I had the good fortune of being chosen as one of 72 teachers from across Canada to participate in a once in a lifetime professional learning opportunity, the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa. The province of Manitoba was well represented by seven teachers and we had many opportunities to work together as a provincial team. The Institute is funded by Parliament and is administered by the Parliamentary Library.
During the week long institute we were allowed incredible access to parliamentarians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and journalists. We toured the inner halls of the Centre Block and East Block, sat in our MPs desk in parliament and had the opportunity to visit the senate chamber. We had a presentation from both the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate. We participated in a model parliament and a mock committee meeting. The highlight of the week was the tour of Rideau Hall and meeting with the Governor General. He was funny, articulate and made you feel a sense of pride in our country and its heritage.
We had a chance to dine with lobbyists, and understand their perspective on government. I enjoyed the many panel discussions on various topics from the workings inside the PMO to the history of the Supreme Court and thought behind some of its more important rulings. One of the most enjoyable moments was the panel discussion on the role of a free press in a democracy, there we had the chance to get perspectives on current events from print journalists like John Irving from the National Post and Althia Raj from the Huffington Post. As the Senate scandal was in full bloom, the commentary was riveting.
All panel discussion ended with a long Q&A session. These sessions were given under the premise of Chatham House Rules, meaning speakers could be candid knowing that nothing they said would be quoted or in any attributed to them. This allowed the teachers to ask purposeful questions and get unguarded responses. It was truly an amazing experience for those interested in contemporary issues and the Canadian political scene.
Overall, I had an intellectually stimulating experience that impressed upon me personally and professionally that we in the education business must teach our students the importance of our country’s democratic history, the importance of our institutions and the need for the youth of today to engage in political discussion. Educators must ensure that students develop as knowledgeable citizens able to move Canada forward in the years ahead.
There was nothing more poignant for me than standing in the blowing snow in front of the National Cenotaph on November 11th, listening to the Last Post along with thousands of fellow Canadians and the veterans remembering the countless warriors who died for our country. It made feel that being Canadian was something not to be taken for granted, but a privilege that needs not only to be celebrated but also to be defended.
I would like to thank the Board of Trustees of Winnipeg School Division for providing support to me for this valuable professional learning opportunity.