Seneca Alumni

Donna with soldiers

Seneca goes to Queen's Park

A growing number of Seneca graduates from different programs are emerging as leaders in the provincial government

Nov. 3, 2019

Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP and Seneca alumna Donna Skelly pinches herself every day she arrives at Queen’s Park.

“I love my job,” Skelly said. “I’m working with a team of people who are like-minded and we are accomplishing so much in such a short period of time.”

Skelly’s arrival in Toronto as an elected member of provincial parliament was much different than when she came to Seneca to study journalism at age 17 from Capreol, Ont., a town of 3,000 people. With just a few hundred dollars in her pocket, the Seneca community embraced her and helped her adjust to her new surroundings.

One of Skelly’s first assignments was about the subway but she had never ridden it. Two of her peers stepped up to help.

“I remember them saying, ‘She’s never been on a subway.’ A couple of my student friends took me on the subway, just so they could show me how it worked. It just started with one small gesture of ‘She’s from a small town and she’s got to cover the subways. I’ll take her.’”

The former broadcast journalist also credits Seneca with giving her the practical experience to work in the field allowing her to gain hands-on experience and have some of her work aired by news outlets before she graduated.

“We were 18 and as naive as can be and we ended up getting an interview with the head of the Nazi party in the U.S.,” she remembers. “CityTV ended up picking up one of those interviews and airing it.”

Skelly’s career has spanned broadcast journalism and politics for 30 years. Prior to being elected to provincial parliament in June 2018, she served two years as a city councillor in the City of Hamilton. Today, Skelly’s Queen’s Park duties include serving as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. In this position, she hears concerns from employers regularly about their inability to fill positions.

“I will be reaching out to colleges, as well as stakeholders, to find out why and how we will address the skills shortage moving forward,” Skelly said.

Skelly isn’t the only Seneca graduate making a positive difference at Queen’s Park these days. Dylan Moore took a bit more of a conventional path to Queen’s Park from the Government Relations graduate certificate program. He is the Issues Manager for Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs.

Moore has been in his current role since September 2018, and it was “trial by fire,” as he was responsible for three portfolios within the ministry, while still learning the ropes.

His day starts at 7 a.m. and encompasses everything from research, writing, briefing the minister before Question Period and ensuring he is on top of all the pressing issues. While Seneca prepared him for his role in government, there were still surprises.

“I was surprised by the pace,” he said. “I knew it would be fast, but it was very fast. It was wild.”

Moore credits Seneca with helping him break into the political world, with professors opening up their networks to him. Also key to his success was a co-op with the Ontario Ministry of Energy.

“The energy file was one of the issues that mattered most to me. I wanted to be a part of the team that worked on our electricity system,” he said.

Moore is still in touch with his Seneca professors and continues to pay it forward by helping students, despite his hectic schedule.

Fellow Government Relations grad Kennisha Taylor followed a similar path.

She is the Caucus Liaison for Laurie Scott, Minister of Labour, whom she began working for through a co-op position while Scott was in Opposition. She made her mark and was offered a full-time position before the June 2018 election.

“Seneca taught me the importance of collaboration and teamwork and how to leverage different people’s strengths to accomplish tasks,” said Taylor, noting that on any given day she works with media, communications staff and community stakeholders.

“When you are in Opposition, you are largely critiquing policy,” she said. “However, when you are in government, you are actually shaping policy that impacts Ontarians.”

Another Government Relations grad, Jessica Trepanier, had an integral role communicating historic pieces of legislation passed by the provincial government early in its mandate.

As former press secretary and issues manager to Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, Trepanier helped communicate policy surrounding the legalization of cannabis.

“It was fascinating to see the policy team develop their policy working with them to make sure we had a grasp of the language,” said Trepanier.

Trepanier appreciates how Seneca equipped her for work at Queen’s Park and beyond through the skills and experiential learning she received.

“Seneca allowed me to tangibly apply skills like writing press releases, developing communications plans and evaluating and strategizing,” she said. “The internship was incredibly beneficial, very instrumental in helping me continue on the path that I did.”

Trepanier has since left Queen’s Park to pursue other opportunities.

These four Seneca alumni are just a few of the many who have brought their diverse set of skills and experiences to government, playing leadership roles in developing the legislation that will form Ontario’s future direction. Based on their accomplishments so far, it’s clear that future is bright.