R.I. Baker students get lesson in democracy

 page image
Posted on:
Speaker Robert Wanner,left, and Sergeant-at-Arms Brian Hodgson with the Alberta Mace, chat with R.I. Baker Middle School students.

COALDALE – Social Studies teacher Michael Willems may have a tough time topping this particular lesson.

About 90 Grade 6 students from R.I. Baker Middle School got an up close and personal experience in democracy thanks to the Mr. Speaker’s Outreach program. They met the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, got some tips from their local MLA, and were close enough to touch the Alberta Mace.

Willems called the opportunity – which saw students participate in a mock legislature activity – “invaluable.”

“I think the fact that Edmonton seems so far away in Coaldale, and the fact they actually get to meet real, elected officials, and they get to see the legitimate Mace,” he said. “It’s an experience that I am sure they won’t forgot quickly, because this just doesn’t get to happen here in Coaldale.”

The fact it did was only possible through Robert E. Wanner’s desire to take the “heart of democracy” to the hometowns of Albertans. The southwest Alberta tour was just the fourth since the legislative road show was launched in 2015, with the first stop being the Speaker’s home constituency in Medicine Hat.

The session, held at the Gem of the West Museum, began with Heritage Interpreter Mary Noyes welcoming the students to a “classroom like no other classroom.” She explained the Legislative Assembly to the young students in sports terms, with two teams ready to do battle under the direction of a team of officials led by the head referee, the Speaker.

After some of the students donned replica robes for their roles as Lieutenant Governor, the Page and various table officers, the general protocol of the Legislative Assembly was further explained. Dave Schneider, MLA for Little Bow, was called upon to demonstrate the appropriate volume and enthusiasm when voting on a bill.

The bill the students debated and then voted on proposed mandatory voting in Alberta. Under the watchful eye of the real Speaker and Sergeant-at-Arms, arguments were offered for and against. When a rare tie resulted and the Speaker was forced to cast his vote, Wanner described for the students how he would weigh such a decision.

The script for the mock legislature exercise is available online and in past year’s Willems and his students have read out the various parts during Social Studies class. He admits this version was more engaging for students.

“The fact that we actually had the legitimate people, obviously makes it that much more authentic,” he said.

It didn’t hurt that the gleaming Mace was displayed prominently on the table in front of them either. Created in 1955, it is the symbol of the Legislative Assembly’s authority to make laws and is carried into the Chamber each day. Weighing in at almost six kilograms, it is made of silver overlaid with gold and hand-etched with images of Alberta emblems.

While Willems’ students received some preparation for their roles in advance, that doesn’t mean there weren’t surprises.

Charlize Penner was cast in the role of the Chair of Committees. She was pressed into service as Deputy Speaker, however, when the Speaker had to leave the Chamber for other duties.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” said Penner. “I had actually wanted to be Speaker, but I didn’t want that big of a role. But it was actually kind of fun in the end, in that I got to speak and be around really important people.”

Schoomate Aidyn Law was seemingly born for his role. As law clerk, he says his job was to write down what the MLA’s and Speaker said. He soon found out there are a lot more protocol and procedures to follow than he had expected, but that didn’t turn him off of the experience at all.

“Just being here in general is better than being in a classroom and learning about it,” said Law. “You learn more if you’re actually in the spot where they do it.”

Although his students covered modern day politics earlier in the year, Willems said the Mr. Speaker’s Outreach program still fit in well with the curriculum as they are now studying ancient Greece, the home of democracy.