U of T Women in House is a program co-founded and co-managed 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 subsidized 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 students with double majors in Peace, Conflict & Justice and other programs (three in International Relations, one in Drama and Performance) upon their return from Ottawa.

Mira Pijselman

Parliamentary Host: Julie Dzerowicz

Photo of PCJ students Moyukh Syeed, Monica Yao, Mira Pijselman, Annie Ding on Parliament Hill

Left to Right: Moyukh Syeed, Monica Yao, Mira Pijselman, Annie Ding

This term’s installment of the Women in House Program was most definitely accompanied by an unprecedented level of unusual Parliamentary activity! While the marathon voting period that was triggered on the evening of our arrival sadly left me unable to meet with Julie Dzerowicz (my assigned MP) during the trip, I was thankful to be able to spend two days with such an amazing, intelligent, and driven group of young women. The conversations that I had with my PCJ cohort (pictured) and other participants over the course of the Women in House program have left me intellectually inspired and confident that the future of Canadian politics, business, law, and beyond will be in very capable hands.

Despite not meeting Julie, I did get the opportunity to speak with one of her staffers, Brian, who gave myself and another Women in House participant an insider’s perspective on topics ranging from the Liberal party’s preparation for the next election, environmental action and the trans-Canada pipeline, cyber security, and, most topically, how the SNC-Lavalin affair is impacting the Liberals. Being able to connect concepts and theories examined in my classes to the real-world political process was an eye-opening and valuable experience that has added depth to my learning as I round out the final few weeks of my undergraduate career.

Lastly, I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to listen and learn from Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella, whose story has become a source of tremendous personal inspiration. Her words of strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of adversity stand as a reminder to women at a variety of intersections that we must never be afraid to be leaders, stand up for what is important, and demand uncompromising equality of our institutions and fellow Canadians. I plan to incorporate the lessons learned throughout the Women in House Program into my future academic, professional, and personal pursuits and am humbled to have been included in this term’s cohort of young women from the Peace, Conflict and Justice program.


Moyukh Syeed

Parliamentary Host: MP Marwan Tabbara

Moyukh Syeed with MP Marwan Tabbara

Moyukh Syeed with MP Marwan Tabbara

The Women in House program provided me and 50 other female students from the University of Toronto the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a Canadian politician. It was as hectic as one might think! Our trip collided with a complicated time at Parliament Hill, which had many of the MPs, including Mr. Marwan Tabbara, preoccupied in a marathon voting session in the House of Commons. Therefore, I was unable to shadow Mr. Tabbara. However, I was delighted when his staffer, Peter Maloney offered to step in and guide me through an itinerary of exciting events taking place throughout the Parliament.

I met Mr. Maloney early in the morning, and we spent some time in Mr. Tabbara’s office discussing the many tasks that Mr. Tabarra is situated with as MP. I was inspired by his work as a member of the International Committee on Human Rights, where he has worked on proposals to help relieve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and is currently working on an investigation on the Rohingya crisis. Within Canada, he continues to work extensively to help refugees within his constituency in Kitchener. I was moved by the amount of work he does to support refugees and immigrants in their integration into safe, and welcoming environments. It brings me great faith in our government knowing that certain members are diligent in their effort to deescalate crises and provide support for our global citizens in need.

Mr. Maloney also took me to visit the Supreme Court of Canada where we saw a trial in action! I witnessed all nine of the Supreme court justices tackle a police violence case. The previous evening, we had been in conversation with Hon. Justice Rosalie Abella. Her resilience as a judge and as a woman reminded me that every barrier can be overcome by standing with humanity and equality. She is a living example. During the trial, I witnessed this incredible woman put her words in action, using her long-time expertise to promote justice within law and question its implications.

Furthermore, Mr. Maloney took me to visit the House of Commons where we witnessed the voting session that the MPs were taking part in. To my surprise, Mr. Tabbara even took a moment to come out and greet me during his break. He introduced me to some of the other MPs in the break room. I witnessed the kinship within the House of Commons that does not get publicized. Regardless of their political standings, these individuals are coworkers, and as such, communicate and collaborate in a manner that is not as cutthroat as the media makes them out to be! As Mr. Maloney put it, when they are all together, it’s just like a classroom; yelling, joking, and laughing with each other. This trip removed the distance I felt from the leaders of our country. I realized that these individuals are just like us and that we all have the power to be just like them. The government is a part of our community at its core, developing and supporting the well-being of its citizens. They not only represent us but are influenced by us. We therefore have just as much of a responsibility to make sure our concerns are heard, and that we are aware of the actions our fellow Canadians within the government are taking to strengthen our community within, and outside of Canada.


