Heading to the Hill

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Young volunteer extraordinaire off to Ottawa for behind the scenes look at Canadian political process

When the Forum for Young Canadians takes place in Ottawa next week, St. Albert will be sending a new representative to the nation’s capital. Katie Fitzgerald hasn’t been voted in – yet – but the community-minded youth is looking to broaden her political horizons, even if it simply means learning first-hand how our political and electoral systems function.

“It gives youth in Canada the opportunity to go to Ottawa and get that behind the scenes look at parliament and how it works,” Fitzgerald said. “You get to go to Rideau Hall and meet some really interesting people that you wouldn’t normally get to meet if you just went to Ottawa on your own. I thought that was really cool that they give youths the opportunity to do that.

The Forum, according to its website at www.forum.ca, is a chance at giving “smart and engaged 15 to 19 year olds a chance to experience Parliament Hill” and focuses on “getting inside – deep inside – Canadian politics and public affairs and seeing what running the country looks like up close. It’s about learning how to collaborate and share ideas, then turn them into real community action.”

As young civic-minded citizens go, Katie Fitzgerald has to be one of the most recognizable faces out there. Her community work includes aid agencies, environmental efforts, civic celebrations, service groups, sports events, and health advisory councils among others, all starting back to when she was only 11. She was her high school’s grad president, a member of SOARing and Junior Achievement, and was an ambassador for the Get To Know program.

Additionally, she campaigned for racial inclusivity and privacy rights on the national stage.

For her efforts, she has been awarded Leaders of Tomorrow youth volunteer prize, the International Women’s Day Award, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, the Scotiabank Bright Future Volunteer award, the Stars of Alberta Volunteer Award, and the Young Achiever of the Year by the International Leadership Network, all within the last few years.

Now that she has reached the age of majority, there is one topic that has returned to her thoughts time and time again.

“What drew me to the Forum is that this year is the first that I can actually vote, which is super exciting! I got thinking about politics and things like that. It’s not something that I ever really thought about until this year,” she continued.

“Someone suggested this opportunity and I thought, ‘what better way to get accustomed to Canadian government than going to the source!’ I thought it would be a really cool opportunity that not a lot of people get to have.”

Once in Ottawa, she will join other like-minded youths from across the nation to participate in debates, cabinet simulations and mock elections, getting an in-depth look at government processes and the concepts of citizenship, democracy and governance. Participants also have the opportunities to receive tours of Parliament Hill, sit in on question period, and talk with speakers from both the House of Commons and the Senate.

The Forum is put on by the Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada and runs from Feb. 15 to 20. It’s a fine time to be away from her post-secondary studies, Fitzgerald noted, since it’s Reading Week.

Fitzgerald received sponsorship from the Northern Alberta Business Incubator and the local Lions Club to finance her trip.

She speculated that this adventure might spur her to acquire future political aspirations other than exercising her right to vote.

“Possibly! It wasn’t something that I thought about until this Forum so we’ll see what happens after. It’s a real possibility. You never know.”

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.