Students play politics at region’s simulation conference

December 8, 2009

“Our real politicians could take lessons on how to deal with issues and get along from these students.”

By Chris Batt, Record staff

WATERLOO — Gathering her notes and speaking to the media, Steacy McIlwham has the look of a budding politician.

The Grade 12 student at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School had the honour of playing the prime minister at the 43rd annual federal-provincial government conference simulation, which continues today at the University of Waterloo. The conference is the only one of its kind in Canada, comprising 385 students from 17 schools in Waterloo Region.

“I really want to get involved in law, and then go in to politics,” said McIlwham.

Students in grades 10-12 were invited to the summit either through a politics course offered at their school, or as a free-standing club. Prior to the conference, students submit position papers on the issues, prepare speeches and co-ordinate arguments.

“The entire event is very student-run,” said Rob Delsnyder, a teacher at Preston High School. “The senior students usually take the speaking roles.”

Students hold committee meetings, caucus meetings and press conferences. Each school is assigned a province, press area or special-interest group to represent. The schools representing the press produce newspapers during the conference to provide information and promote debate.

Melissa Bray, a student at Galt Collegiate Institute, enjoyed grilling the premiers and ministers about the issues and writing articles for the newspaper.

“I have learned a lot about politics just by being at the conference,” said Bray.

Students debate many of the issues faced by the current governments, and must co-operate in order to resolve them.

“It is great to see the students engaged in political issues,” said Jeff Chard, co-chair of the conference and teacher at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School. “The students always impress me with their knowledge of the political system and their ability to reach a consensus.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty sent a video greeting to the students, with tips on how to run the delegation. He was invited to the conference, but is on a six-day trip to India.

Several awards will be presented to students today, including the John Boulden award. It’s named after one of the founders of the simulation and goes to one of the first ministers, based on a vote by participants. The Waterloo Region Record will also present an award to one of the schools providing press coverage.

After a decade of organizing the conference, Chard is always impressed with the dedication and willingness of the students to participate.

“Our real politicians could take lessons on how to deal with issues and get along from these students.”