A group of teenagers will get to see firsthand how our country is run when they take part in Forum for Young Canadians next month.
Six students from Mt. Cheam Christian School and one from Timothy Christian will be packing their bags this week and flying to Ontario for the week-long political youth conference in Ottawa from Feb. 3 to Feb. 7.
“This is an opportunity for these young leaders to engage with youth from across Canada and to learn about how Parliament works in our wonderful country,” said Caroline Van Saane, local Forum co-ordinator.
“It’s a unique experience and I can meet new people while learning about politics,” said Hailey Barten, a Grade 10 Mt. Cheam Christian student.
She’ll be joined by fellow schoolmates Leah Kerkhoff, Willa Ter Haar, Joost Van Herk, Evan Lindhout, Hannah Rozendaal, plus Eric Vander Waal of Timothy Christian.
Van Saane has been a Forum chaperone for years and can guarantee the kids will be “very busy.”
They’ll be going non-stop when they arrive in Ottawa on Feb. 3 as each day their schedule begins at 7 a.m. and will continue until about 10 p.m.
They will be participating in various activities, including an international trade simulation, a mock election and visit to the House of Commons’ Question Period. There will be presentations on Indigenous peoples, the role of the MPs, the role of the media, plus advocacy and lobbying.
Some will tour Rideau Hall, while others will visit the Supreme Court or the Bank of Canada Museum.
“I’m most excited about taking part in the Elections Canada simulation. I really want to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes and how things are run,” said Leah Kerkhoff a Grade 10 Mt. Cheam Christian student.
Grade 10 student Evan Lindhout heard about Forum from his sister who went a few years ago and said it was a “great learning experience.”
Each student had to apply to be accepted to the program where more than 300 teens aged 15 to 19 attend every year. Forum is split into three sessions – the weeks of Feb. 3, March 9 and March 23 – each with about 110 students.
The seven local students will be taking part in the first Forum session while another group of six teens from Timothy Christian will be attending the second one. Each one fundraised through bottle drives, business sponsorships and doing jobs for family and friends to cover the $995 cost.
There are very stringent rules at Forum including a dress code and proper usage of social media – like don’t post an image of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Facebook unless he gives you permission.
Van Saane said the highlight of the trip will be the evening parliamentary reception where all MPs, senators and house leaders are invited to attend and meet the young constituents taking part in Forum. There’s even the possibility that both Trudeau and the Leader of the Opposition will be there, she added.
One thing that not every student attending Forum will get to do is have a luncheon with the MP of the riding they live in, but the seven Chilliwack students will.
“We have had official word from both MP Mark Strahl and MP Brad Vis that they will be in Ottawa at the same time as us and will be taking these seven students out for lunch in the elaborate Parliamentary dining room,” Van Saane said.
“I think politics are important because it’s what make all the decisions that will effect us in our daily lives,” Joost Van Herk added.
Van Saane knows from past years that when they return, the students have a better understanding and appreciation for the importance of the Canadian government processes.
“They come back and they are changed forever,” she said.