June 3, 2022Print | PDF
Wilfrid Laurier University Political Science and North American Studies students interested in pursuing political careers are learning from seasoned practitioners as part of the university's Certificate in Practical Politics.
Coordinated by Political Science department practitioner-in-residence John Milloy, a former MPP for Kitchener Centre, Ontario Liberal cabinet minister and legislative assistant to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, the certificate program provides students the chance to learn from professionals in the field of politics through a series of interactive workshops.
“Students get to meet and interact with a wide variety of political figures, both active and retired,” says Milloy. “They get a perspective on the realities of politics, which hopefully they can bring back into the classroom, adding to the theoretical learning that they are doing. It also gets them thinking about opportunities in government, opportunities that extend beyond the usual civil service route to get involved in politics.”
The Certificate in Practical Politics – offered to Political Science and North American Studies students alongside their regular course of study since 2015 – focuses on the development of skills relevant to the job market. Among the titles of this year's workshops were Being a Candidate; Media Relations; Evidence-Based Policymaking vs. Politics; Model Parliament; Getting Involved in a Campaign; and Finding a Job in Government and Politics.
During a January workshop focusing on evidence-based policymaking, students heard from Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae, also formerly Ontario premier and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Past guest practitioners have included former Ontario premiers Dalton McGunity and Kathleen Wynne; Anne McLelland, former deputy prime minister and health minister during the SARS pandemic; and Peter Donolo, communications director to former prime minister Chrétien.
“These aren't just chalk and talk events. We have the students break into groups and discuss these issues, how they might respond, and try to work their way through,” says Milloy. “A lot of theory is discussed in political science and a lot of important topics are looked at, but what about the more practical side of it? What about what goes on behind the scenes – the thrust of campaigns, the partisan side, the role of politicians and what drives politicians.”
To obtain the Certificate in Practical Politics, students are required to complete four out of a possible six workshops over the course of the academic year. Completion of the certificate is noted within students’ Laurier Experience Record, a comprehensive record of involvement in curricular and co-curricular experiential learning activities. Students can also receive credit for individual Certificate in Practical Politics workshops on their Laurier Experience Record if they do not wish to pursue the full program.
Teresa Lindman, who recently graduated from Laurier with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, says the knowledge she gained participating in Certificate in Practical Politics workshops will remain top of mind as she completes an internship in the Office of the Prime Minister this summer and pursues a law degree at McGill University next fall.
“The Certificate in Practical Politics helped me translate the theoretical knowledge I learned in lecture halls into practical skills that I will use in my career, such as communication and creative problem solving,” says Lindman. “This program really aims to bridge the gap between university and the workforce. It also allows students to delve into the realm of partisan politics by connecting us with actors from across the political spectrum, which is a great opportunity for those who wish to get involved.”
In addition to organizing the Certificate in Practical Politics, Milloy makes critical contributions to applied and experiential learning components of Laurier's Political Science program through guest lectures, research advice and career counselling. He previously organized in-person student visits to Queen’s Park, which included meetings with the premier, government ministers, party representatives and members of the media.
“It's wonderful to see students who are interested in politics. There is no shortage of problems and we need keen students who want to move on and work in the field,” says Milloy. “I always tell them, ‘You don't have to put your name on the ballot. You can work behind the scenes, or you can work as an advocate with an organization.’ There are so many jobs that involve dealing with government and advocating. We've had students who have taken the workshops who have gone on to work in political offices and one who went on to be a candidate. It opens their eyes and gives them a taste of political life.”
As well as providing a taste of political life, Milloy says the Certificate in Practical Politics offers students an introduction to the realities politicians face in making often-difficult decisions, as well as the challenges students themselves might one day face if they choose a career in politics.
“When you get close to it, you realize that politicians don't have magic wands. They work under severe limitations and the public can be very demanding,” says Milloy. “You start to realize some of the stereotypes are simply wrong. There are many people who are in politics for the right reasons. Are there problems with politics? Of course. But I think there are opportunities on the inside for young people to be agents of change. You go in with your eyes open and, once you understand a little better, you can deal with challenges more intelligently and work to bring about change.”
For more information about Laurier’s Certificate in Practical Politics, contact the university’s Political Science department.
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