Monica Yao

Parliamentary Host: MP Karen Vecchio

I would like to start off by thanking the amazing people who made this program possible. Although this trip was seemingly more hectic than past trips, it was still an enlightening experience thanks to Tina Park, Julia Orsini, and the MPs/Senators who took the time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. I think that this program was very motivating because it gave us the opportunity to see successful women do their jobs for our country. Tina did a great job of ensuring everything was running accordingly despite the crazy turn of events. There was a last minute voting marathon that was triggered to discuss the bill being pushed for budget cuts across Canada, and this caused a lot of commotion within Parliament Hill. A lot of the MPs had to cancel on their students because they were voting in the House of Commons for almost two days straight. Although they were not able to shadow them, I am still grateful that the MPs intended to participate in the program.

I had the honour of shadowing Karen Vecchio, MP of Elgin — Middlesex — London. She was a pleasure to talk to and be around, her endless energy made the whole experience engaging. Ms. Vecchio’s staffer, Bandy Scott, was also a delight to be around. She was supposed to be voting as well but she took the time to take us around the House of Commons. I was extremely appreciative of the fact that she sat with us on the viewing balcony and explained to us what was going on before she went downstairs to go vote. This gave us a chance to comprehend what was going on, as well as see her in action. Overall, this was my favourite part of the trip. After Ms. Vecchio left, we went to meet up with The Honourable Robert Black, a newly appointed senator. I could see that he loved his job, although it seemed very tiring. He led us to the Senate to watch a sitting, and that was a good opportunity for me to see what the independent senators were like in action.

Monica Yao with MP Karen Vecchio

Monica Yao with MP Karen Vecchio

What stood out to me was how eager and willing everyone at Parliament Hill was to guide us and inform us of the intricacies of their positions. Their care meant even more knowing that they were extra busy on the very few days we were there. I was very thankful that I got to see the more hectic side of Parliament, because it taught me that not everything goes smoothly in the life of an MP. Adaptability is a key trait to succeed in political life. Normally, it would be a day of shadowing their consistent day to day businesses, but for us, we got to see the reality of working there. Overall, I learned many new things about myself and about being a woman in Canadian politics.


Annie Ding

Parliamentary Host: MP Ali Ehsassi

For two days this past March, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Ottawa for the first time and witness firsthand the inner workings of Canada’s Parliament. Our trip began with a tour of the Supreme Court of Canada and a Q&A session with Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella. As I sat in the courtroom with over thirty other incredible women listening to Justice Abella speak about her experiences in law, I felt particularly empowered. Her willingness to take advantage of new opportunities, and her belief in herself were important reminders for myself to be fearless, open-minded, and self-assured.

Later that day, we met with MP and co-founder of the Women in House Program, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett. It was fascinating to hear her reflections on her background as a family physician and her current role as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Her commitment to reconciliation and the empowerment of Indigenous peoples in Canada was evident during the brief time we shared. It assured me that politics can be an effective means of positive change. Though this fact can be easily forgotten, I continued to be reminded of it at the evening reception, where Senators Margaret Dawn Anderson, Stan Kutcher, and Donna Dasko spoke about how they were each using their platforms to advocate for Inuit populations, mental health issues, and women respectively.

On the second day, I was assigned to shadow MP Ali Ehsassi, who represents Toronto’s Willowdale riding. However, due to unexpected circumstances, I was unfortunately unable to do so. The previous evening, MPs were called into the House of Commons for a voting marathon over the Liberal government’s spending plan. By the morning, only 60 or so items out of a total of 257 had been passed. Thus, I found myself shadowing Mr. Ehsassi’s executive assistant, Peter, for the day instead. It ended up being a unique look into the important work staffers do in the background to support the MPs, enabling them to be the best they can at their jobs.

Eventually, I did get the chance to meet Mr. Ehsassi when Peter led my fellow Women in House participant, Kelly, and I to the House of Commons. Stepping away from the voting for a few minutes, Mr. Ehsassi introduced himself and gave us a tour of the gallery, including most memorably, the diverse portraits of former prime ministers that were hung everywhere. He also answered some of our questions about being an MP and the transition to politics after a career in law. During our conversation, it was especially cool to learn that Mr. Ehsassi had taken the very same political science course at U of T that both Kelly and I were taking!

Though the latter half of the trip did not pan out the way I had imagined, it was an exciting example of the unpredictability of politics. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to say I observed a filibuster again! Ultimately, I had a great experience meeting so many inspiring individuals and learning more about the Canadian government.

I would like to thank Ms. Tina Park and the Hon. Carolyn Bennett for creating this program and providing myself, and many other women, with the opportunity to engage with politics more deeply and directly. I would also like to thank Mr. Ehsassi and Peter for taking the time from their busy schedules to show us around Parliament and share some insights about political life. I know I will keep with me the lessons and experiences I gained from this trip for a long time!

Content provided by the students. Article compiled by Aloysius Wong.