Youth parliament program teaches valuable lessons in politics
© Submitted photo
Seven Labradorians participated in Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament earlier this month in St. John’s. They are: Front (l-r) — Alexandra Pye, Kailee Poole and Regan Burden; back —Deana Russell, Clarke Pearce, Michael Pike and Denika Blake.
Seven Labradorians recently got a unique glimpse at life inside Newfoundland and Labrador politics by taking part in a mock parliament at the House of Assembly in St John’s.
From Feb. 4-9, Deana Russell, Clarke Pearce, Michael Pike, Denika Blake, Alexandra Pye, Kailee Poole, and Regan Burden, joined other youth across the province to be a part of Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament.
During the mock parliament, those selected to attend got to feel the pressures of a provincial politician. The youth, ages 15 to 23, debated real provincial issues like clean energy, gender issues within the education system, and the Nalcor energy monopoly.
For Regan Burden, 17, of Port Hope Simpson, this was her third year at the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament. Each time Burden attends, she gains more friends, and more self-confidence.
“It just seemed like a really great opportunity to meet friends, too improve my network… and overall self-confidence as well,” said Burden, who represented Mount Pearl North in the mock parliament. “It helps you learn how to voice your opinion and helps you learn how to stick by your opinion.”
“Politics was always something I was semi-interested in. I never really understood how the House worked until I got involved in this.”
Burden may be a youth parliament veteran, but for many participants like Denika Blake, age 17, from Churchill Falls, this was a first-ever taste of politics.
“For me, I’ve never been exposed to (the parliament) before, coming from a small town in Labrador,” added Blake, who represented the Labrador West district.
“Coming here and learning about it was all new to me, and it was really cool, actually getting the tour and getting to know a little bit about it before we went into the debate.”
Even though this was a mock parliament session, the young men and women were debating real issues. So, just like in real politics, things could get heated in the House of Assembly every once in awhile.
“Sometimes, I have to say, the people who are debating…we do take these things very seriously. They’re opinions that matter to us,” Burden explained.
“These resolutions, if they are passed, they get sent to certain government personnel…”
The youth parliament sessions were also a great way to rub shoulders with some big players in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. During their time in St John’s, Burden, Blake, and their friends met Lieut.-Gov. Frank Fagan and several MHAs.
“They were kind of personal…we are still youth, but they respected us,” Blake said about her encounters with provincial politicians.
“Knowing their journey in politics has been inspiring and made me have a greater outlook on it made me more interested in it.”
A new outlook
Many people across the province, and across the country, have a cynical view of politics and politicians. But after spending time meeting with elected officials, and sitting in their chairs, Burden and Blake has warmed up to the profession.
“It’s a huge responsibility, and for you to have that much courage and determination in yourself to do so, it’s a great idea,” said Blake. “So my outlook on it has become better than it has before this weekend.”
“It’s absolutely impossible to please everyone, and it can be very stressful when you get negative feedback from people…” she added.
“At the end of the day, they’re people, they have families to go home to…”
Both girls agree that, after their time spent at Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament, they may just try a political career for themselves at some point.
“After the first debate, I found it real interesting and putting my own input on it…so after this weekend, going into politics is maybe something I would enjoy,” said Blake.
“I’m a graduating student this year. I actually plan on pursuing a degree in political science and communication studies,” Burden noted. “And after that, I’d like to go ahead and obtain a law degree. But after getting some experience in the workforce, I’d definitely feel comfortable…pursuing a career in politics.”