My Summer as a Parliamentary Guide
Jayshree Bhargava is a fourth-year student at Ivey Business School, and she’s never let her degree get in the way of embracing diverse interests and opportunities. An Ottawa native, Jayshree graduated from Colonel By Secondary School and her experiences include years of Kathak dance training, work on women’s empowerment clubs, and a summer as a tour guide for the Parliament of Canada!
So what exactly is the Parliamentary Guide Program?
Parliamentary guides are students who spend a summer or part of the school year in Ottawa working at Parliament, where they give tours of the Senate, House of Commons, and East Block to tourists, foreign dignitaries, and curious Canadians. There are also shifts during events, where Guides attend to answer questions about the Parliament buildings and history.
Every day is a brand new experience with new people - I had the chance to meet the Prime Minister a few times, as well as the Governor General, Members of the House of Commons and the Senate, and even the French President Emmanuel Macron! It’s a neat networking opportunity for sure, if that’s what you’re interested in.
Who can be a Parliamentary Guide?
The Guide Program is open to anyone who has finished at least one year of university and is going back! You don’t need to be in political science to be a guide - in my year, we had engineers, business students, and I was in medical sciences at Western at the time. It’s a really diverse group, and the main requirements are that you’re bilingual and able to live in Ottawa for the summer. You now would get paid $21 per hour plus a stipend to cover travel. If you’re not from Ottawa, they’ll typically put you in touch with Guides who work during the year so you can sublet from them.
What’s the difference between the Guide program and the Page program?
Pages work for the whole year in the House of Commons or the Senate, where they set up before government proceedings and get documents, water, or anything else the MPs or Senators need. To be a page in the House of Commons, you have to be in your first year of university, and for the Senate, you have to have finished your first year of university.
How does the Guide application process work?
You apply through the library of parliament website, where you send in your cover letter and resume. They screen for bilingualism and public speaking experience, so make sure to highlight those skills on your application! Bilingualism is really important because you’ll be giving tours in French just as frequently as English.
Group interviews are held at the major city closest to your university, so I had to go to Toronto since I was at Western for school. My group contained seven people, and our interview was three hours long. They tested our public speaking abilities, second language fluency, and teamwork. If you get through the interview, you then have to take a French comprehension and speaking test. You’ll need to score at the highest level to be a Guide.
What was your favourite part of being a Guide?
This will probably sound cliché, but the people. The guides you work with become your best friends, and everyone bonds over wild stories about meeting really cool (or crazy) visitors. I’m still super close with my friends from when I was a guide, they’re some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! I think you have to be an innately nice person to put yourself out there and work with visitors every single day.
Another really interesting aspect is the chance to walk through history every single day. You’re working in these giant buildings - the most important buildings in the country - and you belong there just as much as the elected officials that everyone knows by name.
On the flip side, what was your least favourite part?
Being a Guide is hard work. You have to be positive and peppy 24/7, because even if you’re not on the job or in uniform, people from your tour groups might recognize you later on in the city and you want to leave a good impression on them. There are also some visitors that are just mean - they’re sexist or racist and you have to be professional and polite through all of that, because they’re the “customer”. As a woman of colour, I was a double minority so that definitely shaped some of my experience, but there’s a really good support system with fellow guides and the supervisors.
What else do you want people to know about being a Guide?
There are a lot of fun perks to working in parliament! On Canada day, we could bypass security to get right up to the front of the stage on Parliament Hill, and we had after-hours access to the parliament buildings. There’s also a Guide Ball, and if you’re working during the school year, you’ll have the chance to be at Parliament for all of the year-end events and festivities like Royal Assent.
In addition, your supervisors make sure to help you acclimate to working in Parliament. Even though you’re a student, they want you to be comfortable around senators, MPs, and other important government officials, because you’ll be around them all the time and you belong there just as much as they do.
Finally, what’s your favourite memory from your summer as a Parliamentary Guide?
There are so many it’s hard to choose, but one memory really sticks out. I was stuck on shift in the peace tower, which is everyone’s least favourite shift, while President Emmanuel Macron of France was visiting for the G7. I got to see him and ended up being designated to follow him and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau around while they toured the buildings! I was basically there as backup if either of them had a question about Parliament or the historical aspects of the government, and it was SO. COOL.
If you have any questions about being a Parliamentary Guide, feel free to reach out and we can connect you with Jayshree. As a side note, see if you can spot her on the application website!
Transcribed by Komal Patel
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