigned to a
backbench Member of the Legislative Assembly where they are given specific
responsibilities according to Members' priorities. Halfway through the program,
interns rotate to serve with a different backbench Member. The program is
designed to allow each intern an opportunity to serve one term with a.
government backbencher and another term with an opposition backbencher.
Throughout the program and on a group basis interns meet with elected
politicians and public officials. In addition, they participate in regular
academic seminars and prepare a paper dealing with some aspect of the
legislative process in Ontario. The interns also travel to Ottawa, Quebec and
elsewhere with the aim of acquiring a comparative understanding of legislative
processes in different capitals. Interns receive monthly stipends and financial
assistance is provided for travel expenses.
The Ontario internship is largely publicly
funded, although private donations have been an important element in financing
the program. An academic director provides guidance for the program which
receives valuable support services from the Office of the Clerk of the Ontario
In the Province of Quebec a parliamentary
internship program was established as early as 19741975. However, after two
years of operation the program was discontinued. In 1979 a new program was
established under the auspices of the Fondation Jean Charles Bonenfant, a
special foundation for the study of Parliament and political institutions,
created by an Act of the Quebec Assembly.
Each year four interns are selected to serve
for a ten-month period with the Quebec National Assembly. The internship is
regarded as an educational program allowing recent Canadian university
graduates an opportunity to acquire practical knowledge of the operation and
function of the Assembly. As in Ottawa, Quebec interns serve as a kind of
special assistant to an individual Member of the Assembly. At the midpoint of
the program, interns switch to serve with a different Member; an effort is made
to have interns serve with both a government and opposition Member. The Quebec
program has a strong academic emphasis. Each intern is assigned an individual
tutor from the Assembly's Research Library staff. At the conclusion of the
program, interns submit a research paper on an aspect of the legislative
process in Quebec. The interns also travel to Ottawa to observe Parliament.
Although the Quebec internship program is
operated under the auspices of the Fondation Jean Charles Bonenfant, for all
practical purposes it is publicly funded. Interns are paid through Foundation
scholarships. The program is coordinated by the Assembly's Inter-parliamentary
Relations Office and is directly responsible to the Speaker of the Assembly
through the Clerk's Office.
Parliamentary Intern Programs in Canada
Number of Interns
Duration of Program
Source of Funding
Monthly Stipend to Intern
Total operating budget
10 months (September-June)
An Academic Director,
ancillary services provided by the office of the Clerk of the House of
10 months (September-June)
Office of the Speaker
An Academic Director
co-ordinated through the Office of the Speaker
10 months (September-June)
Public (some private)
An Academic Director,
co-ordinated through the Office of the Clerk
10 months (September-June)
Office of the Speaker
through the Clerk
commenced in 1974-75 but was discontinued.
The following table illustrates the
similarities and differences in programs and raises some questions that deserve
serious consideration. For example, should an internship program be publicly or
privately funded? The only wholly privately funded program is Ottawa's which
from the beginning placed a great emphasis on being independent of Parliament
and government. Every few years the Ottawa program is forced to scrounge and
scrape for donations from private sources in order to continue. Much to its
credit, after more than a decade the program is still in operation. However, if
it was forced to compete for funds with the various provincial programs, the
story might not be so triumphant. Fortunately, provincial programs have opted
largely for public funding. This has created a sense of security and permanency
for those working with and benefiting from the programs and, as far as can be
seen, the provincial programs are every bit as independent as their federal
counterpart in Ottawa.
Some controversy exists over whether intern
programs should be used primarily as a service to legislators. Undoubtedly,
some Members who have had the assistance of capable interns view the programs
as one form of research assistance available to them. But, strictly speaking,
interns should not be lumped together or confused with Members' services. First
and foremost, parliamentary internship programs are an extension of an
educational experience designed to offer practical working knowledge of
parliamentary processes. Certainly, Members do benefit in a variety of ways
from the help offered by eager and enthusiastic young assistants. But, to a
large extent, and for the internship experience to be successful, the Member
must be willing to serve as both teacher and counsellor for the intern. This
requires time, effort and patience. Clearly, an internship program is a two-way
Another question can be raised about the
selection of interns. Existing programs are made up largely of recent graduates
in Political Science. Perhaps it would be desirable to open up the selection
criteria to encourage applications from graduates in other academic
disciplines. Also, it may be of some benefit to look beyond the crop of recent
university graduates for prospective interns. Persons with related work
experience but who do not possess university degrees could be considered as
potential interns. Indeed, mature persons might offer new and interesting
perspectives for internship programs.
It was noted above that the British Columbia
Legislative Internship Program included an "administrative phase"
consisting of serving with a government department in a research/
administrative capacity. This is a unique feature among Canadian internship
programs. It raises another interesting question: Should parliamentary
internship programs be devoted strictly to the legislative experience, or can
they successfully combine an administrative overview of the executive function
with an understanding of the legislative process? The British Columbia program,
although only half as long in duration as other Canadian internships, adapts
both aspects admirably. Perhaps this feature should be looked at by other
jurisdictions in order to offer interns a closer understanding of the working
of government bureaucracies.
These are only a few of the many important
questions that can be raised on the subject of the operation of parliamentary
internship programs. Other areas worth exploring include: administration of
programs, reporting structure for interns, the academic components of programs,
including the role of academic directors, and the place of Clerks and
legislative staff in the day-to-day organization and operation of programs. Of
course, each program must be carefully tailored to the distinctive legislative
and political climate it operates within. It would be unwise and undesirable to
propose a single formula internship program to suit every jurisdiction.
Flexibility in organization and design is of paramount importance and is one
reason for the great success of the various parliamentary internship programs
in Canada. And, while it is too early to offer a definitive judgement on former
Prime Minister Pearson's prediction that parliamentary, internships represent
the "most important experiment" in parliamentary activity in Canada's
history, it is possible to say that they are a unique Canadian success story.