Student-run conference aims to get teenagers interested in Hamilton municipal politics

In May, high school students will act as city councillors with a student-run conference called Model City Hall Hamilton.

Students take over city hall in May at Model City Hall conference simulating municipal politics

Hamilton students will sit in the seats of city councillors when they simulate city hall at a conference aiming to engage students in municipal politics. (Provided by Cassidy Bereskin)

Hamilton high school students will feel the weight of being a city councillor this May when they sit in the seats of the pros at the student-led Model City Hall Hamilton conference.

Secondary and post-secondary students are organizing the one-day conference. The goal is to drive political engagement by making it accessible and free.

It's "really to get students more interested in municipal politics, to arm them with the skills and the resources to engage themselves in municipal politics, but also to spark local change," said Cassidy Bereskin, a first-year McMaster University student and co-founder of Model City Hall Hamilton.

Students will play the role of councillors, participating in committees and debating and generating resolutions they can give to the real councillors. The first conference was created in Toronto in 2015.

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Bringing municipal politics to students

Ruby Hye, a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board student trustee and Grade 11 student at Westdale Secondary School, reached out to Bereskin because she wanted to see the conference in Hamilton.

Through taking part in local activism, Hye says she's realized the importance of municipal politics.

"When you think about municipal politics, the interest has to be created. This conference does that and it makes it accessible," said Hye. "It grows young leaders in the local sphere."

Model City Hall's first conference took place in May 2015 in Toronto. The first executive team consisted of a small number of high school and university students. (Provided by Cassidy Bereskin)

Existing student conferences like Model Parliament and Model UN overlook municipal politics, Hye says.

But "arguably, it's the most important level of politics. It's so tangible. It's so pertinent to the daily student life."  

Those conferences often have a price tag attached to them, Hye says, which makes it harder for younger people to get involved.

"We're really looking forward to what this might mean for Hamilton youth," said Hye.

New leaders, new ideas

Hye has been working with Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, with logistics like booking council chambers.

Green told CBC News the booking cost will come from his office budget.

"My support for this project is secondary to their incredible effort to make it happen. I'm just removing one of the barriers they might have," said Green. "They're creating a foundation and framework for young people to be able to engage in local government."

Green says he looks forward to students developing some fresh, new ideas that might be able to provide a better alternative to the way government is run.

"I hope that it's not, for them, just an exercise, but to be getting a whole strategy of engagement of young people into the process of government," said Green.

He predicts future political candidates will rise from this class of Model City Hall Hamilton.

All high school students in Hamilton, regardless of experience, are welcome to attend the free conference happening May 27. Registration will happen this month.

Model City Hall is a federally registered Canadian non-profit.


Laura Clementson is a producer for CBC's The National. She can be reached at laura.clementson@cbc.ca. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraClementson.