Olivia on the Hill: Easter, Donnelly and Mathyssen
CIVIX team member Olivia Dorey is meeting with Members of Parliament to learn about the presence of politicians in schools and how we can build and improve our programs.
Today’s blog recaps Olivia’s meetings with MPs Wayne Easter, Fin Donnelly and Irene Mathyssen.
Wayne Easter is the Liberal MP for Malpeque, PEI, and critic for Public Safety. Many of the students in his riding attend schools in Charlottetown, so he only has three high schools and four junior schools to tend to. He says that “he would never turn down an invite,” and that he really enjoys speaking to students, particularly young ones who have “no filter.”
Easter is very supportive of the Student Vote program, because “if you get involved while you’re young, you’ll probably stay involved.” His own involvement in his community started when he took part in a farm exchange program across Canada. His experience is a testament to the fact that it can take any form, but engagement is anything that makes you connect with the rest of your country and where you’re from.
Fin Donnelly is the NDP MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody, BC, and deputy critic for both fisheries and oceans and infrastructure. It was on his family’s request that he made the switch from municipal to federal politics, even though he had been considering running for mayor of Coquitlam. He still misses being part of “the level of government closest to the people.” There are about 75 schools in his riding, ten of which are high schools. He spends his visits with them trying to educate them about procedure, and convey the opportunity and right to partake in the electoral process. He “always [tries] to inspire them, because there could be a future Prime Minister in that class.”
He engages younger students through his litter-less Lunch campaign, and the older ones through issue-focused visits and Q and A sessions. He says that some of the most memorable moments of engagement come from peers questioning each other. Shortly after having won his seat in a 2009 by-election, a group of students concocted an organic pesticide, and bestowed Donnelly with a bottle for each of the party leaders; he completed their request, showing his students that the government is accessible, and that MPs are a vessel through which they can contribute.
Irene Mathyssen is the NDP MP for London-Fanshawe, critic for Seniors, and deputy critic for Canadian Heritage. She describes her riding as “urban, working class; a place where generations stick around.” There are 5 high schools in her riding, two of which host all-candidate meetings every election, and approximately 10 junior schools. Her own civic education and involvement was gradual: she had “very practical, straightforward” democracy classes in school, was later recruited by neighbors and became president of her riding association. She then became the first female MPP in her riding, and learned on-the-job by making a round of all the standing committees. It was on the request of Alexa McDonough, the NDP leader whom she greatly admired, that Mathyssen ran for federal office.
All-candidates meetings aside, her visits are almost always educational, as ceremonial invites are conventionally extended to provincial-level representatives in her area. She sees herself as an approachable resource, and has a duty to remind students of their “responsibility to the democratic process both in their schools and in their communities, and that they have been giving a great deal; giving back is part and parcel of citizenry. Sometimes it is innate, sometimes we have to find it, but we all have something to give.” She calls particularly on young women to get involved, even if you think yourself an unlikely candidate; Mathyssen tries to bear in mind that “at the time, I didn’t see myself in it either!”
Stay tuned for more of Olivia’s meetings!
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