Model behaviour?

QMP aims to clean up its act in 2010

Queen’s Model Parliament, seen here in 2007, has been as known for its after-parties as much as its political parties.
Queen’s Model Parliament, seen here in 2007, has been as known for its after-parties as much as its political parties.
Supplied Photo by B. Shiva Mayer
Students attend a delegate meeting yesterday in preparation for QMP’s start tomorrow.
Students attend a delegate meeting yesterday in preparation for QMP’s start tomorrow.

Parliament has become an easy target for labels of idleness in the age of annual prorogation. But our resident effigy, the Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP), might be an easier target.

Many people shrug off the event as catering to a limited clique of politics students, thinking it holds little relevance for the general student body.

The students involved in the coordination of this year’s QMP are trying to change this perception.

Conal Slobodin and Amanda Fowler, both ArtSci ’10, co-chair the executive committee in charge of co-ordinating this year’s event, which starts tomorrow in Ottawa.

“It was started as a way to get people engaged in the political process. In the 1950s, Prime Minister [John] Diefenbaker actually participated in QMP as a ‘student,’” Slobodin said.

Slobodin said QMP has changed through the years.

“It started off in Grant Hall... and it was very small,” he said. “It evolved quickly. In the early 1990s, it moved to the House of Commons, where it is now.”

Slobodin said Speaker of the House Peter Milliken has played an important role in QMP, but there are plans to keep it in the House of Commons after Milliken leaves office.

Slobodin said Milliken and his staff has helped QMP to proceed smoothly, but it has other supporters on Parliament Hill, such as Queen’s alumni Transport Minister John Baird and Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson as well as Kingston area Senator Hugh Segal.

QMP has 308 student delegates, with another 10 attending as journalists who report on the debates and socials during the three day conference.

There have been concerns over how serious participants take the event, both in terms of their personal behaviour and the bills they put forth.

Fowler said professionalism is the key to respect.

“We wanted to create a more professional atmosphere in terms of the way we write our bills and the way delegates conduct themselves in the House,” she said. “We tried to have more professional socials. We wanted people to wear their [professional attire] because they think in the mindset that they are in a professional environment.”

Slobodin said he wanted to take on the position of QMP executive this year, after personally feeling excluded at the conference as a first year student.

“I had a really poor year in first year in terms of participation,” he said. “My party leader was all about letting his friends speak, so it wasn’t the best experience for me.” Slobodin said the small things will help to curtail anti-social behaviour.

“We got steins for QMP because you can’t play flip cup with steins. Four years ago, people were caught on camera on the Hill playing flip cup, and that looks really bad on us. It’s basic things that we’ve been trying to do.” Slobodin said until 1995, CPAC broadcast sessions of QMP. During that year’s event, a student mocked Jean Chrétien’s facial paralysis, prompting CPAC to drop QMP from their schedule.

“My understanding is that CPAC dropped out because one of our delegates had made fun of how Chrétien spoke and his mannerisms.”

Slobodin said he is excited to have CPAC covering QMP once again this year in a different capacity, as this year was approached about featuring the conference on “On the Bright Side,” a current affairs program highlighting the more cooperative aspects of politics.

“It’s been the dream of every executive since to get CPAC back.”

Slobodin said he was no exception, as repairing QMP’s strained relationship with CPAC was a priority for this year’s executive committee.

“Queen’s has been in a rough stretch for a while,” he said. “CPAC is a different way to show that Queen’s students are about more than just drinking and partying.”

Slobodin said many people have failed to respect the institution of Parliament in the past.

“[This year,] we’ve allowed joke clauses, but not joke bills. Queen’s students love their acronyms, so they’ll make acronyms that are kind of funny. But the bills themselves are serious in nature. We have an electoral reform bill, we have a bill about Francophone identity, a cap and trade bill, a bill on the seal hunt ... a health-care bill, a bill on Northern sovereignty.”

