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Politicians in the making
Students learn about the legislative assembly during Youth Parliament program

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 16, 2013

Two Deh Cho teenagers are considering future political careers after participating in a program at the legislative assembly.

NNSL photo/graphic

Mohammed Raza of Range Lake, left, Kirianne Ashley of Frame Lake and Brandon Thom of Deh Cho participate in Youth Parliament at the legislative assembly in Yellowknife on May 9. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

Brandon Thom of Fort Providence and William Alger of Fort Simpson were among 19 students who participated in the 12th biennial Youth Parliament. The program gives students in Grades 9 and 10 an opportunity to learn more about the territory's consensus-style government and what takes place at the legislative assembly.

Public affairs

"It gives them a taste of how everything works," said Kathleen Smith, a public affairs intern at the legislative assembly.

Students from across the territory, one from each electoral riding, gathered in the capital on May 5. They spent the next three days listening to presentations, participating in activities and preparing for the culmination of the program, which is a mock parliament session where the students act as MLAs and ministers.

"It was fun meeting new people and being at the legislative assembly and learning how the government runs," said Thom.

During the Youth Parliament session on May 9, each student MLA and minister gave a statement. Thom, acting as the Deh Cho MLA, gave his on making helmets mandatory for people using all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes in small communities.

"I see lots of kids not using helmets. That's pretty unsafe," he said.

Thom, 15, who got help from Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli in writing his statement, proposed that bylaw officers should be in each small community to give fines to people who don't wear helmets. Thom also filed a petition before the Youth Parliament.

Before leaving for Yellowknife, Thom gathered 70 signatures from students and adults in Fort Providence on a petition asking for a new youth centre in the community.

Alger, 14, focused his member's statement as the Nahendeh MLA on the need for more trades programs in high schools. Students need to prepare for future opportunities including mining development in the Deh Cho, he said.

The young parliamentarians also debated four motions. Both Thom and Alger were against a motion to lower the legal drinking age by a year, from 19 to 18. If younger people were able to drink, they would be too reckless, said Alger.

The two MLAs had differing views on a motion to make aboriginal language programs in schools mandatory. It should be an option if you want to take it, but not mandatory, said Thom. Alger argued that as a result of residential schools, many people lost their ability to speak aboriginal languages and mandatory classes are needed to correct that.

"I don't want our aboriginal languages to become a fossil," he said.

The students also debated motions on having zero tolerance for bullying in schools and making school attendance mandatory until the age of 18. The school attendance motion was the only one that was approved.

As a result of participating in the program, both Thom and Alger said they've learned a lot more about the territorial government and would consider running to become MLAs in the future.

"It seems pretty fun making laws and spending money for the people," Thom said.

As an MLA, you get to ask people what they want in the communities, said Alger.

Both Grade 9 students would also recommend the Youth Parliament program to other students.

"I would definitely go again," Thom said.

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