The student-run program teaches humor and confidence in speaking. Photo: Courtesy of Model Parliament.
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Model Parliament turns the tide in age of online arguing

Every year, worldwide use of social media increases, offering more people a medium to debate serious issues and make jokes without having to engage with one another in person.

In some ways, it is probably easier to face down a screen to make your point than it is to have to stand in front of a crowd of people—which, might be part of the reason why the University of Ottawa English Debating Society, and University of Ottawa’s Model Parliament retain engagement on campus today.

In an interview with the Fulcrum, Matthew Boulden, a fourth-year political science student, and the Governor General in this year’s Model Parliament, explained that the upcoming event, which will take place on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22, is a unique way to learn how to engage with satirical issues in a formal environment.

“It’s different (when) compared to another debating format,” he said. “People (might be) used to debating at a table, side by side, with a moderator in-between (one another), but when you’re (at model parliament), you’re facing the Speaker, and there are certain rules that you have to follow.”

While the organization does have a Twitter page for announcements, it is not used as a medium for debate—which is saved for the actual events.

“(Students) makes jokes all of the time (with Twitter)—they make memes … they try to convince people to join their (satirical political) parties … that’s basically the number one use on Twitter,” said Boulden.

The University of Ottawa Model parliament is an opportunity for students to don the role of an MP, debate in a government building—which will be the Sir John A. Macdonald building this year due to the closure of Centre Block—and, try their best to master public speaking in the space of an MP.

“It’s not as thorough or in-depth as … professional debaters,” but there are added challenges that this form of public speaking necessities, Boulden noted.

“The pressure from Model Parliament is higher than other speaking events because there’s quite often a pressure to be funny and to say something smart,” he said.

The event, which avoids contemporary political topics, challenges students to speak to a room of 338 peers about a satirical bill, and try to keep the audience engaged through word-play and clever references—while simultaneously staring down an opposition that occasionally heckles the speaker, and poses difficult questions.      

Boulden explained that these challenges are surmountable, once speakers realize that everyone is there to have fun.

“(Looking back at) my first time … (my biggest) regret was not speaking,” he explained. “I thought that all (kinds of) bad things would happen to me—and then the second time that I did it, I found that if you put yourself out there … you’ll get good feedback from it.”

Indeed, Boulden likened Model Parliament to an improvisation performance. “Even (improvisation regulars) need a second to think about what they’re going to say,” he explained. “They’re always trying to be funny, and they’re always trying to have a good laugh—that’s basically what model parliament is.”

Boulden encourages all students to sign up for the weekend’s series of laughs and debates, and to not worry about talking in front of a room of strangers.

“This year, my big goal is to change that,” he explained. “I want people to feel like the event is for them.”

To find out how you can practice your speaking skills at the U of O’s Model Parliament, check out their website. Registration, which costs $60, will close at midnight on Nov. 13, but will reopen again until the end of December if there are excess tickets.  


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