By Lokwing Wong
There are many national programs offered for Canadian students where we have an opportunity to travel, learn something new, and meet people from across the nation.
The Forum for Young Canadians (FYC) is one of these programs, and it is an opportunity to deepen one’s understanding of politics in an interactive and unconventional way as well as bond with people who hail from all different provinces and territories.
After I found out that I got into the fall session of the Forum for Young Canadians program, I was excited to leave, but nervous as well. I had never flown by myself before, so obviously, I was nervous about flight procedures and missing flights and about the program itself. I left Campbell River on a Sunday in mid-October, and my parents came with me to the Campbell River airport; my dad drew some diagrams to show me what to do, while my mother found a group of people travelling to Montreal. She requested if those people could make sure I got to the right place.
About half an hour later, we arrived at the Vancouver South Terminal and the people my mother had talked with made sure I got my luggage and went on the shuttle bus. They also helped me get my boarding passes, and I was grateful to them.
When I arrived in Ottawa, I could not find the people who were supposed to pick me up. I was worried and asked around, but about 15 minutes later, the people picking me up found me, and told me they had forgotten their sign and they had been wandering around as well looking for who they were supposed to pick up.
The most moving experience from the program would be participating in a blanket exercise, which tells the story of Canada’s aboriginal peoples, and presents their history in a unique way. All of us represented the First Peoples, and we stood on blankets which symbolized the land. The leaders of this exercise represented the Europeans who came over, and the tragedies that the people have faced were revealed. These included the many disease epidemics they faced, the residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop. At the end of the exercise, less than half the people on the blankets at the start were left. This was the thing that shocked me the most, even though I had seen the numbers before, from museums and textbooks. However, when you see the numbers represented by people standing right in front of you, it has a very different effect.
Wednesday was definitely my favourite day of the week. We spent practically the entire day at Parliament Hill – in the morning, we met the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Clerk, and some pages, all of which who explained their roles in the House and how they got to work there, and answered our questions. After the speeches, several Forum participants delivered their member statements, which are one-minute statements about any topic that Members of Parliament deliver in the House on a regular basis.
We then had lunch at a nearby buffet, and then returned to the House again for Question Period. All of us were very excited for this, and we were hoping Justin Trudeau would be there. We were seated above where the Speaker sat, and we got through security in time to listen to a few member statements. Wednesday is the day when the Opposition challenges the Prime Minister’s decisions, and where he has to defend them. The main topic of debate was the carbon tax, and it was perhaps the highlight of my week to see politicians, who we normally think of as sophisticated and polite, behave like rowdy middle schoolers: the Speaker even had to remind everyone to be “at least somewhat civilized.”
The opposition brought up the problems small businesses were having with this.
“We must put a price on pollution. What’s your plan for doing this without the carbon tax?” Trudeau said.
“I’ll let you know when I become Prime Minister,” Andrew Scheer replied, which resulted in all the Opposition giving a standing ovation, which continued while Trudeau was speaking.
That evening, we attended the Parliamentary reception. The food was very good, and I was able to meet and talk to a lot of people who worked with the government. This did not include just MPs, but also a minister; people who worked in different government departments or with different MPs; and small business owners.
The saying that “time flies when you’re having fun” definitely applies to a five-day national program. On Thursday, I could not believe it was the last day of the program, and that I would be leaving my friends and all the people I met the next day.
The Forum for Young Canadians is a national program for youth ages 15 – 18, and it offers its participants an opportunity to experience Canadian politics in person, to meet politicians and people who work with the government, and best of all, to meet other like-minded youth from across the country. I have changed my mindset on national politics; and I see it in a different light.