Inside the House of Commons
The Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada
House of Commons chamber
Roldan Sevilliano on Parliament Hill
In the office bright and early
A place of splendour and majesty
Working for a member of parliament, part of my job allows me to travel to the House of Commons. It’s an exceptionally beautiful place. Everywhere you go the rooms are plastered in rich history pulsing with regal monarchical character. Strolling through the carved-stone halls of Centre Block, you are met with magnificent and defiant portraits of Canada’s former Prime Ministers. Inside the gallery of the Lower House you encounter the Chamber where MP’s sit, the birthplace of all federal legislation. And there you gaze in awe, feeling slightly uneasy by its sheer historical significance – a place where artisan-crafted walls of wood, glass and stone are silent witness to the civil and unruly debates of parliamentarians past. It is by a long way, one of my favourite rooms to visit in all of Canada.
No matter what time of the year, the sun in Ottawa seems to travel faster across the sky as compared to everywhere else in the country. Stranger still, when the House is in session, the hour hand starts to behave like the minute hand. One moment you are greeted with morning rays across your desk and the next moment you find yourself hoping you haven’t missed the midnight bus. Life near and around the House of Commons is fast-paced. Although a cliché, the expression, “Things to do, people to see and places to go”, describes a regular day quite well.
Bright and early
I usually get in by seven o’clock. I read my news alerts, check my e-mail, review the member’s agenda and prioritize the day’s workflow. I know it sounds somewhat drab but when you realize the work you do may in some small way influence the governance of an entire country, the experience is always interesting and special. Eventually, I make my way to the cafeteria shared by MP’s, staffers and house officers alike. There they convene, all dexterously eating their breakfasts, replying to memos on their BlackBerries, reviewing briefing notes all while carrying full bilingual, top-secret discussions. I find the art of covert conversation best observed in the cafeteria. You see, eating toast in a room jam-packed with people of different political affiliations often culminates in discussions only about the weather and nothing more. In the house, you must always be careful of what you say, mindful of how you say it and aware of who might be listening. This is the nature of the beast.
Never a dull moment
After coffee, that’s where things become unpredictable. Some days are quiet and straightforward. Then there are the days that metastasize into harrowing marathons of correspondence, meetings, writing and hallway discussions. One moment I’m drafting a joint letter to a foreign ambassador and the next, I’m racing like a madman to the nearest fax machine to submit a signed document that needs to be processed by end of day, or else! These experiences have provided a new and literal meaning to the phrase, “running” for office. Undoubtedly, the House of Commons, like many organizations, is a place of genuine work fuelled by passionate people, in the spirit of efficiency and in the hope of national progress.
We’re all in this together
In all sincerity, I know that members of parliament, at least the ones I am familiar with, work just as hard, if not harder. To the taxpayer, I hope my words bring some form of comfort and satisfaction. I do recognize that sometimes the quality, and if I could be as forward as to say the maturity of political discourse today is far from parliamentary. Hyper-partisanship and personality conflicts are what continue to compromise the very integrity and public confidence in our democratic systems. In spite of this, I have made friends with staff and MP’s of all stripes and discovered that beneath our hardened shells, characterizing the inherent ideological differences in our political dogmas, lie individuals with a genuine desire to leave our constituents and our country in a better state than we found them. That brings me to my next topic, the effectiveness of modern democracy, but let’s save that for another day.
“A healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honourable, generous, tolerant and respectful.” – Charles W. Pickering
Roldan Sevillano is the Executive Assistant to Kevin Lamoureux, MP Winnipeg North. For questions or comments on this article, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org