It was a class trip to Queen’s Park that would have had the province’s first female MPP Agnes MacPhail smiling.
Eighteen young ladies from Annette and Runnymede public schools joined Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo on April 15 to promote a mission: get more women interested in politics.
The second year of a youth initiative called Girls Government, started by DiNovo, the program is a local solution to a continuing problem in Canadian politics: a lack of female reps.
“The impetus behind the program is because of the absolute abysmal record we have in Canada and Ontario electing women,” DiNovo said. “I know people are doing what they can but I think it’s incumbent on everyone to try to make a difference in those statistics.
“This is our answer to make a difference in our riding.”
After meeting with Speaker Steve Peters, two representatives from Girls Government addressed the media on an issue the group felt was important: youth homelessness.
Grade 8 student Beatrice White, from Annette, said it was a visible issue they hoped to improve with their input to housing minister Jim Bradley, whom they were meeting after Question Period.
“We can’t necessarily relate to the feeling of homelessness, but we can imagine losing all the things we have,” White said.
Her peer, Runnymede eighth-grader Ina Novosel, agreed.
“We decided to dedicate our time and efforts towards homelessness, though it’s not a pleasant topic,” she said. “Everyone involved has become more independent and more aware.”
The two said they had learned valuable researching and leadership skills, but were alarmed by the lacking presence of women in politics.
“In the past, women have not always been thought of as equals, we give young women a chance to be seen and heard,” Novosel said.
“It was actually kind of shocking to realize how so few women are involved in parliament to this day still even though women are treated as equals.”
As for peers who may mock their Pink Palace or Parliament Hill pursuits, the girls are stoic.
“I suppose some find it a little weird that we’re going to a press conference and everything, thinking that we’re just children and should be having fun,” White said. “I think they understand that we are bringing up awareness.”
But this class trip doesn’t just stop with a trip to Queen’s Park. Additionally, the girls will make their way to Ottawa to meet with a female Member of Parliament, to be ironed out since their first choice, former-Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis, has recently been removed from caucus.
Outside of the roundtable meetings, DiNovo said there’s an element of sociological study involved with the youth group.
“What we’re interested in longitudinally is does this make a difference as they reach the age of majority — are they more socially active,” she said, adding there is a closed Facebook site where groups past and present can talk politics.
With a smile that hints optimism, DiNovo said she is pleased with the girls’ work ethic.
“Some of these girls may end up as members of provincial parliament, or even premier or prime minister one day,” she said.
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