As someone who has always gravitated toward politics and public service, the CJPAC (Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee) Fellowship program had instant appeal to me when a friend told me about it last year, but I really didn’t know what to expect as the bus left Toronto for Ottawa. I knew that the fellowship is billed as a multipartisan training conference for Canada’s most elite Jewish and pro-Israel political activists, but I still wasn’t clear on how this program would differ from those offered by political parties or political science clubs on campus.
Not long after we boarded the bus, the political talk heated up and the 2012 fellows were busy getting to know each other while discussing the major news of the day. Although we are all affiliated with different political parties, the bus ride debates were respectful, humorous and interesting. From my first interactions with the other fellows, I felt comfortable in the multi-partisan setting. We shared stories from across Canada and across partisan lines and found kinship where some of us expected to clash. Quickly, we became part of a cohesive team – branding ourselves collectively as “fellows” instead of as opponents.
We spent our time at the conference in conversation about the real substance of our Canadian democratic process and policies. We discussed issues that are relevant to all Canadians and affect everyone. All of these topics were approached in an inclusive way – seeking to add as many voices to the conversation as possible. Ultimately, I believe that this discourse requires the integration of more Canadian voices and that the engagement of more Canadians in the political process is paramount.
One particularly memorable morning featured speeches from three members of Parliament: interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Conservative Chris Alexander. What struck me about the three speeches was that each one came from a politician at a very different stage in his respective career. Each man spoke frankly about his particular vision of Canada and I emerged with a greater appreciation for their public service.
I learned a great deal during the time I spent in Ottawa. As I am currently entrenched in the graduate school application process, I am spending a lot of time focusing on my development as a leader within a number of communities. The fellowship conference allowed me to test out some of the leadership and collaborative techniques I have developed in my undergrad years and forced me to challenge many of my preconceived notions about what works and what doesn’t in a political environment.
Ultimately, the fellowship conference has added new skills to my leadership tool kit and I feel that it has left me better equipped to succeed in future leadership roles – personally, professionally and politically.
To me, the conference was about politics, but it was also about people. Now, I know that whether I’m in Victoria, Winnipeg or Montreal, I’ll have a friend to grab a drink with and talk politics. Since the conference, we’ve stayed in close touch and plans are already in the works for a reunion in the near future.
The fellowship is a unique experience for many reasons. Primarily, the program differentiates itself through the calibre of both the fellows and the speakers brought in to address us. Thanks to the excellent reputation CJPAC has in the Jewish and Canadian political communities, the elected officials and experts in the field who spoke to our group were willing to be candid about their personal and professional experiences working as part of the Canadian political landscape.
I feel lucky to be a part of the CJPAC community now and look forward to seeing fellows debate each other in the House of Commons one day. Judging by some of the impressive people I met in Ottawa, I am confident this may happen sooner rather than later.
Jake Brockman is a fourth-year international relations and English student at University of Toronto. He is currently the chair of the student government at Trinity College.