Two Hay River students were in Yellowknife last week to participate in the 12th Youth Parliament at the Legislative Assembly.
“It was a great opportunity to get involved, and a good thing to be able to put on a resume,” said Ecole Boreale’s Kateryna Staszuk.
Staszuk and Elycia Nimegeers from Diamond Jenness Secondary School were both encouraged by their respective schools to attend.
They joined 17 other Grade 9 and 10 students from across the NWT to learn about how the territorial government functions and get an inside scoop on the legislature.
“I didn’t know they had a budget of $1.9 billion,” said Staszuk.
Nimegeers was more surprised by the sheer volume of procedures and traditions members had to follow.
“Things like standing up to talk and having to say ‘Mr. Speaker’ all the time,” she said. “There’s a lot of formality that has to be respected.”
The students participated in interviews with the media, were taken on tours of Yellowknife, and even gave members’ statements.
While Nimegeers and Staszuk agreed that making new friends was the best part of the whole experience, they both said the public speaking component during their simulated parliament session was the toughest.
“I spoke to Robert Bouchard (the MLA for Hay River North) and asked for advice on what makes a good member’s statement,” said Nimegeers. “He said it had to come from the heart and be something you feel passionately about. So I talked about education and the graduation rates of the NWT compared to Canada’s.”
The girls also remarked on how the NWT legislature diverges from the norm of other governments they have learned about on television and through the news.
“I understand a consensus government now and how it’s different from anywhere else,” said Staszuk.
Nimegeers noted the NWT system seems not as rough as other governments and that members have more opportunities to speak.
The Youth Parliament program began in 1999 as a way to introduce young northerners to the concept of consensus government and educate them on how the Legislative Assembly functions, said Danielle Mager, public affairs and communications advisor for the Legislative Assembly.
“The goal of Youth Parliament is to educate northern youth on our unique form of government in the North and also to teach them about the roles of their Members of the Legislative Assembly,” she stated. “It also gives them a behind-the-scenes look at the legislature and how it works.”
The Youth Parliament allows students to not only get a real feel for how their government works, but also the chance to try it out for themselves.
“Even though they were only here for one week, (we want them to know) that voicing their opinions can make a difference,” said Mager. “It’s always so great to watch them transform during the week. They come in at the beginning and are so quiet and shy and, by the end of the week, they’re all close friends and are speaking on the floor of the Legislative Assembly chamber.”
While Nimegeers and Staszuk may not have dedicated themselves to political campaigns as of yet, the experience did help them expand their choices.
“It’s definitely made me consider a career in politics,” said Staszuk. “It seems like a really creative job and what you’re doing is always changing. There’s different challenges they have to face and I know they have the option to travel, and that sounds interesting.”
— Sarah Ladik