I am a former assistant to a Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament. I've also worked for the provincial and federal conservative party
I have written this article for people who are interested in politics who either live in or are considering moving to Ottawa and are unsure where to begin their quest for the coveted Legislative Assistant position on Parliament Hill.
The fastest, most direct route to the Hill is through someone you know. Isn't that always the case? But if you are like me when I moved to Ottawa in 2007 and don't know anyone, take heart. If you have a passion for politics and are willing to take some risks, you can get there just as easily as anyone else.
I have also listed other Hill jobs that are just as rewarding if not more so than working as a legislative assistant and what you can do to maximize your chances of landing the job that you want.
Skills You Need to Be a Legislative Assistant
Here is a summary of the qualifications for a Legislative Assistant:
- have an interest and understanding of Canadian politics
- manage time well
- are able to research, synthesize and analyze complex policy issues in a short period of time
- are able to multitask
- possess excellent written and oral communication skills
- are able to work well with others and independently
- answer phones, greet visitors
- draft and submit 10%ers and householders
- research, filing and handling of specific case files
- are bilingual (depending on the MP)
- have secret clearance (if you are applying to work in a Minister's office)
The First Step
The first step is to get yourself a membership card for the political party of your choice.
Most people when beginning their quest for a Legislative Assistant (LA) position are either in the process or already have a membership to a particular political party. I'm told that it's not necessary, but if you want to work in a Liberal MP's office, they're more likely to view you as trustworthy if you have a membership to their party.
It is also necessary to have a party membership if you choose to participate in a political party's internship program such as the Conservative Party summer internship program, for example.
The Direct Approach
One option is to take what I call the "direct approach." When you don't have many political connections, this can be a good approach.
Get your resume updated, clean it up and if you can afford it, get a professional to make one for you. If you can't afford this service, look online for some professional examples that highlight your strong points.
Always include a cover letter and make sure to call directly to the Member of Parliament's office you wish to work for and ask who you should direct your CV to. I must warn you about this option, it's not usually the most successful approach. Your best option is to network. (See "Network, Network, Network!")
One Foot in the Door
My first job in Ottawa was for a political party doing data entry work and it is one of the most common approaches to getting a Legislative Assistant job on the Hill.
Most job opportunities are posted directly on the party's website. The closer to an election, the more job opportunities become available.
It is an excellent opportunity because of several things: you have a lot more opportunities to network with people within your party through the job itself and there are many invitations to party events where you can personally meet and chat with MPs and the party leader himself/herself.
The best benefit I enjoyed while working for the Conservative Party of Canada was the invites to 24 Sussex Drive for the annual summer BBQ at the Prime Ministers where I had a chance to shake hands with Stephen Harper and have my picture taken with him too.
If you are a full-time Post-Secondary student there are many internship opportunities available to you in Ottawa that can get you working on the Hill, and may lead to permanent employment when completed.
I was fortunate enough to be selected for an internship for the office of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in the summer of 2008. It was a paid internship through my political party.
The Conservative Party of Canada offers a summer internship to full-time students who are returning to school full-time in the fall. It runs from May until the end of August.
The Parliament of Canada also offers a summer internship program which does not discriminate which political party you are placed with. More details about the summer program are available as May approaches.
Network, Network, Network!
If you want to be involved in politics you have to learn to network, network, and network! If you have just moved to Ottawa and don't know too many people, you will just have to put more effort into it than someone who has been here for a while. Networking is the key to unlocking boundless opportunities in Ottawa. You never know when an opportunity will present itself.
The reason I stress this point is because most, if not all LA positions are not advertised to the public. They are circulated via internal email. This is why it's really important that you start meeting people, the closer they are connect to the Hill, the better. You want to be able to meet people who can forward you an email when there is a job opportunity available. This is very important. It drastically increases your chances of being hired compared to submitting your resume via mail.
I also suggest getting a business card printed up with your information on it and always carry some with you. Vista Print has free business card templates you can choose from and reasonable shipping rates. If you like to blog or have any other hobbies or interests you can add that to your card as well.
- Campus political clubs.
- Your riding association.
- Local places of interest such as D'Arcy McGee's pub on Sparks St.,
- Various conferences such as the Manning Centre Networking Conference held each year in Ottawa.
- Political party events such as Christmas Parties. (Many MPs attend these events, including the PM himself!)
Most organizations with offices in Ottawa will post on their website a list of events coming up, some are free, and most are moderately priced if you are a student. If money is tight, choose an organization whose work you follow the most and attend that event. It's well worth the cost of admission. You never know who you might bump into.
If All Else Fails
If you still don't seem to making any progress, there is one last thing you can do. Volunteer.
It doesn't pay much, but if you possess many of the skills listed at the beginning of this article, you stand a very good chance of being called by an MP's office.
It's another chance for you to at least get your foot in the door, even if you're just answering phones or organizing some files. Many MPs and their chiefs of staff appreciate someone who is hardworking and if you can impress someone with your skills or work ethic, chances are it won't go unnoticed. Just think of it as a temporary stop on your way to becoming a LA. The best part is that your experience will look good on your CV when you do apply for a LA position.
Additional Resources and Links
- Political Management | Carleton University
One year Master's Degree program, a first of it's kind in Canada.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2010 Carolyn Dahl
Carolyn Dahl (author) from Ottawa, Ontario on January 28, 2013:
Thank you Saire, much appreciated!
Saire Schwartz on January 27, 2013:
There are a lot of resources. You went above and beyond helping someone who is interested in becoming apart of the Ottawa political sphere. Great organization, great use of photographs and bullet pointing important information. Very interesting article. *high five*
Winston on March 13, 2012: