As Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I have had the privilege over the past five years of working with so many wonderful, unique groups. Manitoba is home to amazing organizations for all age ranges, communities, and topics. One special organization is Manitoba’s Youth Parliament.
Every year, I get to know the fantastic leaders behind this amazing organization through working with their executive to host the annual Youth Parliament of Manitoba Winter Session. Their executive hold titles familiar to politicians, one role is the Speaker! I like to think that these brilliant young people are well on their way to holding the same titles again, like Premier, later on in life.
Manitoba Youth Parliament is the longest running youth parliament in Canada. This organization began in 1922 and has been holding their ‘sessions’ ever since. Young Manitobans from all over the province aged 16-20 are able to participate in this great group.
The Youth Parliament of today is different from the Youth Parliament of 1922. This organization started as a program only for boys and was aligned with various churches through a Training Under Christ in Service (TUXIS) movement. In the 1960s, it became the Older Boys’ Parliament and opened up to non-protestant applicants. In the 1970s, the organization became fully open to female participants and changed its name to Youth Parliament of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. The name that it has today, Youth Parliament of Manitoba, came about in 2003.
2021 is a special year for the Youth Parliament of Manitoba. This is the 100th annual session- a remarkable milestone. Just think of the thousands of Manitoba youth who have participated in this organization and honed their debating skills. The lessons learned in this program are ones that each participant can take with them everywhere they go in life.
While Youth Parliament holds a variety of events, their keystone event is their Winter Session. Session for these future leaders is a weeklong model parliamentary session over the winter break. From Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve, participants debate a variety of mock legislation that they have created from topics about which they are so passionate. Much like the Manitoba Legislative Assembly’s session, the roles that members hold include members of cabinet, members of the opposition, the Speaker, and the Premier. During session, these young members sit in the MLAs seats in the Chamber and debate just like their provincial counterparts. What a great way for young people to polish their debating skills and sharpen their public speaking skills! This weeklong event certainly makes an impression on the youth attending. Year after year, I hear from participants about their eagerness to return the next year. It is a place where life-long friendships start and a passion for debate ignites.
This year, during their 100th session, these brilliant future leaders participated in a session similar to how some of the current MLAs have been participating- virtually. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to keep everyone as safe as possible, our legislature has been working through a hybrid of an online and in-person session. This means that some members are participating from their offices or home offices through web streaming while other are spaced apart in the Chamber. Adapting to the health restrictions in an institution so firmly based on tradition and procedure was a challenge and one that many staff members of the Legislative Assembly worked hard to overcome. Now, our Youth Parliament participants will experience these same technical adaptations as they participate virtually. I have no doubt that their Speaker will have to say “if the Member would please unmute” more than a few times.
If you know any young Manitobans between the ages of 16 and 20 who might want to get involved, I encourage you to share Youth Parliament of Manitoba’s web link at www.ypmanitoba.ca.
During my time as the MLA for Roblin and as the Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I have met so many bright young leaders. I know that the next generation is one filled with kind, caring, intelligent, enthusiastic, and empathetic people who will lead our province well in the decades to come.
Your editor, Dorothy Dobbie, was one of the bears in the bear pit session this year, along with the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, former Premier Gary Doer and Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
Hon. Myrna Driedger is MLA for Roblin and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.