A little taste of the House
N.L. Youth Parliament gives local teens political experience
The House of Assembly is a place where newly-elected members may take their seat sporting a nice head of darkly-coloured hair, only to leave a few years later with oodles of greys showing.
It’s a tense and sometimes combative environment. Recently, there was a massive demographics shift in the House, but it had nothing to do with an overthrown government or shotgun election.
Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament was in session for four days at the start of February, with dozens of youth ranging in age from 15 to 23 taking time to debate resolutions and learn more about the political process.
Sarah Knight of Blaketown and Ryan Barrett of Old Perlican were newcomers to Youth Parliament, while Patrick Newhook of Dildo was taking part for a second time.
“I’ve always had a very deep interest in (politics),” explained Newhook, an 18-year-old currently taking engineering courses at College of the North Atlantic.
He heard about the program last year as a Grade 12 student at Crescent Collegiate in South Dildo. Intrigued by it, Newhook decided to apply, and the experience last year compelled him to come back.
“It was really educational and I learned a lot about politics and how the province works. All the people there were super nice and friendly, and it was just a great time.”
Knight, 16, heard about it from a friend.
“I kind of wanted to get a better idea of how government and legislation works in our province, so I thought that would be a good opportunity to do so,” she told The Compass.
“At first I was a little bit nervous, because our first resolution was regarding the Nalcor (Crown) corporation in Newfoundland and Labrador, so that was a big topic to wrap your head around. But once we got talking and started debating on it, it was a little bit more comfortable, and I was able to get up and speak a couple of times.”
Knight’s performance in the House earned her a bit of respect. Her peers selected her as Youth Parliament’s rookie of the year.
Barrett, 18, also has an interest in politics. He heard others talk about Youth Parliament and decided to give it a shot.
“I was only accepted about a week before it happened, and I got the schedule and said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to miss so much school.’ But when I got into the whole debate and the session, all those concerns went away because I learned so much, I met so many new people, and it was just completely worth it.”
Newhook, who was the MHA for Bonavista, appreciates the variety of topics the young Parliamentarians get to debate. In four days, they covered everything from Nalcor and animal rights to tourism.
“Question period is always a great time, because it’s a mix- ture between really serious questions about a resolution and lots of jokey stuff,” he said. “So it helps balance everything out.”
Barrett, currently in his first year at Memorial University, was particularly fond of meeting others with a shared interest in politics. He was also proud to represent Carbonear-Trinity-Bay de Verde in the House.
Like Knight, he enjoyed the discussion about Nalcor Energy.
“Me personally, I’m very interested in the whole Muskrat Falls project, and hearing different perspectives about how we can improve Nalcor and the problems that the company face, I think that was really interesting.”
Barrett was also impressed with the House of Assembly.
“For someone like me, when you go into the chamber, the House of Assembly, and the Confederation Building as a whole, I find that I just got sort of a natural high. I was so excited and I was so enthusiastic about being there and being able to really take part in the political process.”
Knight served as the representative for Placentia-St. Mary’s. There are no specific parties in Youth Parliament, though there are opposition critics and a premier.
The experience gave her a strong sense of what it takes to serve in public office.
“I think it’s something that you need to be very confident in yourself and what you believe, because just from this experience, although it’s a lot of fun, there’s opinions from both sides,” Knight said. “So you really need to be able to have a tough skin to hear both sides to the coin. You might have one opinion and feel really strongly about it, but someone might not feel the same way, so you need to be able to handle those things in an appropriate manner.”
Patrick Newhook of Dildo is currently studying engineering at College of the North Atlantic.
Sarah Knight of Blaketown is a Grade 11 student at Crescent Collegiate.
Ryan Barrett of Old Perlican is in his first year of business studies at Memorial University. He one day hopes to study law.