Kelvington High School hosted Speaker of the legislative assembly, Dan D’Autremont, on May 2. He led Grade 8 students in a mock sitting of the legislature.
Kelvington High School student Nicole Neriuoka, Grade 8, played the part of parliamentary page while Speaker Dan D’Autremont wore his tri-corn hat.
Passionate about a practice that began in 1996 with former Speaker Glen Hagel, D’Autremont has visited close to 60 schools in the past two years, introducing students to the government of their province and the importance of participating in a freedom that was won for them by their ancestors.
“Understanding the price that was paid (by veterans) so that we can vote,” D’Autremont said, “is so important.” Students need to understand their historical background so that they realize how precious the right to vote is, he continued, noting countries today that are fighting for something that we fought for 75 years ago.
Desks were arranged in an approximate seating of the legislature and students gave themselves fictional ridings to represent as MLAs. The sergeant-at-arms was represented as well as pages and clerks.
Explaining that sittings of the legislature always begin with a prayer, D’Autremont recounted the significance of the tri-corn hat worn by the Speaker, a tradition dating back several hundred years. The hat was worn to honour some of the first Speakers, who sometimes met an unfortunate demise after delivering unwanted parliamentary news to the monarch.
Explaining the importance of government in setting the laws of the province, he asked students what impact the legislature might have on their own lives. Citing laws governing the legal driving age, D’Autremont captured their attention and held it throughout.
“Who can tell me what is happening in countries around the world right now?” he asked.
A student immediately shot up his hand and described the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. D’Autremont then brought politics closer to home, describing a non-confidence vote regarding the proposed Ontario budget that will likely result in an early election.
“You have to pay attention to what is going on around you,” he advised students. “If you want to influence laws and decisions, you need to get involved.”
Using a “lack of cheese in a dish of poutine in Poutineville” scenario, acted out by some of the students, D’Autremont successfully dramatized antics that political parties use to draw attention to an issue. (One way is to disparage the reputation of another MLA.) Explaining each of the steps involved in making a bill become law, he invited student participation by using the example of a four-day school week, an issue to which they could relate. Using a script provided by D’Autremont’s office, students played their parts. Straying from the script where appropriate, D’Autremont soon had the students anticipating their next step without prompting.
His descriptions of the Committee as a Whole, his use of examples of law that students could relate to, dressing his part and successfully dramatizing the “sitting,” all combined were enough bait to have some students thinking about a career in politics.
By Susan Lowndes