More than 100 youth from Canada's provinces and territories made their way to the capital in January to fill current MPs' seats and participate in the 10th Parlement Jeunesse Pancanadien (PJP).
The PJP is a simulation of the Canadian federal government designed to let young francophones experience politics while celebrating francophone culture.
Xavier Archambault-Gauthier, chaperone for the Northwest Territories delegation, said the PJP is designed for youth “to learn, to discover the world of politics and the political system in Canada, and also to learn what the job of a Member of Parliament and political party entails."
Archambault-Gauthier continued: "I think it's very important that youth are interested in politics, that they understand the world they live in, and that they can learn that the world is much bigger [than Canada]."
The PJP is organized by the Fédération de la Jeunesse Canadienne-Français, or FJCF, and happens every two years.
Participants have the option of being a page, Member of Parliament, or journalist.
This year's delegation from the NWT broke records with a small but mighty four students from Yellowknife.
“I think we generally had two, maybe three students, but this is the first time we had that many youth from the NWT,” said Archambault-Gauthier.
The five-day experience included caucus meetings, sessions in the senate, a talk from senator Pierrette Ringuette, panels on the environment and youth rights, and a banquet.
Young parliamentarians debated three proposed bills: increasing Canada’s energy and food self-sufficiency, protecting artist rights while encouraging the revitalization of Canadian art, and creating an agency to guard against false news shared on the internet.
Territories demand recognition
On the second day of the PJP, delegates from the territories said they began to notice a lack of representation of the north during and outside of session periods.
Together they came up with a plan, devised by Marguerite Tolgyesi from the Yukon, to create their own party focusing solely on amplifying the voice of the territories.
“This new party declares that the territories are here to stay, that we have our place in Canada, and that we need to be valued just like any other province,” said Tolgyesi, who led the party.
“Personally, I believe the territories need to be more visible in general. It is kind-of ridiculous that some people think we all live in igloos with polar bears as pets.”
Just before a caucus meeting, Tolgyesi stood up, announced an end to the territories "being left on the sidelines," and walked out of the senate chamber.
The other northern delegates followed and POGNÉ, or le Partie Officiel du Grand Nord Élitiste, was born.
A senate room during session at the Parlement Jeunesse Pancanadien. Photo: Josée Basque
Following that, said Archambault-Gauthier, “all the other parties started to include the territories and the Indigenous people. It was like all the participants, all the parties started to see the importance of the territories and the interest of Indigenous people.
“A lot of the participants started saying 'territories' before 'provinces' in their speech and, yes, even though that was a symbolic change, it was not there before," said Tolgyesi.
Though the PJP is just a simulation and has no effect on the actual Canadian government, Tolgyesi believes the territories are left out in reality, too.
“I think if you ask anyone in the territories, they are going to say yes, there is a very big lack of representation,” she said.
“I wanted to create a new political party to show the participants in the simulation that anything can happen in the House of Commons – the real members of parliament can change parties or even become independent – because there are a lot of people that forget that.”
As the event drew to a close, Archambault-Gauthier said: "I think it is important for youth to understand politics, whether that is on the federal level or provincial level.
“I think every one of my four participants discovered a new world and a few are definitely going to stay with it.”
Archambault-Gauthier, who is also the coordinator for Jeunesse TNO, wants all francophone youth in the NWT to start getting involved in their community and politics.
"The goal of this was learning about politics," he said, "but also bringing the francophone population together – who are sometimes silent.”
Alice Twa, a Yellowknife student and Cabin Radio intern, was one of the four NWT participants at the Parlement Jeunesse Pancanadien. Interviews were conducted in French and translated into English for this article.