After a high-energy week in Ottawa, Emily Zunti was feeling the effects of sleep deprivation but still riding high from her experience with Forum for Young Canadians. Days started early and ended late for students participating in the forum. Even so, she wouldn’t trade the experience.
“I absolutely loved meeting all those different people from across Canada: MPs, Senators, business people, and other passionate and engaged young leaders. I made so many friends, and expanded my network greatly!” she said.
The Grade 10 Warman student joined about 120 others from across Canada who converged on the nation’s capital March 6 to 11. Forum for Young Canadians provides fresh 15 to 19-year-old minds with first-hand experience of the procedures, energy and minds of Parliament Hill.
The group was present in the visitor’s gallery on March 9 when Maurice Belanger acted as honourary speaker for the day in the House of Commons. Belanger had campaigned to become speaker after the last election, but dropped out after being diagnosed with ALS.
“Question Period was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially seeing the honorary Speaker of the House and all the support he was given,” said Zunti. “It was exciting to see how MPs debate on certain subjects, especially the national budget.
One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to interact on political matters with students from across the country. Zunti said students were divided into groups of 10 and took on assignments to simulate real political processes. One of those was to create an action plan for receiving and placing Syrian refugees.
“We focused on how to ensure the refugees’ safety coming to Canada, and protecting Canadians from potential threats involved. A lot of it was research on how many refugees have already come to Canada, as well as costs, budgets, expected gains and losses. We mainly went along with that, adding a few details here and there, such as a longer time period for a few thousand more refugees,” said Zunti.
Students stayed in a hotel about four blocks from Parliament and walked over each morning, for a day packed with activities.
“Ottawa is a beautiful city. It’s often rainy or cloudy, but it’s the history of it that makes it so interesting,” she said. “In the evenings we were usually back at the hotel having heated discussions about politics with our groups,” said Zunti.
To be accepted into Forum2016, Zunti wrote an essay to articulate her interest in the Ottawa political scene. The cost was $895, with transportation costs covered by Exchanges Canada, of the Department of Canadian Heritage Canada.
Students got to see other initiatives like the House of Commons Page program and the Senate Page program. “I didn’t know about those before. It was interesting to see what those people do.”
The experience also had Zunti thinking about her future. Forum2016 presented some new ideas.
“I’m standing by my plan to go to Olds College in Alberta for Equine Sciences and do a Western Horsemanship major, so I can learn more about horses and teach others about them as well. I plan to train horses and compete. Now I have a few more options: international law, political sciences, economics, or make my way to being an MP.”