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Historical Feature- 1990-91 OLIP Interns

The 1990-1991 OLIP cohort entered the legislature just as liberal government under David Peterson called a snap election. Almost as soon as the interns learned the floor plan of the Pink Palace they were assigned to the offices of MPP’s fighting to keep their offices. Compounding this dynamic start, The 15th cohort witnessed an unprecedented power shift within the legislature. Just weeks after their internship began, Bob Rae delivered a historic election victory for the NDP, becoming the first, and only, NDP premier in Ontario history.

Aside from the results of the election, the interns were treated to a series of other firsts during the 1990-1991 cohort. Von Palmer, one of the OLIP interns that year, was placed with Alvin Curling, the first black cabinet minister in Ontario. He remembers fondly that he “learned a lot” about politics and the Pink Palace during that placement. The cohort was also fortunate enough to meet with then Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the first and only black person to hold that position.

The OLIP interns had to quickly adjust to the new political reality of Queen’s Park. Just because the government of the day had changed, the issues that faced those in power did not. In 1990, Ontario, and Canada as a whole, was entering a recession that would see the national unemployment rate rise to over 10% by the time the 15th cohort left Queen’s Park. Questions around monetary policy and fiscal stewardship dominated discourse in legislatures across Canada.

The energy brought to the OLA by politicians and staffers during the frantic first days of the 15th cohort made an impression on Dr. Catherine Frost, an OLIP intern at the time. Frost admired the work that political parties put into building new relationships and policy directives. “From the outside looking in people only see the conflict between political groups. From the inside you see the effort it takes to build things, keep things working, or find common ground when needed” She said in a reflection of her time at the legislature.

Dr. Frost is now a professor at McMaster university. Her appreciation for the constructive aspects of politics she witnessed at Queen’s Park is present in her views regarding COVID-19. “I have . . . thought a lot about the role of community in our current situation, and the sudden awareness people have that 'we are all in this together' ”. It will be worth watching to see if the uncertain circumstances brought to Queen’s Park by the pandemic facilitate a similar environment for collaboration that the political whirlwind of the 1990 election did during the time of the 15th cohort.

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