Therese Empie participated in the Michigan in Washington Program as part of the Fall 2010 cohort. She had an internship at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies and conducted research regarding the political knowledge gained from hard and soft news sources. After returning from Washington, Therese took a course with Dr. Andrea Olive, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at UM Dearborn and the program administrator for Dearborn’s Ottawa Program, which places students at internships in the Canadian Parliament. Therese was intrigued by the program and decided to enroll to develop a deeper understanding of the Canadian government and how it compares to ours in the United States. She relays her experience in the following interview.
Can you provide a brief overview of the Ottawa program?
The Ottawa Program places a group of approximately 25 Michigan students in offices of Canadian Parliamentary Ministers and Senators for a period of five weeks during spring term. During these five weeks students are introduced to numerous high level ranking members of the Canadian government including the Speaker of the House, the National Auditor, and a Senator. Students also take weekend excursions as a group to places like Quebec City and Montreal.
What was your internship or work assignment while in Ottawa?
I worked with Member of Parlaiment (MP) Joyce Murray which is the title for directly elected officials in the House of Commons. Ms. Murray is a Liberal Member of the Canadian House of Commons representing the electoral district of Vancouver Quadra. I worked on Canada-China relations as well as Canadian environmental concerns.
What differences stood out for you between the Canadian and US systems of government?
The greatest difference I found between my experience in Canada and my experience in Washington D.C. was the lack of celebrity status afforded to members of government. In the United States it is not uncommon to find a paparazzi-like group following members of Congress. This strongly contrasts with the Canadian equivalent, Members of Parliament, who are seen as civil servants.
Did you learn anything about Canada that surprised you?
I was very surprised to find that Canada is the United States’ largest oil supplier.
Where did you stay during the program?
Our group stayed on the campus of the University of Ottawa. The residence was an old hotel that had been converted for university use. We ate meals on our own during the week, and every Friday evening our program administrator organized a group dinner at a nice restaurant in the city.
How did you get your work assignment in Parliament?
The program works closely with the individual offices [of Parliament]. I was chosen by Ms. Murray’s office to be her intern. Every office has its own schedule, but I typically worked Monday through Friday 10am – 4pm.
What did you like best about living in Canada?
I really enjoyed the people. The stereotype that Canadians are extremely nice was proven to me every moment of my time spent in the country.
What did you like least about living in Canada?
I missed watching U.S. television shows!
Do you have advice for others who are considering this program?
I would advise students to participate. It is an amazing opportunity to have this type of intimacy with the inner workings of another nation’s government.
Therese will be graduating in Winter 2013 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Program in the Environment.