How'd you get that job? Samara talks to an Ontario MPP's Constituency Assistant

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How'd You Get That Job? Monday, August 19, 2013 View Count = 7567

How'd you get that job? Samara talks to an Ontario MPP's Constituency Assistant

Nora is a self-described political nerd, having spent the last few years working as a Constituency Assistant at municipal and provincial levels, volunteering on political campaigns, attending political conventions, and talking about politics incessantly. She is passionate about international cooperation and civic engagement and recently spent 4 months in Ghana working on civic action programming. She is an avid traveler, a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) holder, and a documentary film enthusiast. 

1) What made you want to get involved in politics?

I’ve been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. My parents are both passionate about politics and community building. I grew up during the Harris years in Ontario during which my family joined picket lines, marched with labour groups, and attended community meetings. I have a distinct memory of wanting to talk about politics at my eighth birthday party and getting upset when none of my friends wanted to.

More recently, I moved back to Toronto after graduating with my BA. It was during the 2010 mayoral campaign and I remember feeling like it was a race to the bottom, particularly on files such as transit, cycling infrastructure, and social programs. It was what really inspired me to get more involved in politics and help build a more welcoming and inclusive city.

2) How did you become a Constituency Assistant (Casework and Outreach)? What path brought you to that specific role?

Shortly after graduating, I applied to be a Constituency Assistant at Toronto City Hall. My academic background was in International Development and Social Anthropology, but I knew there was a lot of work to do in our own communities and institutions to make them more accessible and equitable. I knew wanted to work with people, was very invested in city politics, and thought it sounded interesting. I didn’t get the permanent job but a few months later I was hired on as a contract employee.

I also spent the time in between getting involved in the NDP. I had been working as a nanny and while I loved the kids, I wanted to do something else. The 2011 federal election had been called and I decided to start volunteering on my local NDP campaign. I spent enough time on the campaign doing a variety of tasks, that I started to get to know people in my riding and in the party. Since then, I have represented my riding at the federal convention, volunteered on the provincial campaign, and attended the federal leadership convention. I now work for an NDP Member of Provincial Parliament, building on my experience at City Hall and my involvement in the party.  

3) What exactly does a Constituency Assistant do?

The exact role of a Constituency Assistant varies depending on who you work for and what your focus is. I mostly do casework, which means I assist constituents who are having issues with a governmental department or program. At the municipal level these were issues such as road work, basement flooding, property standards, waste pick-up, and trees. Provincially, I deal with issues related to the Ontario Disability Support Program, child support, Ontario Health Insurance and drug programs, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and many others.

Outside of casework, I have various responsibilities. Some are related to outreach, including connecting community organizations with people who may be interested in their services, drafting e-newsletters, and attending events on behalf of the MPP. I also draft letters and certificates, organize the office, and generally do anything else that needs to get done. There is never a dull moment!

4) What was your favourite moment in your position?

It is really great when you can solve your constituent’s problem! It reduces their stress and worry. Unfortunately, it does not always happen. I keep a collection of thank you notes that I have received, which are especially nice to read when handling a tough case or just having a bad day.

Another part of my job I really enjoy is the writing. I recently heard that remarks I drafted and gave on behalf of the MPP were positively received. It was a nice feeling!

5) What skills or expertise are required for this job?

The most important expertise for a Constituency Assistant is being able to work effectively with people. I spend long periods of my day on the phone with constituents, communicating with government officials, and consulting with my coworkers. Strong interpersonal communication skills, the ability and desire to solve problems, and experience working with people in diverse communities are important skills I draw on every day.

For working in any political office, strong organizational skills, the ability to set goals and priorities, and multi-tasking are crucial skills. New tasks and urgent matters always come up, so it is incredibly important to be able to roll with the punches while staying on top of the day-to-day work.

6) What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a job like yours? What is a good first step for them to take?

For most of the people I know working in politics, volunteering was an important first step. While at face value my job doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with politics, it seeps into everything, as cuts to programs affect the constituents I work with. I’d recommend finding a politician you believe in, joining a party that you feel matches up with your values, and volunteering on campaigns or in offices. There are always canvassing blitzes and events that need volunteer assistance! By being enthusiastic and dedicated you will get to know people in the party and connect with politicians who should be happy to give you a reference when the job you want opens up! 

I would also recommend getting experience in customer service and working with people. These skills can be transferred anywhere and are incredibly important in constituency work!

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