U of T Women in House is a program co-founded by Tina Park and the Honourable Carolyn Bennett aimed at promoting greater female representation in government. Each year, the program takes female University of Toronto students on a  two-day trip to Ottawa and provides them with an opportunity to shadow female politicians on Parliament Hill, witness political procedures, and learn about gender equality.

The experience included a special tour of the Supreme Court of Canada and reception with prominent cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, civil servants and journalists. The following reflections have been written by some of the student participants. 

Student: Bianca Piccone

Parliamentary Host: Karen McCrimmon

In March of 2020, I was awarded the opportunity of participating in the University of Toronto’s Women in House program. This experience highlighted the importance of bringing female voices to the table, as our opinions are just as diverse as our experiences, and policy without equal representation is not democracy. I seek to inspire change in the arenas of welfare, social services and international development, and I believe the greatest avenue to pursue change is through policy. Hoping to pursue a Masters in Global Affairs, I knew that Ottawa would be a great place to start, and it did not disappoint. Throughout my two days on the Hill, I made new friends, toured the Supreme Court, heard from the Governor General, and learned about politics firsthand through my MP, Karen McCrimmon.

Upon arrival in Ottawa, our group toured the Supreme Court of Canada where we met with the Honourable Malcom Rowe. He discussed the critical role that court plays in setting precedents in Canadian society and described the importance of the cases they choose to take on. Following this, we took a tour at Rideau Hall where we were unexpectedly met with the Honourable Julie Payette, who graced us with her humility and intelligence, and recounted her experiences in both space and politics. The reception held later that night was also a memorable experience, as I got to meet with my local MP, Francesco Sorbara, and we discussed his role in Parliament as it relates to economics and finance. I also heard from the Honourable Carolyn Bennett and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, who gave motivational speeches encouraging young women to get involved in politics and make their voices heard, even when it is not the popular thing to do.

The next morning, I was eager to meet with MP Karen McCrimmon, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran who sits on the Chair of the National Defense. Despite a busy schedule, including a meeting with Beef Farmers of Ontario and other MPs, she was very personable and encouraging. I told her that, while I want to pursue a career in public service, the polarization of politics and the media is very intimidating. She assuaged my fears in saying that, while politics is a career of scrutiny, those who are opposed to progressive change want you to back down. She said that women must rise above the fear of not being liked to inspire change for the greater good. After our conversation about the reality of politics, partisan relations, and the benefits of going into politics, she met with her French tutor to prepare for a speech she was going to make. I got to sit in on this with her, and her tutor encouraged me to further develop my French. Overall, I had a truly memorable experience with MP McCrimmon and through my trip with Women in House, I understand that politics is what you make of it, and it can be an avenue for tremendous social change.

Student: Drew-Anne Glennie

Parliamentary Host: Gudie Hutchings

Our first day in Ottawa for Women In House 2020 was an exciting but busy one: we got to hear the insights of Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe, hear the Governor General Julie Payette speak, and meet many MPs and staffers at a special welcome reception. This was a special day not only because it gave us our first taste of political life in Ottawa, but it showed us the different options that we could pursue to become a part of the complex tapestry that makes up our government.

I was lucky to shadow MP Gudie Hutchings, who hails from Newfoundland and is the parliamentary secretary for Women and Gender Equality. Spending most of the day with her as she fulfilled her parliamentary duties was incredibly insightful. While Gudie was at an appointment, I spent the morning with her staffer, Ms. Stacy Pardy, and got to learn what her unique and sometimes hectic job entails. Afterwards, we met up with Gudie while she was on “House Duty” and she took me to lunch at the Parliament restaurant. We discussed her job and its responsibilities/obligations, but also our shared connections to Newfoundland and our experiences as women in male-dominated spaces. The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in on her French lesson, which Parliament offers to MPs so they can speak in both official languages, before heading upstairs for a heated Question Period. Our final destination was a wine and cheese get-together that Gudie hosted in honour of International Women’s Day, where I got the chance to meet several more inspiring MPs and staffers.

I am grateful that this experience showed me what being a representative in Parliament is truly like, both the highs and the lows; it encouraged me to consider working in Parliament or even becoming a MP as a possible career path.

Reflections provided by PCJ students. Compiled by Charlotte Astle.