Slobodin said he understands many people still may associate QMP with its social events.

“There are some people who will go to excess and predrink before the socials … that mentality probably can’t completely change,” he said. “We want the socials to be more of a social mixer and not just drinking games.” Slobodin said interest in QMP transcends faculties and programs, attracting students from a broad range of fields.

“I think this year has been really great [at generating greater inclusiveness]. About 50 per cent of our delegates are in politics, but we’ve got kids from Life Sciences coming out, we’ve got kids from chemistry, biology ... nursing, history, economics, all over the place. I think that’s a really good sign that people are starting to reach out.” Slobodin said the conference’s inclusiveness helps to make it a more enriching educational opportunity.

“It’s an educational, interactive experience. We’ve been running workshops and promoting the bilingual aspect of the conference. [Participants are] more engaged and more aware of the political process. It shouldn’t be a politics clique. It should be an experience that everyone shares.”

Slobodin said 62 per cent of QMP’s $100,000 budget comes from student fees, and the other 38 per cent is fund raised. The fee is $200 for every participant, while the committee contributes the equivalent of $150 per person.

This year’s committee raised about $15,000 more than last year, including contributions from the Faculties of Law, Education and School of Policy Studies.

“They’ve seen this conference has a lot to offer students and I think that goes a long way toward... working to help bring more kids into this conference.” Stuart Woody, ArtSci ’10, co-ordinates fundraising efforts for QMP. He said the budget surplus has allowed them to invest in amenities.

“Eighty per cent of what you budget is fixed ... so having that extra 20 per cent is what allows you to put on the touches that raise the caliber of the event. Things like the [leather] delegate folders and the journalists’ ability to print things [have improved with the budget]. [There are] a lot of good things we’ve managed to improve, but we’ve kept the fee the same. In fact, we’re projected to run a surplus, which hasn’t happened in a while.”

QMP media officer Emily Trogen, ArtSci ’11, is in charge of the event’s journalism program.

She said the journalism program offers an alternative for students who want to study Parliament from another perspective.

“In the past, we thought the journalists didn’t have as much attention paid to them because they don’t speak in the House and it was a separate program. This year, we’re revamping the program. For the first time, we have journalist workshops on the hill.” Trogen said students can use QMP to learn more about Canada’s Parliamentary process and explore ideologies they would otherwise shy away from.

Ben Cox, ArtSci ’10 and leader of this year’s Bloc Quebecois, said he has gained perspective from his position as leader of a Party that he doesn’t personally associate with.

“The Bloc takes flak for being a one-trick pony on the issue of sovereignty, but they can actually bring a lot to the table, and if it wasn’t for QMP, I wouldn’t have known this.” Green Party leader Andrea Holmes, also ArtSci ’10, said QMP was one of her fondest memories from her time at Queen’s.

“I didn’t really like Queen’s in my first year, and then I went to QMP, and it just changed everything,” she said. “You just meet so many people, and it’s such a fun time.”

Holmes said the popular impression of QMP as being an event catered to the political clique.

“I think people who haven’t gone think it’s just [for] politics [students], but I know engineers and people in psych who come back year after year because they enjoy it so much.”

Liberal Prime Minister David Chou, ArtSci ’10 said QMP is a chance to live history firsthand.

“If there is anything we’ve seen this year, [QMP] is expanding, and we’re seeing people from different backgrounds,” he said. “I think a lot of the interest in QMP comes from ... word of mouth. People who have gone to QMP come back different. I think that attracts a lot of people because ... it’s such a momentous occasion, and you become a part of the history and politics of our country.” NDP leader and ArtSci ’11 David Sinkinson said the key to a successful event is to enjoy its privileges in moderation.

“The committee and leaders want everyone to have fun, but it’s about having fun in moderation,” he said. “It’s a very big honour for the school and for the delegates to have the opportunity to participate in this. I think, in recent years, delegates have taken it seriously.”

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