Parliamentary Professional Development: Participants Discuss Their Experiences.

AuthorAlves, Carina

In collaboration with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and other international partners, McGill University's School of Continuing Studies offers two programs for parliamentary professional development. One is tailored toward staff (the professional development certificate in Parliamentary Management) and the other focuses on newly elected MPs (the professional development certificate in Parliamentary Governance). In this modified roundtable*, the Canadian Parliamentary Review gathers six past attendees of these programs to discuss how it helped them to get a good or even better understanding of how Westminster parliamentary institutions work. *Due to time zone challenges, this roundtable merges discussions from multiple conference calls and email submissions. Participants were able to add to or alter their comments after reading a draft of the merged transcript.


Canadian Parliamentary Review: How did you hear about the program and why did you decide to enroll?

Carina Alves: I was first elected in 2018. It was all very new to me. We don't have established party politics over here. I did stand with the only official party that we had on the island (some more have emerged since because we've had some electoral reforms).

Previously I was a maths teacher and I had never done a job where I didn't have some training on the job, some education or a course, or some voluntary work in advance to help me prepare. Becoming a politician is a unique experience. I felt very insecure in my knowledge if I'm being honest. I did have the support of my party which was brilliant, and I would not have stood without them. But having only basic knowledge, I really did feel out of my depth. So, the opportunity to do a course that could equip me with some skills was the main reason I chose to do it. It enabled me to feel more comfortable in my role.

I learned about the program through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). The person in charge of the administrative side of our parliament, known as the Greffier, was the one who disseminated the information to all the new members and two of us signed up.

When I started the course, I had already done a year, so a lot of the elements of the course I had already learned about on the job. It would have been nice to have done the course closer to being elected. It was beneficial. But I think if I was able to do it earlier on it would have been even more beneficial.

Alyson Queen: I've worked in and around Parliament Hill for over a decade. I started this current position in 2019. I was aware of the program through various channels. I researched it on my own just to get a better sense of it.

I was really interested in expanding my parliamentary knowledge from an administrative lens. It was the right time for me to take on some additional professional development. And then the pandemic hit. I think one of the highlights for me was being able to do it online. In a way it was interesting timing because having it online meant we could continue as other things shut down. The ability to discuss what was happening in various parliaments, as the pandemic evolved, with the people in the course was invaluable.

One of the fundamentals of parliament is to be able to debate and discuss. One of the highlights for me was being able to have those side discussions with colleagues who I'm now able to keep in touch with or send a note to. These are the informal channels where you gain a greater understanding of what's happening around the world--or specifically in this case, parliaments. The course was reasonable in length as well, so I was able to accomplish my objectives for the course while balancing a very busy time at work and at home.

Mateo Lagimiri: The initiative came from the UNDP Pacific Office based in Fiji run by one of our former consultants, Dyfan Jones. He brought the McGill course to the Pacific. This was one of its first initiative for Fiji and most of the Pacific region. In 2018 there were about 10 Pacific Islands that had registered and attended the McGill Course.

Prior to this, in Fiji, we'd have some staff who were able to travel to Montreal to attend the course and return and complete the other modules online. We have two projects for professional development: the Fiji Parliament Support Project and Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative. In 2018, Fiji had hosted the first McGill Course Training. In 2019 it was held in Vanuatu. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we had to complete the last two modules online.

Carly Maxwell: I first heard about the program when one of my colleagues completed it in the cohort before I started the course. I had spoken to him about it, and he had really valued the experience. I guess you could say it was word of mouth, and also McGill University has an excellent reputation. When the email came around from the CPA again offering a potential spot or scholarship in the course, 1 put my name forward.

Buchere Philip Brightone: By virtue of my position as Director Curriculum Training and Research, I came across a number of colleagues who had done the McGill program, so I took further interest in the programme. I initiated a paper that led to the formal signing of a memorandum of understanding between McGill University and the Parliamentary Service Commission of Kenya. This began in 2015.

As a curriculum developer, I looked at the programme or course brochure and I quickly made the decision to do the course because I found it the most appropriate course for parliamentary officers like myself. One thing I loved about the course curriculum was its flexibility, relevance, diversity and adaptability of the...

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