Welcome to Part I of everyone’s favourite holiday, UNICEF Bring your MP to School Day! I was lucky enough to sit in on Don Valley West’s MP John Carmichael’s candid discussion with the political savvy kids of Northern Secondary School in Toronto. Part II is here.
Ah, the endless sound of Christmas music becoming increasingly more religiously ambiguous every year; that crisp smell of materialism cutting through the air like the scent that wafts through a Chipotle whenever someone opens the washroom door; and discreetly pouring a flask of rum into your mug of eggnog when no one is looking; yes, the holiday season is finally (and some would say, regrettably) here. With our Canadian thanksgiving having come and gone, it seems there’s an oh-too-long stretch of time until Christmas. However, many people seem to forget the holiday which occurs during this period of limbo, relieving us of our mourning for the pumpkin spice latte. I’m talking, of course, UNICEF Canada’s Bring Your MP to School Day! The only holiday more kickin’ than Jesus’ Bar Mitzvah, whenever we may celebrate it.
Bring Your MP to School Day–which is actually four days of festivities–is a UNICEF initiative that compliments their National Child Day, which is celebrated in Canada on November 20 in recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Bring Your MP to School Day gives an opportunity for MPs to dismount their high-horses in Ottawa and travel back to their ridings on a plain old pack mule, where they can engage with their most acne-ridden constituents: high schoolers.
I had the pleasure of sitting in at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, where John Carmichael of the Don Valley West riding had a sit-down with about a hundred students making up two grade 12 politics classes as well as two grade 10 civics classes. Despite Canada’s epidemic of low voter turnout, especially in youths, it seems our nation’s teenagers have some of the most discerning questions on issues they don’t yet have a say in. That being said, Mr. Carmichael is a Conservative MP, and seeing how this event took place in an institution of education (or whatever we call hippy communes these days), there was no lack of thinly veiled, sarcastic dialogue between him and haughty students with one too many portraits of Jon Stewart hanging in their rooms. Luckily, a herd of them was sitting right behind me.
The first topic discussed was voting reform in Canada, one I was very interested to hear about. Unfortunately, I had already started taking very rough notes on my computer throughout his commentary, before it dawned on me that I could be recording the whole Q&A session on my phone. Consequently, what I have to work with on this first issue is, put simply, skeletal, but bare with me.
In regard to voting reform, Mr. Carmichael mentioned first the recent municipal election in Toronto (you may have heard of it). He commented positively on the efficiency of its electronic voting system, something that has yet to be adopted at the federal level. He then bequeathed a stern ‘no’ to the question: ‘is the government currently considering reforming the Canadian voting system to veer away from first-past-the-post and include ranked ballots?’. He also commented on the idea of instituting mandatory voting, asserting that he is against the policy and thoroughly believes people have the right to choose whether or not to vote. He ended talk on this subject by noting the fact that better enticement strategies are needed to encourage people to come out and vote. Considering the near half of Canadians I assume are either too apathetic or hate putting on pants too much to go to the polls, I think the only way we can make voting more enticing is if there’s a trail of cookie crumbs leading to every booth.
Next, he moved on to employment and education where he responded to a student’s question about what the government is doing to curb the blue-collar job stigma, “We [the federal government] are working hard with federal apprenticeship programs to help encourage people to make those jobs. We use federal funding to finance their education and we work with businesses where apprenticeships are important to getting the job done.” Moving on from employment to education, Mr. Carmichael nearly popped a hernia under the weight of the prying eyes of a roomful of students about to embark on their four-year long love affair with student loans, the words ‘state funded university’ having appeared as the next topic of discussion. “Is that…do you want me to talk about that as well?” he stammered. The nordic model was also highlighted in the discussion notes, and we all know if there’s one thing Conservatives rue talking about, it’s them god damn Nords.”The bottom line is: who’s going to pay for it?” he posed bluntly, explaining that while universities are mandated provincially, the federal government provides post-secondary education funding to assist individuals who need the financial help. Then the leader of the hammer-and-sickle-eyed dogmatists shot up his hand, “If university were more heavily funded by the federal government, wouldn’t that free up a lot of money from people’s college funds that could be taxed and used to pay for more federally funded universities?” Gentlemen, touch gloves. I want a nice, clean match. “Let’s start with the first premise of the Conservative government,” Mr. Carmichael began, refusing to be backed into a communist corner with taxes so high one could hardly see the light of day over them, “We believe in lower taxes for all Canadians…that’s overriding premise number one. We do believe, incidentally, that we should be there to help fund and support programs that encourage and motivate you going to college or university […] but you have to have some skin the game too.”
With that, the student saw he wouldn’t be changing Mr. Carmichael’s mind and the bout ended. We then moved on to the next topic of discussion, global affairs. For that fascinating portion of Carmichael’s visit, stay tuned for Part II, tomorrow. It will be the culmination of discussion more paramount than the one between God and Moses when they decided the Ten Commandments.