Model parliament experience

By Matt Rabey

The day began before the sunrise with a 6 a.m. cab ride to Laurentian University. Upon arrival a quick attendance was taken and the luggage and passengers were loaded for the long bus drive to Ottawa. It was my first model parliament and my mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness were overcome by a lack of sleep that resulted in a five-hour bus ride feeling like five minutes. Upon arrival in our nation’s capital we lodged our belongings and organized into our groups, each of which represented party that we would be speaking for in the actual House of Commons the next day.

Everyone must speak in the house and the only exception is to not be at your seat when you are supposed to speak. I had no intention of taking the easy way out and so I elected for a moderate speaking role as bill critique for the Liberal party. Originally when registering months ago I asked to represent the NDP to which my sister stated her opinion that “when you have no money you vote NDP and when you want to keep it you vote Conservative.” Political views aside the parliament was modelled after our current house with a Conservative majority with later registrations being assigned to the party that needed them.

The first evenings activities included many deals being brokered amongst the various political parties, as leader’s held caucus in their respective hotel rooms. Speeches were written as seasoned veterans of the model parliament assisted the freshmen and briefed them on how the subsequent events would be conducted. With plans of action draw up and ready to be executed, the night was to end much earlier, with less imbibing, than the nights that followed.

The Friday commenced with a walk in the bitter cold from the Capitol Hill hotel to the Parliament building, which was to be the most unpleasant part of a very exciting experience. The model parliament was to be conducted in the same manner as the real one beginning with a speech from the throne in the senate read by the Right Honourable Aline Chrétien. After the address the MP’s returned to the house and the session of parliament began.

My favourite form of art, oratory, was conducted by some of the best public speakers from the Laurentian University student body. As heckling was permitted speakers displayed their pedigree by fighting through the added pressure of presenting already placed on the members. Supporting members was also permitted and the cheering on of fellow party members brought smiles to all. Participants also supported opposition as more hesitant speakers were not heckled and spoke to a house in revered silence. While speeches varied in degree of seriousness, the NDP all took part in a speech to the rendition of the movie Grease, there was something to be enjoyed by both participants and observers.

Throughout the day various special guests were in attendance including: the speaker the Right Honourable Niel McGraw, former Deputy Prime Minister Shelia Copps, Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, and Laurentian University representatives, Dominic Giroux, Dr. Harley D’Entremont and Dr. Gina Comeau. The guests that spoke in the house addressed the students with words of encouragement that commended students in their participation in this country’s political process even if only a simulated version. The speeches continued throughout the morning, but it was the afternoon that held the most excitement for me, as it was when I was to address the Canadian House of Commons as the Liberal MP from Saint-Laurent-Cartierville.

From my personal experience of speaking in the house, it is up to others to judge if the job was well done or not, but the thrill of speaking in the hallowed halls where our country’s history has been shaped was priceless. The experience of having your words cheered on was new to me, but it is something that I found exhilarating.

Once parliament was concluded the participants and guests retired to the reception that had high profile Canadians, Jean Chrétien and Senator Marie Poulin in attendance as special guest speakers. The reception was full of talk about the day’s events, but it was overshadowed by a humorous speech about the Shawinigan Handshake by the former Canadian Prime Minister. It was a tremendous honour to have a picture taken with Mr Chrétien and to hear his address to the students.

The dinner that followed was surprisingly delicious and befitted the next speaker and long time friend to the university, Senator Marie Poulin. The senator was born in Sudbury, attending Laurentian University for her Bachelor of Arts degree and spoke to her beginnings on the road to senator.

After dinner, the remainder of the trip was unscheduled and students were free to enjoy Ottawa at their leisure. Ottawa is a beautiful city with much to offer and the countless experiences that resulted from this trip will be long remembered by those who attended. The university offers model parliament every year and it is my recommendation to anyone interested in politics or simply an enjoyable trip to the nation’s capital to attend this event in the future.