It’s a Friday morning when Rachel and Mark ask me to join them in Mark’s office saying that they have something very serious to discuss with me. Automatically, I panic. However, instead of being fired, I am told that I will actually be attending CJPAC’s Fellowship Conference with 45 student leaders from across the country. I am ecstatic and I begin to imagine what the next two weeks might hold.
The day I’m due to leave, I board my train bound for Ottawa excited for the days ahead. I arrive at the hotel and we are immediately called into a staff meeting where the framing of the week begins. Eleanor (our Western Region Director) gives us our directives, reminds us where we have to be at specific times and distributing organizer itineraries. This is when I learn about the role I’ll be playing as “Official Photographer” of the Fellowship. In this moment, I begin to understand the duality of my situation; I am at once a CJPAC staff member and, because of my age, also a pseudo- fellowship participant. This affords me a unique perspective on the planning of the fellowship and its execution – essentially permitting an inside look at the fellowship through the eyes of an organizer. For this reason, in this week’s blog, I will highlight three of my favorite events from the fellowship conference and illustrate how I experienced them as a result of the double-role I played that week in Ottawa.
The first highlight I’d like to talk about is attending Question Period in Center Block on Parliament Hill. First of all, it is interesting to note the differences between how the House of Commons operates before Question Period and after. The tone prior to QP is respectful and dignified, with members making statements about their views on a vast array of policy topics. On the other hand, during QP there are displays of yelling, screaming and allegations of lying, among many other things. Second, watching how members of each side respond to attacks is fascinating. For instance, some speakers would never engage their opponent by looking at him or her whereas others would stare his or her opponent directly in the eyes. Watching their mannerisms, reactions and substantive policy positions was an absorbing experience. From a planning standpoint, it was logistically difficult to time considering how important it was to ensure our visit to parliament was photographed adequately. After QP, I had to sprint ahead to make sure that when everyone walked out the main doors, that they were photographed.
Another event that I found to be remarkably interesting was the revolving tables dinner we hosted with MPs. Again, this was an organizational nightmare — watching how Eleanor managed to ensure that each politician had some political friends at the table, that an MP of each of party visited each table and that there were enough MPs there to begin with was truly inspiring. It was amazing to hear the MPs’ opinions on a range of important issues as well as watch them respond to tough questions asked by the fellows. For instance, one MP was asked multiple questions about the role of government and whether or not he is ideologically in accord. There were tough questions, but, by the end of it, everyone was smiling and laughing; a true testament to the level of respect CJPAC’s fellows showed our political guests.
The third event I’d like to comment on during the Fellowship is the mock election campaign. The idea was for the Fellows to use the skills that they had learned in sessions with political insiders to craft an election campaign strategy upon which they’d be assessed by experts in the field. Structurally, it was marvelous how this program tied the week’s learning into a practical program that gave the Fellows hands on experience with strategy and situations they may one day use in their careers.
My experience as a ‘participant’ at the Fellowship was remarkable. As a relative “newbie” in the political arena, it clarified many aspects of the political world for me in an unprecedented way. Be it hearing experts speak about policy or learning how to get out the vote on a campaign (or GOTV for those who are more politically inclined), to say I learned a lot would be a profound understatement.
Although the sessions were largely educational, the informal learning I acquired from the Fellows themselves was equally enriching. I have never met a group of people more engaged in the political world (on campus and off) in my entire life. Experiencing this program as part of the CJPAC team brought its own learning as well. Seeing the staff work as such a cohesive team to ensure that the conference ran smoothly was incredible. As someone who got to experience the Fellowship from the inside and as a participant, I doubt the week could have been more successful.
I look forward to keeping my readers posted on more adventures in the offices of CJPAC-especially since those offices have recently moved!
Until next time,