Model Parliament tackles the fine points

Taken from The Record

Congratulations. It was a hard fought election, but you — yes you — are now a member of Canada’s Parliament, with all the perks that implies: free travel, complimentary hotel rooms, a generous pension plan, $16 glasses of orange juice.

But there’s work to be done.

Now that government is back in session, your first order of business is to pass an immigration bill that will require multi-party support.

“Because we’re all Canadian, we all share the same goal of integrating immigrants in an effective way that expands our culture and diversity,” notes University of Waterloo student Carol Trudell, representing the conservative point of view at a mock parliament this past weekend in the university’s Hagey Hall.

“At the end of the day it’s all about passing the bill.”

But here’s the rub: while everyone agrees immigrants are good for Canada’s economy and the country’s multicultural mosaic, a left versus right divide has emerged over the fine points that could easily hijack the proceedings.

Case in point: Canada needs doctors, so you decide to let in five, but with strict quotas, what happens to their families?

Do you, as some suggest, put the needs of the country first and split up loved ones, or do you, as others insist, consider the bigger picture, even if it means less doctors?

“Family reunification has a personal element to me,” notes Guadalupe Koen-Alonso, an 18-year-old math student sitting under the NDP banner.

“My dad was an immigrant from Argentina. If he had to come to Canada without the three of us, I can’t even imagine.”

Sitting across from her is Sam Wanuch, a 21-year-old computer science major who has chosen to sit as an independent, but whose politics lean decidedly right.

He figures that if Canada needs five doctors, then five doctors it should be.

Their families can fend for themselves.

“I basically know nothing about politics,” he confides during a break, explaining his independent status. “I don’t know where left, right or centre is. I just want to make my own decisions.”

So he and the 28 other student delegates from both Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University hashed it out in the conference room and, in the process, learned the ins and outs of passing legislation.

By the time they talk to a Record reporter Saturday afternoon, it’s clear that despite differing perspectives, eyes have been opened, attitudes softened.

“I prefer five doctors,” concedes Wanuch thoughtfully. “But maybe bringing in a family is the price we have to pay to have skilled workers.”

Koen-Alonso and Wanuch are typical of the 29 participants taking part in this utterly serious political fabrication: optimistic, well spoken, motivated.

“I like to debate things,” explains Koen-Alonso. “I don’t have a personal attachment. It’s really about being able to step outside the emotion and bring the logical argument. I try to be flexible and see the other side. It opens up your perspective.”

It’s that spirit of cooperation, compromise and collaboration this student generated model is trying to promote, a sentiment confirmed by the raft of local politicians — including MPs Raj Saini, Bardish Chagger and Harold Albrecht — who spoke at Friday’s opening ceremony.

“A lot of young people don’t understand how politics work in general,” notes Yussef Ourchane, 18, who organized the event and was pleased to receive a video greeting from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It’s a chance to forge out a path to your future. I like to try to get people involved.”

jrubinoff@therecord.com