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Heading to the Hill

[Students participating in QMP in 2016]
Queen's Model Parliament participants debate their bills in the House of Commons. (Submitted photo)

The House of Commons is adjourned until Jan. 30, but the chamber will roar back to life this week for Queen’s Model Parliament (QMP), which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.

“To sit in the same seats as our country’s decision makers is really special and surreal,” says Brandon Jamieson, Artsci’17, QMP co-chair and past participant. He notes that Queen's is one of the few universities in Canada to have access to the House of Commons for its model parliament, and no other university has the opportunity to use the House of Commons for multiple days. 

“For so many students, QMP is a transformative experience. Some of the nation’s brightest leaders today planted their political roots at QMP, doing exactly what the delegates will be doing this week," Mr. Jamieson adds.

From Jan. 11-14, 338 Queen’s students from a variety of faculties will sit as Members of Parliament. During the mock third-reading sessions, participants will give speeches and debate bills before the vote is called. An additional 10 students will attend and cover the conference as journalists.

The students have spent months preparing for the three-day visit to Parliament Hill. Every week through the fall term, the student MPs gathered in their respective party caucuses to discuss policies, draft legislation, and prepare speeches. The student journalists covered this activity by interviewing the delegates and conducting their own investigations.

The time commitment demanded by the extracurricular opportunity is worth it, according to QMP co-chair Jasmine Lagundzija, Artsci’18.

“The experience is unparalleled,” says Ms. Lagundzija, who attended QMP as a first-year student in 2015. “We have this incredible opportunity to take ideas we are learning about in the classroom and apply them in the House of Commons.”

From Grant Hall to Parliament Hill

It’s often said that politics is compromise, so it’s fitting that QMP was founded 70 years ago to solve a political dilemma. Queen's has enjoyed strong connections to government and political life in Canada over the past 175 years. As detailed on Queen’s 175th anniversary website, students wanted to establish campus branches of national political parties after the Second World War, but they couldn’t because a 1930s referendum banned any affiliation with off-campus organizations.

[A student delivers a speech in the House of Commons during QMP in 2016]
Ashley Ansah, Government House Leader for the Green Party during last year's Queen's Model Parliament, delivers a speech in the House of Commons. (Submitted photo)

To work around the ban, political studies students Kate Macdonnell and Mike Howarth recommended a model parliament similar to McGill University’s mock parliament. The idea took off, with Queen’s students debating issues in Grant Hall.

QMP has evolved over the years, most notably moving to the House of Commons in the 1990s at the invitation of Speaker Gilbert Parent. Peter Milliken, Arts’68, a former QMP participant, continued to facilitate the students’ use of the House of Commons when he became Speaker.

“QMP originally gave politics students a sounding board to talk about politics. Now, the largest and oldest model parliament in Canada offers Queen’s students of all stripes and disciplines the opportunity to engage with the parliamentary process,” Mr. Jamieson says. “It’s the 70th year, and I think more than ever we want to show how far the conference has come from its roots in Grant Hall.”

Lasting connections

Every year, QMP organizers invite distinguished guests to act as the Speaker of the House of Commons for each bill reading. Just a few of the notable past Speakers include Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau, Rick Mercer, Andrew Coyne, and John Baird, Artsci’92, who participated in QMP as a student. Many other QMP alumni return to speak with current students at the various social events that are held during the conference.

PM Justin Trudeau serves as Speaker during QMP in 2016]
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in Queen's Model Parliament in 2016 as the Speaker of the House. QMP organizers invite politicians and journalists to act as the Speaker. (Submitted photo)

“There’s something really special about connecting with alumni,” Ms. Lagundzija says. “Last year, Nik Nanos attended and he talked about how it’s still a similar experience he had. I like sharing that experience with alumni.”

David Lindsay, Com’81, is looking forward to attending the conference this year as the keynote speaker at the gala dinner. Mr. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities, participated in QMP in 1981. He believes the extracurricular learning opportunity offers many benefits for students.

“The skills required to be a good parliamentarian – the ability to construct a logical argument, speak articulately, work well in a group, negotiate and sway opinion – transition well to the real world, regardless of what field you work in,” he says.

Mr. Lindsay recalls fondly his QMP experience. Much like today, the resolutions debated in the House of Commons included a mix of serious issues and more light-hearted topics. One resolution called for Canada to build a wall along the border to keep out “killer bees” that some people perceived as a threat at that time.

“Constructing a cogent argument around a frivolous topic is a real skill,” Mr. Lindsay says. “You have to apply intellectual rigour and creativity, and hone those skills that you will use the rest of your life.”

Mr. Jamieson explains that while the students will have some fun with some satirical debates, they will also bring forward bills that might not necessarily be on the government agenda but matter to young people.

“We are giving young Canadians an opportunity to engage in issues they care about in an environment that doesn’t stifle debate,” he says. “QMP is all about encouraging creativity, humour, and fun, while also bringing the lighter side of politics to light.”

Visit the QMP website for more information about the student conference.