CIJA’s parliamentary interns work for all political parties

Three CIJA interns from 2014-15 – from left, Nathaniel Finestone, Rachel Rappaport and Daniel Gans  – pose on Parliament Hill.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)’s parliamentary internship program, which places recent university graduates in the offices of members of Parliament, is an investment in the future, says CIJA’s Dylan Hanley, who has overseen the program for the past three years. 

“We’re trying to choose people who are going to be good investments for the community in terms of their future involvement in politics and in the Jewish community,” Hanley said

He added: “The program has been very successful in getting young members of the Jewish community involved in working within the Canadian political system.”

Of the eight interns who completed last year’s program, seven are now working in the political sector, Hanley said.

Now entering its 12th year, the program, which typically places eight to 10 graduates with an interest in governmental affairs in the offices of MPs or, in Quebec, MLAs, has put out a call for applicants for its 2016 program. Normally they work from October to June, but this year’s interns will start in January because of the upcoming federal election. 

CIJA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization whose mandate is to improve the quality of Jewish life in Canada by advancing the public policy interests of the Jewish community. 

Despite this mandate, Hanley said the program doesn’t pose a conflict of interest for the parties. “It’s not a conflict of interest in that they’re placed in these offices to do work for the individual MP. They’re subject to the regular ethics requirements. They can’t be placed in a minister’s office. They work for all sorts of MPs across the spectrum.”

Hanley said CIJA makes sure interns are assigned to all parties in the House of Commons – though he didn’t think any have ever worked for a Green party MP – and they’re matched according to their interests.

CIJA looks for candidates who are committed to the Jewish community and have, “potential to become leaders in the Jewish community,” he said, but the screening process doesn’t involve asking about their views about Israel per se.

Most mention their involvement in the Jewish community in the personal statement they submit, along with a resume and letters of reference, Hanley said.

“There’s not one formula for what we’re looking for… We take everyone, from those involved with Hillel and Israel advocacy on campus to those who have been less involved in that, but may be more involved in political parties or who have a particular educational background that makes them likely to succeed.”

Those selected typically have degrees in political science, history or law.

Interns get a $10,000 stipend for the term and are often hired afterward by the party they worked for, or occasionally by the MP they interned for.

Along with day-to-day work in MPs’ offices, the program offers professional development opportunities such as speaker events, including some related to Israel, and invitations to events hosted by their local Jewish federation.

“We’ll have them meet with the CEO of their local federation to understand the way the system works and the importance of the federated system,” Hanley said.

Daniel Gans, 23, is a former intern who worked in NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s office from September 2014 to last June. He now works as parliamentary assistant to NDP MP Finn Donnelly, a job he said he secured due to the training he got and connections he made as an intern.

His work for Cullen included helping with legislative work and researching opposition bills.

Gans said Jewish issues and Israel barely came up during the internship.

“There were no bills that had a direct impact on Israel… But there were times we were taking about international affairs and I mentioned that Israel is one of the only democracies in the Middle East and a partner to Canada, and others in the office completely agreed.”