The following is a guest blog written by Queen’s Model Parliament co-chairs Jasmine Lagundzija, (Artsci’18) and Brandon Jamieson, (Artsci’17).
For three days every January, 350 students from Queen’s University travel to Ottawa to participate in the country’s largest and oldest model Parliament conference. For the past 70 years, Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP) has given young Canadians the opportunity to engage with politics firsthand as they hone their debating skills and draft legislation to address some of the nation’s most pressing issues, all while seated in the House of Commons.
The conference begins in September, when more than 500 students from nearly every discipline apply for the opportunity to attend QMP. Then, through random lottery, 338 students have the opportunity to attend the conference as delegates. When they are admitted to the conference, they are bound to one of the five major political parties in Canada. After electing a party leader, the delegates are free to roam as party leaders canvass and campaign to have delegates join their party. After two weeks of campaigning and a leadership debate, delegates may either rejoin the party they were first bound to, or they may switch to a new party. As is practice by convention, the party with the most members will form government. Then, for four months, delegates meet weekly in their respective caucuses to draft legislation that will be debated on in full session of the House in January.
Simultaneously, the QMP Journalism Program kicks off. Ten students are admitted to the conference to adopt the role of the press. While delegates are drafting legislation, canvasing for their party, and preparing for the conference, the journalists are interviewing, critiquing, and publishing their work in the bi-weekly Parliamentary Post. The Press Corp travels to Ottawa with the delegates and continue their work, holding our would-be-politicos to account for their policies. At the end of the conference, they are invited to attend a live-taping of CBC’s Power & Politics – a small reward for their work.
While in the House, guest speakers are invited to preside over debate on bills as Speakers of the House. Just this year we were privileged to welcome the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, the Hon. Bill Morneau, British High Commissioner Howard Drake, Rosemary Barton, among countless others. After presiding over debate, speakers have the chance to share their own personal experiences and have a conversation with delegates.
The bills presented at QMP are wide ranging in their scope and subject. They cover topics on everything from the environment, to Indigenous affairs, foreign affairs to the future of the CBC. However, the topic of bills tends to reflect the broader concerns of young Canadians today. How can we address the ever pressing threat posed by climate change? What is Canada’s role in a quickly adapting global political landscape? It is hard not to remain hopeful about the future of the country when students willingly choose to attend this conference to debate these issues, for no reason other than their own personal satisfaction. The solutions presented are often innovative, comprehensive, and occasionally humorous. However, this reflects a broader light-hearted tone delegates adopt when debating issues. Debate isn’t divisive and partisanship isn’t poisonous.
The students leave with more than just the memories. The experience they have is just learning outside the classroom. They leave with a greater grasp on the legislative and procedural functions of our government and a more acute understanding of the complex issues we face as a nation. They hear of the value and importance of remaining engaged citizens through voting and community service. They appreciate the necessity of debate with equal parts respect and consideration. They have taken away skills that will continue to better them throughout their educational endeavours, their future careers, and, most importantly, as private citizens.
For us, as the co-chairs of this year’s conference, we had the privilege of working with a team of talented individuals and a network of hundreds of alumni to deliver this annual experience. Without hesitation, we volunteered 15 to 20 hours per week of our time on preparing for those three days. We were always motivated by the prospect that we were having at least a small, but hopefully a profound impact on the leaders of today and tomorrow. In our conversations with QMP alumni such as the Hon. Peter Milliken, the Hon. John Baird, and Nik Nanos, they frequently cite how their time at QMP shaped and inspired their desires to continue a life in politics. And for the past 70 years, there have been thousands of students just like them who drew on their time as students sitting in the House of Commons.