As part of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s second Model Parliament program, 107 students from around the province were selected to arrive at Queen’s Park in Toronto from 25 to 27 February. Consisting of three interactive days of working with like-minded students from grades 10 to 12, the program served to teach youth about the provincial legislature through meeting the key leaders of Ontario, while offering them a practical approach to the legislative process through hands-on activities, meetings and debates.
Students from different regions of Ontario, ranging from Sault Ste. Marie to London, were selected, one for each of the 107 electoral ridings of Ontario. Many of the youth, when asked, said that they joined the program for varying reasons. Some joined the program simply because they saw it as an opportunity to increase their political knowledge and eventually become a more informed member of society. For others, it was a learning opportunity to expand their already vast political experience. Gontran Collin, a student from the city of Quinte West, was an exchange student from Luxembourg who represented the riding of Northumberland-Quinte West. He was excited to have been chosen for the program, commenting, “I applied to the program because I wanted to know more about the political system in Ontario. I think it’s an amazing program and feel lucky to touch democracy so closely.”
Kyle Fitzgerald, who represented his home riding of Oshawa, was elected as the Premier of the Liberal party. He said, “Educational experiences such as Model Parliament show students that at all levels of government, their lives are directly impacted. By not getting engaged, young people are essentially allowing politicians to treat their interests as a second-tier concern. Programs like Model Parliament inspire youth to get involved, and convince their peers to do the same.”
Though the program occurred over a span of three days, students began to get involved immediately after the selection process was concluded. Having received their acceptance emails in November, within a few days the chosen youth had selected one of three political parties – Liberal, Progressive Conservative (PC), or the New Democratic Party (NDP) – formed their Caucuses, and in the case of the Liberal Party, elected their Premier, even before any actual direct interactions.
It was no surprise, then, that their first day together on 25 February was more like a reunion rather than an awkward first meeting. Once the program began, their daily schedules included observing Question Period in the Legislative Chamber and meeting with several Members of Provincial Parliament, as well as the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
One of the most interactive and impassioned component of this simulation was the daily Caucus meeting. Before their arrival, every member had proposed a Bill on a topic that mattered to them. One Bill for each of the three parties was chosen with the goal of debating the issues in the Legislative Chamber on the last day of the simulation.
During the three days, each Caucus debated their own Bills, working to amend it in a way that would enable it to be passed in the Legislative Chamber, which was the ultimate goal. While the program required rigorous work, it wasn’t without its entertainment. The most surprising, and certainly amusing, aspect of the program was the final deliberations, when they voted on the Bills. Having the majority, it came as a shock to see the proposed Bill of the Liberal Party be defeated. The same was also the fate of the Official Opposition ‐ the PC Party. Ironically, the smallest party, the NDPs, took the only victory with their proposed bill on organ donations.
The entire process was also very informative regarding the lives of politicians. Undoubtedly, there has always been a negative connotation associated with the political world. What many noticed, however, through observing the official MPPs during Question Period, was the sheer passion they had for their chosen ministries, whether they were speaking on the environment or the health sector.
Their dedication to be a driving force in this province’s prosperity was also seen in the like-minded individuals that participated in the program, all of whom also had the same wish to give back to the greater society. Model Parliament allowed these individuals to gain practical knowledge that would be difficult to gain simply by sitting in a classroom. Yilena Hsue, a student at Marc Garneau CI who was selected to represent the riding of Dufferin-Caledon, said, “Programs like these are important, as many do not recognize the changes that politicians are trying to make and contribute to our current society. Many people are unaware and often take their democracy for granted … But this programs shows how hard politicians are trying to make Ontario a better place.”
“Laws that our government makes directly affect us as citizens and will effect us more and more as we get older. Understanding how bills get made in to laws and who is involved with what, allows us to become more informed. When you are learning in a classroom, you do not get the hands on approach that these programs give you … These programs show you first hand who the people are that are involved in our government and what their roles are,” said Courtney Fiacconi.
In addition to the Model Parliament Program, youth can also apply to be a part of the Model City Hall (for the youth of Toronto), the Ontario Model Parliament, and the Ontario Youth Parliament, all programs that involve different components but revolve around the idea of directly educating youth to take a practical approach to the political world and become an informed citizen of their country.
Kyle Fitzgerald said, “Simply being at Queen’s Park, the seat of power for a province of thirteen million, conveys a sense of importance to democracy. Interacting with decision-makers adds a sense of realism, and the passion students and organizers bring is unrivaled in the classroom. By experiencing life as a politician firsthand, students are left with little doubt surrounding what it is they do. Everyone who participates in this program, regardless of how much they know, will leave knowing more. This applies both to the parliamentary system as well as to the issues facing Ontarians today. Through caucus meetings, debates, and Question Period, participants are exposed to differing viewpoints on topics that actual elected officials are grappling with … By participating in this program, students gain a unique understanding of issues facing their community, empowering them to do something about it.”