Cover Story: 25th anniversary of LU Model Parliament marks many major milestones

By Jessica Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

January 20, 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of Laurentian University Model Parliament (LMP), an event characterized by milestones and “firsts” that reinforced the bright nature and promise of involved Laurentian students.

“This [event] has very small origins, 25 years ago, first held the Sudbury Regional Council Chambers,” said Rand Dyck, founder of LMP. “My wife made the sandwiches for lunch.”

“Then we held it in residence, and then Great Hall. It was roughly 17 years ago that we started coming to Ottawa.”

Dyck, a political science professor and textbook author, was recounting the story of Model Parliament to a room full of students, staff, faculty and alumni, gathered in the Chateau Laurier for a gala celebrating the momentous occasion that was the anniversary.

True to tradition, the alumni present had served as the senate for LMP that day, as they do every five years. It’s a testament to the impact Model Parliament has on the student participants—many alumni who spoke that night referred to their parliamentary experiences as being the most important and most fondly remembered times of their undergrad.

Among said alumni is Neil McGraw, who served as Prime Minister in his own time as a student at LMP, and has now served as Speaker of the House at the event for 15 years. He tweeted a photo from his point of view in the House of Commons the morning of the event, captioned, “Feels good to be back in my favourite chair #LUMP25”.

But, for all the milestones that the anniversary carried with it, it was the current undergraduate students drafting and defending their bills that were still finding ways to establish firsts. The Green Party’s bill drew a tie (60 yay’s and 60 nay’s) for the first time in LMP history. Then, later that day, Green Party leader Mike Bleskie became the first student in the House of Commons to ever be appointed to the Senate—during the proceedings.

As he later explained on Facebook, Bleskie arranged the “secret stunt” to occur after question period; he thanked the House, appointed a leader in his place, took a bow, and threw a rose into the crowd (literally).

Of course, possibly the most important first for LMP was having the Indigenous Peoples’ National Party in government. The Right Honourable Jessica Lemelin served as Prime Minister as the party introduced a budget that focused heavily on funding education opportunities for indigenous students and non-indigenous post-secondary students.

It’s this combination of parliamentary proceedings and real-life student rowdiness that give Model Parliament its special touch, one that carries past the day itself well into the weekend, where cries of “shame!” and “hear hear!” can be heard in the hotel halls late into the night.

Amid all the jokes and shouting were some incredibly well-crafted, moving speeches, that address important and time issues arising in Canadian communities.

The Green Party’s bill had “dank memes” built into every second clause, but the bill itself was built on a “comprehensive environmental safeguard”. The Communist Party staged a walk out when their proletariat-focused climate change bill wasn’t passed, but not before one of their member’s performed a rousing anti-Trump, anti-fascist speech that rang true to many listeners in the room.

After all, this year’s LMP coincided with the American presidential inauguration, a cause for concern among many of the young, liberal-minded Canadians in the House that day. For every Member’s Statement that joked about Trump and his tiny hands, there was a tinge of truth.

Bob McKeown, the well-known political journalist invited to speak at the gala, had his share to say about Trump, having spent the last months putting together a comprehensive documentary about the President. But what McKeown emphasized most was the difference between Canadians and Americans; the progress we’ve made here, and the importance of the discussions being held in the House that day.

The magnitude of holding our Model Parliament on the day of President Trump’s inauguration, with a female Prime Minister at the helm of the Indigenous Peoples’ National Party government, was not lost on anyone. While oppression, misogyny, and white supremacy were being sworn in, Laurentian students spoke passionately about education for all, refugee protection, and climate change.

It’s not to say that we don’t have work to do—that Canada is a utopia of equity, that Laurentian is past grappling with racial or gendered divides—but it does show that Laurentian students are ready to do the work. And Model Parliament is affording these students with opportunities to get to it.

See all of the Lambda’s photos of the event, taken by Olivia Francesconi, on Facebook here