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National Student Forum, 2014

Special report by ARPA intern Mark Luimes
If there is one phrase I’ve heard more often than others at the various political and motivational events I’ve attended since moving to Ottawa, it is that “youth are the future leaders of our society”. It’s true, and it has the been the driving motive behind student engagement events like the “I vote/Je vote” campaign at uOttawa, pro-life club training events like the NCLN Symposium, and events like the one I was able to attend this past week, the National Student Forum.

The National Student Forum is a two-day event that takes place before the National Prayer Breakfast. It is intended for young Christians who are interested in learning more about what it is like to be a Christian leader in politics. The Forum is packed full of interesting and practical talks given by Members of Parliament, Senators, Parliamentary staffers, and others who have valuable experience to share. This year’s forum was coordinated, hosted and moderated by the exceptionally talented and experienced Daniel Gilman, a staffer of six years and a well-known face among Christian political activists in Ottawa; his presence was an invaluable and entertaining part of the forum.

Tuesday

After a personable introduction from MP Colin Mayes, outgoing chair of the National Prayer Breakfast, we heard from the Honourable Jack Murta, former cabinet minister. He spoke about the history of the National Prayer Breakfast and its focus on building relationships while leaving politics at the door.
Following the introductions, we heard from Dr. Janet Epp-Buckingham, an associate professor at Trinity Western University and Director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre. She shared some advice on the important practicalities of networking, relating the topic to her past experience as a lawyer and her current role leading the push for the accreditation of TWU’s proposed law school.

After a short break, the students were treated to a tour of Parliament by Daniel Gilman. His experience resulted in a tour thick with interesting details about Parliament’s construction and history, and his detailed narratives kept the group entertained throughout.

Dinnertime was about more than just good food; while we waited to begin, we were treated to some of Daniel Gilman’s stories about his time on the Hill and lessons he’d learned during politics. In the evening, the students heard from Dr. Barry Whatley, a pastor who spent the entire forum with the group, always available for conversation and advice. While I was unable to attend that session on “Character Counts”, another attendee, Andrew Reid, shared with me, “It was definitely a good reminder of the importance of integrity in all facets of life, and practically how Christians should interact with one another and God.”

Wednesday

Wednesday morning began with a look into one of the much less publicized aspects of Parliament, namely family life. During the session “Families that Change the World”, we were treated to frank and personal stories from Andrew & Jill Scheer, Sarah Watson, and Ursula Devolin. They shared some of the struggles they face as Parliamentarians and spouses of Parliamentarians, as they strive to balance their busy professional lives in Ottawa with the attention that their families need at home. The panel shared advice and encouragement, emphasizing the importance of keeping your family the first priority in your life. The Honourable Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House of Commons, had particularly poignant words to share. He summed up much of the panel’s message when he said, “these [family] are the people you came into politics with, and these are the people you need to leave politics with”.

Next, we had a similarly structured panel featuring Parliamentary staffers Joshua Buck, Cory Anderson, and Andrew House. They shared with the students a little bit about what life is like as a staffer, and what their individual journeys to the Hill looked like. One of the common threads in their discussions was that being motivated, grounded and informed by their Christian faith was an essential foundation for working with integrity, honesty, and humility. The panelists testified that among staffers, personal pride and arrogance was one of the most common factors that led to the collapse and failure of careers on the Hill, and shared about how their faith helped them in their struggle to avoid the same path.

After an exceptional lunch with MPs Colin Mayes and Bob Zimmer at the Parliamentary Restaurant, Daniel Gilman gave us some concrete and valuable advice on how to manage time in a way that maximizes productivity while minimizing stress and avoiding burnout; an absolutely essential tool for active and committed people. For example, he encouraged students to carefully define their priorities, and eliminate any unnecessary commitments. He recommended that students architect their time well, starting their work day with the tasks they enjoy the least and finishing with ones they find more enjoyable.

Following his talk, the students participated in a roundtable discussion with MP Colin Mayes, Hon. Jack Murta, and Senator Yonah Martin, as they talked about things they’ve learned in politics, shared stories and advice, and answered questions from students.

For the last session before the National Prayer Dinner, we headed over to the Westin Hotel to hear from Dr. Rod Wilson, president of Regent College. He gave a short but inspiring talk on the importance of seeing all of life as sacred, and placing emphasis on our character in everything we do.

The forum finished with the National Prayer Dinner in the evening and the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning. Both were well attended with over 800 Parliamentarians, government leaders, foreign dignitaries and Christian leaders. The attendance was a refreshing reminders of the fact that there are still many men and women working in civil government who want to see God glorified in what they do, and want to see relationships built on shared faith.

Reflection

One of the more difficult concepts for people to really understand about politics, in my experience, is that Parliament is an institution made up of normal human beings who share many of the hopes, dreams, struggles, and experiences that the rest of Canadians do. They are exceptional, yes: they are ambitious, charismatic, and work incredibly hard. But still, they are regular people. The National Student Forum was a fantastic opportunity for students to make that connection between the constant stream of events reported on national news media and the people who leave their families everyday to work to make Canada a better place to live.

Besides the important practical advice on leadership, the forum also gave students who have political ambitions themselves to gain a much better understanding of the unique challenges, opportunities, and struggles they may face on that path, and helped them to understand how to support and pray for our Parliamentarians. It was an enriching and informative experience, and one I’m looking forward to attending again in the future.

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