Brant students go behind the scenes of federal government

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Eight high school students from Brant Christian School enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the workings of federal government during a trip to Ottawa last month.

The students from Grades 9-12 took part in a week-long trip organized by the Laurentian Leadership Centre of Trinity Western University and tailored to deepening the students’ understanding and appreciation of Canada’s history as well as parliamentary and legal systems.

Teacher Jason Doerksen and the school’s chaplin, Marlyn Brunning, served as chaperones on what Doerksen describes as one of the best school trips he’s taken.

Students stayed at the centre, a mansion in Ottawa, making use of kitchen and living spaces on the first floor, attending presentations in classroom space on the second floor, and staying in dormitories on the third floor. The students learned about federal government directly from people who work on Parliament Hill, before visiting the actual halls of power. One session with a lawyer preceded a visit to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Doerksen said students had a tour of Parliament led by Saskatoon-Wanuskewin MP Maurice Vellacott. They met Macleod MP (Conservative) John Barlow and Nanaimo-Alberni MP (Independent) James Lunney. They had classroom sessions with individuals who work as assistants to Members of Parliament and those who work as lobbyists.

Doerksen said the students toured Rideau Hall, home to Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, and visited museums, including the Canadian War Museum.

For teacher and students alike, the trip was an eye-opener as they learned about the gruelling schedule MPs maintain, between spending time in their constituency, attending to committee work, and being present and at the ready whenever the House of Commons is in session.

Doerksen said the message from MP Vellacott was that parliamentarians “are just average people” doing a job.

Grade 12 student Alex Woodley said the week spent in Canada’s capital had an unexpected impact on her. She now considers work in the federal public service a viable career option.

“It definitely changed what I was considering for my future,” she said.

While running for office doesn’t appeal to her, she can envision working as a bureaucrat in the public service.

“We met a bureaucrat who had travelled the world representing Canada,” she said. “He worked with refugees. . . They’re making a very noticeable difference.”

This fall, Woodley is heading to Toronto to pursue a fine arts degree at a program offered through a York University and the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. The experience in Ottawa now has her thinking about a minor or major in political science, economics or business.

She said she went to Ottawa thinking the federal government was far removed from Alberta and that there was a great divide between East and West. She came home with a new appreciation of both regional differences and commonalities, and she appreciates that federal government representatives do have overall national interests at heart.

Doerksen said Brant Christian School Principal Kevin Bailey envisions creating a program of four major trips for students each year from the time they enter Grade 9 until they graduate. Work has already started on organizing a mission trip to Mexico next year.

Brant Christian School serves about 100 students from kindergarten through Grade 12.