Gurpreet Seehra’s passion for Canada’s Parliament began five years ago when he spent six weeks near the capital in Gatineau as part of a YMCA youth work exchange. He wanted to return to Ottawa ever since; “the experience had a big impact on me, my relationship to the French language, and to being Canadian in general. It was something important to me.” When he was looking for summer work he found a listing for parliamentary guide positions in Ottawa. He successfully petitioned the SFU Co-op Program to include the guide job and was off to Ottawa in April 2014.
The Parliamentary Guide Program is administered through the Library of Parliament, which is run by the speakers of both Houses. In addition to guiding tours, parliamentary guides also work at informal interpretation, the ticket office, and stand outside to greet people (and pose for photographs) by the Peace Tower. They are given a grey suit and a yellow and blue tie to wear, uniforms that share the colours of the Library of Parliament.
When working as a guide, Seehra was responsible for showing people around the House of Commons, the Senate, the Totunda, and the Hall of Honour - the area that separates the House of Commons and the Senate chambers. The tours are free and open to the public; “people would come from all over, Italy, Germany, it was mostly tourists, either local or international, but there were also many school kids, especially near the end of the school year.”
Parliamentary guides are given basic content and a general framework for their tours and then told to “make it your own.” Seehra explains, “it’s about finding what you like and talking about that…the point was relating all the information in a very accessible way. We had to have a certain amount of visual content, we had to talk about facts, and we had to appeal to different types of learners. That was something that was a little more challenging.”
The guides are responsible for coming up with a theme around which to construct their tour. “My theme was co-operation and compromise,” says Seehra, “I talked about that by showing things in Parliament that expressed the sentiment most clearly, for example, the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons. I would talk about how that was a symbol of cooperation between both sides, the opposition, and the government, because the entire Chamber elects the speaker of the House of Commons by secret ballot.”