Queen's takes the Hill

Three-day model parliament is only part of the solution to low political engagement among Canadians

Queen's Model Parliament delegates gather in preparation for the conference.
Queen's Model Parliament delegates gather in preparation for the conference.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

You might roll your eyes at the notion that a few hundred 18- to 22-year-olds could influence federal parliamentarians. But why is this notion so implausible?

On Wednesday, about 300 Queen’s students will travel to Ottawa during the parliamentary break to participate in the annual Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP) — their own three-day session of Parliament in the House of Commons.

The conference affords students the opportunity to recreate a session in Parliament for their notable guests, who take turns acting as Speaker of the House. With perseverance and a little luck on their side, the majority of bills are passed in Parliament.

According to Elections Canada, voter turnout in the 2011 federal election rested around 61.4 per cent. Though it’s up from 58.8 per cent in 2008, it’s not a number worth boasting about on our political report card.

Canadian youth between the ages of 18 and 24 comprise 13.4 per cent of Canada’s population, and it’s about time someone noticed.

Rick Mercer noticed, and did what Elections Canada couldn’t — he’s helped a vast majority of youth voters care about Canadian politics.

Mercer, with his popular television show The Rick Mercer Report, stimulated this interest by truly believing that Canadian youth could make a difference and that their voices mattered. He made 13.4 per cent of Canadians feel like the 100 per cent.

QMP is no different. The political make-up of the conference consists of undergraduate students from all scholastic disciplines, from engineering to commerce to biology and everything in between.

It’s more than just a group of individuals traipsing around Parliament Hill playing dress-up in parliamentary clothing. There’s substance behind the bills and passion in the speeches.

Take this year’s conference: delegates are given the opportunity to join a Canadian political party of their own choosing — as a result, the Green Party has been elected as government, with the Liberals sitting in opposition.

Although some might view this Green domination as an alternate universe akin to science fiction, it’s just one of the many ways QMP delegates are able to think outside the political box to engage in tangible political proceedings.

Humour obviously plays a role in the conference, but the debates are respectful, witty and never farcical. There is an overwhelming sense of camaraderie amongst the QMP delegates — though they may sport orange or blue in the House of Commons, they still bleed Queen’s tricolour through and through.

QMP students are extremely grateful for the participation of past and present Members of Parliament such as Elizabeth May, Justin Trudeau, Peter MacKay, John Baird, John Turner, Jack Layton and nationally renowned journalists such as Rosemary Barton and Evan Solomon. They’ve given up their time to join the conference in past years.

They inject hope into QMP — that one day a QMP participant may become a Member of Parliament or a political pundit.

On Jan. 21, when QMP has concluded and the real world resumes, why can’t it be that this fascination with the model parliament be applicable to the real House of Commons?

Are Canadian politics so inexplicably devoid of unfettered dreamers to allow this to happen?

A week from now, QMP delegates will take the stage — or rather, the desks — of federal parliamentarians to debate issues from crime prevention, to Arctic sovereignty, to the preservation of aboriginal peoples’ cultures in Québec.

Delegates take into consideration not only issues which affect our age demographic, but those that might better serve our country.

The reality is that Canada isn’t Neverland. As young Canadian voters age, they’ll be slotted into a new age demographic and be forever chained to a statistic.

If parliamentarians took the time to promote the youth vote and making young voters feel like they matter, we may start to see more young Canadians develop a life-long passion for politics.

This is the underlying issue: if the importance of the youth vote fails to resonate with Members of Parliament, there’s a greater chance that the young voters will turn into the 38.6 per cent of non-voters. Dare we imagine a Canada where the political landscape is nothing more than a ghost town?

Will youth voters become the 38.6 per cent of non-voters? Or, will young Canadians assume drone-like voting tendencies as they begrudgingly march to the polls having forgotten the excitement that once was Canadian politics?

It’s the responsibility of young Canadians to understand the value of voting, but it’s also the responsibility of parliamentarians and pundits to promote the importance of engaging in the democratic process.

In the time being, Queen’s Model Parliament will act its 65th session of Parliament in the hopes that perhaps one day the House of Commons will fondly look this way.

Your move, Ottawa.

Olivia Robinson is media and communications officer for Queen’s Model Parliament 2012.

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