While Canada's own parliament remains suspended, student delegates from high schools and universities across the country have convened in the Ontario Legislative Assembly at Queen's Park for the inaugural session of U of T's Model Parliament (UTMP). The delegates will simulate parliamentary proceedings from Feb. 10-12, debating three case studies: education, the environment, and First Nations Healthcare Reform.
Delegates met at Trinity College to elect party leaders during a plenary session on Feb. 6. Liberals came out on top and formed the government with a small majority, followed by a Conservative opposition, and NDP third party.
On Wednesday, the Honourable Bill Graham, former U of T International Law Professor and Liberal MP, welcomed delegates to the legislature with a keynote address. Graham spoke about parliamentary democracy, the importance of developing a thick skin, and on raucous and brawling question periods: “It's noisy, it's messy, but it does hold a government to account.”
Junior and senior delegates gathered in their respective party chambers to write bills before bringing them in to the Legislative Chamber.
“For the remainder of this week, you are not observers of the political process; you are not activists, you are not lobbyists, you are not protestors or advocates; you are sitting members within the Ontario Legislature,” Speaker Hanlan Tuffer intoned to the delegates in his Speech from the Throne. Tuffer asked delegates to “observe this [parliamentary] system critically...Consider, over the coming days, the tools this system provides you, and the tools it denies you.”
For junior PC leader Ryan Rogers, model parliament offers an opportunity to engage with politics and develop leadership skills. Rogers is a delegate to watch: He is planning a coalition between the PC and NDP parties aimed at taking down the government for Thursday.
While Wednesday's session got off to a timid start, UTMP Executive Ariel Garneau will leak a fake bill on Thursday to enliven debate, “something absurd like legalizing euthanasia or culling pigeons.”
The simulation engaged with real issues when U of T Professor Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux reported on First Nations healthcare to the junior delegation. The mood in Chambers changed from play-acting to reverence for the import of public policy.
UTMP aims to create a community beyond this week's simulation, where delegates can continue to engage with issues of governance and citizenship. “The [UTMP] is not intended to be an exercise in the pomp and pageantry of parliament...We will facilitate a conversation that goes beyond party lines, one about the public policy files of today and tomorrow,” says Founder and Chair Michael Motala. Delegates can continue the conversation through the Young Canadians' Forum online community and contribute to The Policy Exchange, an undergraduate student journal.
As Garneau says, “When you put a group of young, motivated students together, the possibilities for innovation are endless.”