My Experience at Forum for Young Canadians

In just one week, you can completely change yourself and the way you see the world. Many of my important 2014 highlights were condensed into the week of March 2nd to 7th at Forum for Your Canadians, session 2. –David, Québec.

You will never discover your full potential if you don’t take whatever chances you have. If you’re given one, take it because it will help you discover new traits you may never have uncovered before! I had never really bothered with politics, until I discovered Forum for Young Canadians at my school. I wouldn’t have joined if a staff member at Philemon Wright High School in Gatineau hadn’t told me “It’s time to rise!” I wanted to improve my leadership skills and live a new experience. Never did I think that Forum was much bigger than that – it was about the very Constitution of Canada, it was about engaging with students and MPs from around Canada, it was about our government in action, democracy, and parliament, and finally, it was about meeting other youth while learning about myself. I’d always wanted to know what goes on in our country, and what has shaped us to be proud Canadians.

I remember on the Sunday arrival day, I was a little bit nervous but so excited to see what it would be all about! While registering and meeting roommates at the Capital Hill Hotel and Suites, it was surprising to realize that we live in such a small world. I was socializing with staff members and then realized that the Executive Director’s son is one of my good friends. It’s weird! What’s even weirder is when I learned my roommate used to go to my friend’s old school. When I met him, we became friends instantly because he was going to be living with me for a whole week! As the day went on, I got to meet a lot of youth my age. I met two of the coolest people who are now really good friends of mine, one from St. Catharines and the other from Newcastle. We then had our first group meeting to plan our campaign for the election simulation the next day. I would say one of the best moments was when the Logistic Assistant always got our attention through “Clap twice if you can hear me” … “Clap again” … “Thank you!” Only that volunteer could pull this off.

The first day of our program, Monday morning, my roommate and I were having fun comparing who had a better suit. I won, so I showered first. Our first session was a tour on Parliament Hill. The section of Parliament that was the most beautiful (in my opinion) was the library. We then arrived at the Supreme Court session. I was the one to introduce the session in both official languages; it was quite the experience because I’ve never been on stage introducing lawyers. In every session there is always one Forum participant introducing the the speaker(s) in one or both of Canada’s official languages. During the Supreme Court session, we learned about their roles as lawyers, I thought it sounded easy to become one, but in reality, it’s probably a lot of hard work. We then did a simulation on an issue, seal hunting, using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Role of an MP session included the attendance of three Members of Parliament, I remember them giving us a challenge: “To make a difference in our school, to tackle the issues and to create a petition.” At the end of the day, we concluded with an election simulation; I ran as Rob Ford but unfortunately I did not win!

On Tuesday, we began with an Elections Canada presentation right after breakfast. We then went to Rideau Hall (The Governor General’s residence) for a tour, and returned to the Government Conference Centre for the Youth Priorities Session. I took the liberty of ‘winging’ a speech about bullying and equality with a participant from Montréal. Later, everyone wrote in groups about how our issue was valid, along with everyone else who had to bring up 8 issues in the end. I spoke about bullying with a Cégep student from Chelsea. It was another of those weird moments when I found out she lives really close to me! At the end of the day, we elected our candidates in the final round of the Election Simulation.

Wednesday was probably the best day of the week. We went to Parliament Hill for a session with the Speaker, the Clerk and the Pages of the House of Commons. I was lucky to be able to enjoy sitting at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s seat the whole time. At around 1:30, we went to question period and saw how Members of Parliament argued on the stands above the speaker. Around suppertime, we went to the Chateau Laurier for the MPs dinner. I met MP Lise St-Denis, of St-Maurice-Champlain and Francis Leblanc, a former Member of Parliament from Nova Scotia. It was great meeting them. I introduced Francis but failed to introduce myself, which I hadn’t realized until the end of dinner.

On Thursday morning, we had breakfast with the Senators at the Senate where I was able to meet many interesting people. I met the mace bearer, who happens to be a former Philemon Wright student! We then departed to do a trade simulation at the Export Development Canada headquarter; my group represented the mining industries. We then listened to a speaker about the history of the aboriginal peoples in Canada. Later on, we performed a cabinet simulation, and listened to a speech on immigration by our mock Prime Ministers. At the end of the day, we had a dance back in the hotel and slept. It was a great time!

Don’t underestimate the experiences you have never tried. I have absolutely no regrets about my participation in this program. You’ll feel closer to the new friends you make at Forum than your friends from school. You can become one voice with youth and be an ambassador to solve the issues in your riding. In the process, you gain a deeper understanding of the Canadian government, national institutions, and Forum’s sponsors – such as the Egg Farmers of Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada, who produce enough eggs and milk for all Canadians and Export Development Canada (like a giant bank system for major businesses). You also tour around Parliament and Rideau Hall, where you will gain a vast knowledge of Canadian history, heritage and culture. Last but not least, you get to engage with MPs and Senators from your home and around the country. There’s no other experience like Forum for Young Canadians. You’ll never know what the future could hold afterwards!

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