‘Prime Minister’ a Langley girl

A Rachel Haak isn’t a political junkie by any stretch.

Even so, she was among a group of Langley teens who flew to Ottawa last month for a week-long introduction to politics as part of the Encounters With Canada program.

Through ECW, Canadian teens between the ages of 14 and 17 spend a week in the nation’s capital, learning more about the country through hands-on workshops, presentations, and excursions.

Much of the activities took place inside the Terry Fox Youth Centre in Ottawa.

When the local group was asked if they would ever consider entering politics in the future, 15-year-old Haak jokingly ducked her head slightly and cupped a hand over one of her eyebrows to shield her eyes, her body language making it quite clear she’s not all that interested.

However, Haak admits she has a new appreciation for Canadian politics, especially after her close friend Monique Bouchard was awarded the title of “Prime Minister of Canada” in a mock election held during the week.

Fellow Langley residents joining Haak and Bouchard, also 15, in Ottawa were 17-year-old Caleb Rawcliffe and his 16-year-old brother Jordan along with 15-year-old Paul McComber.

The trip cost $625 per student with the rest of the expenses subsidized by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

“The theme of the week was politics,” Bouchard explained. “We did what all the other groups do, we toured around [the national historic site] Rideau Hall but we also had other activities that were specific to Parliament.”

Bouchard and Haak have travelled together before, going on a mission trip in February 2014 to the Bahamas where they taught some dance, swimming, and offered tips on personal hygiene to Haitian refugees.

This time, it took some persuading from her friend before Haak decided to go on the trip.

“I wasn’t going to go,” Haak said. “I don’t really like politics.”

However, Haak said she learned a lot during the trip.

“It was kind of interesting,” she added.

All five Langley teens are home-schooled and have been friends for quite some time.

Jordan Rawcliffe said it was a great opportunity to learn about politics.

“I really love politics,” McComber added. “I don’t know about a career in it but it just really fascinates me, what’s happening.”

The trip was especially rewarding for Bouchard considering she came home with the prestigious title of “Prime Minister,” carrying the fictitious “Pay It Forward” party flag. 

“They had six parties already set up, so you could choose which one you could be a part of based on the different points that they believed in,” Bouchard said, explaining the election process. “I was in the same party as Paul and Rachel. Jordan was in the Green Party.”

Bouchard won the nomination to become the leader of the 16-member “Pay It Forward” party.

“Each person who wanted to be a party leader had one minute to convince the rest of their party that they should be the leader,” Bouchard said. 

A comparison made by Ontario MP Michael Chong between Pittsburgh and Detroit, which are going in opposite directions in terms of growth and prosperity, was the basis of Bouchard’s platform.

“Pittsburgh is still growing where Detroit is not a place you’d want to live, so I just said, ‘If you vote for me, we’d be more like Pittsburgh, not Detroit, and they liked that,” Bouchard said.

As party leader, Bouchard subsequently ran successfully for Prime Minister.

“We really worked together,” Bouchard said. “It was such a team effort. We had advertising, she [Rachel] made awesome posters, we had social media, we wrote speeches, all over a period of two days. I was so nervous the whole time.”

Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand spoke to the candidates and their supporters the day of the “election,” and the votes were tabulated during the day.  

Looking back at the week from April 19-25, Jordan Rawcliffe said he didn’t know about politics before he left, “but I understand the system now. It gives me a deeper understanding.”

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