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Student test drives prime minister's chair

Parliament Hill forum and eye-opening experience for Bellerose student Carlie Voigt

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 06:00 am

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  • SEAT OF POWER – Carlie Voigt sits in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's seat in the House of Commons during a recent student forum in Ottawa.
    SEAT OF POWER – Carlie Voigt sits in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's seat in the House of Commons during a recent student forum in Ottawa.
    Supplied photo
  • ON THE HILL – Carlie Voigt takes a moment for a photo at the House of Parliament in Ottawa during a recent student forum.
    ON THE HILL – Carlie Voigt takes a moment for a photo at the House of Parliament in Ottawa during a recent student forum.

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More info:

• Learn more about the annual forum at www.forum.ca.
• A blog that encourages youth to get involved and discuss political issues can be found at www.forum4yc.wordpress.com.

Attending a week-long forum in Ottawa was a life-changing experience for a St. Albert high school student.

Grade 11 student Carlie Voigt spent the last week of February in Ottawa as part of the Forum for Young Canadians.

Offered by the Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada, the program offers high school students between the ages of 15 and 19 a chance to learn about the federal government and how political decisions are made.

Voigt said the experience broadened her horizons and amplified her enthusiasm for democracy.

“I had an interest in politics before but not to the point where I would go out of my way to pursue it,” she said. “Now I want to read all of the different platforms. I’m way more aware of it now and it’s definitely something that I want to pursue.”

Before this forum, she had been involved with the Bellerose leadership program, which she says is the closest thing to youth politics at the school without actually being on student council. She also participated in the Model United Nations event at the University of Alberta, held the weekend prior to the forum.

Delegates, as the 90 or so forum participants were called, got an in-depth look at government processes and the concepts of citizenship, democracy and governance.

Voigt said she loved getting to know more people from across the country and across ethnocultural boundaries as well.

“It was everyone throughout Canada. There were people ranging from coast to coast, from the territories, different backgrounds. There were anglophones, francophones, First Nations and people from different religious backgrounds. It was really very diverse which was really interesting to see the different parts of Canada that I don’t see on a daily basis.”

A large part of the program is about understanding the system better. The students participate in a sampling of educational sessions and meetings along with some simulations of elections and cabinet meetings.

During the cabinet simulation, Voigt got to play the part of the prime minister of her group. She had to talk about the pros and cons on the topic of immigration.

“I had to make a speech in front of everyone. That was fun!”

She said the program was an excellent and immersive primer into the world of federal politics. Everyone had the chance to meet cabinet ministers, senators, senior public servants, business leaders and media and chat with them about important issues of the day to help them understand how policy and political decisions get made.

The participants also received tours of Parliament Hill, sat in on question period, and talked with speakers from both the House of Commons and the Senate. They had mock elections and cabinet simulations, and attended a senators’ breakfast and an MPs’ dinner.

The last one was her favourite, she said. Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber sat next to her and they enjoyed an interesting chat over dinner.

“That was really great! It’s nice to see that they’re real people too and they have these genuine interests. It’s not just these political figures that you can’t really connect with.”

All of this has spurred her on to further political aspirations. She already attended a meeting that Rathgeber chaired on Wednesday.

She considers the entire week to be a defining moment in her life. “It’s probably the best thing I’ve done so far,” she said.


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