Julien Gringas recently got to put his interest in the Canadian political system to good use while serving as a page in the Ontario legislature.
The Grade 8 student at Barrie's Codrington Public School was one of approximately 150 students in the province selected to participate the the Ontario's Legislative Page Program, aimed at giving “outgoing, high-achieving, community-involved students who have demonstrated responsibility and leadership” the opportunity to learn firsthand about Ontario’s parliament and the legislative process.
The 13-year-old spent two weeks living in Toronto last month and says he was both thrilled and surprised when he learned he had been selected to participate in the program.
“I had to write an essay about why (I would) make a good page and some of your volunteer, academic and athletic achievements. It was quite a while, like two months, until I heard back from them that I’d gotten in. It was very exciting," he says.
Mom Virginia Gringas says that with so many applicants, and limited spots, she was trying to manage her son’s expectations, but when they got news he’d been selected, they were both beyond excited.
“I was prepping him that he wasn’t going to get in, because what were the chances, so when he got in it was pretty exciting. He checked his email every day for months,” she says. “It was a two-week commitment where you’re pulled out of school and it depends on how long the house sits… but it was so worth it. It was better than going to Disney World for him. His eyes lit up when he saw parliament.”
Julien says he has always had a keen interest in politics, explaining that he learned about the program last year when an older student participated in it.
“I was very interested in student politics at the time. At my old school, I ran the Student Elections Canada … and I was always very interested in foreign affairs and how the government worked,” he says. “I thought it would be a very nice experience to actually be there and sit in on these meetings. It’s sort of an all-access pass that’s not available to the public.”
The Oro-Medonte teen was at Queen’s Park during the ongoing protest by CUPE education workers and admitted it was hard not to react to everything that was going on around him.
“I was right in the midst of it. We were there right when all those members were kicked out. All of the pages were just looking at each other and there was quite an interesting talk after that," Julien says. "We had legislative process class and math class during the day to make up for the missed studies and it was quite an event.
"It was nothing like I have ever done before. I made CBC and CP24 a few times in the background.”
Virginia says she was extremely impressed with her son and the other pages for managing not to react.
“When I saw the news (of) the 17 people (being) kicked out and there was a lot happening … one of the biggest jobs for Julien and the pages was to be non-partisan. They have to show no emotion. They can’t yawn, cough or roll their eyes or look shocked. Here are these guys screaming, yelling and pounding things … and when the news was showing it,
"Julien happened to be up top where the Speaker was. Every one of them did such a great job — no emotion. The maturity that these kids at 13 and 14 had to show during that particular day blew my mind," she says.
With what Virginia called Julien’s never-ending “thirst for knowledge," she wasn’t surprised with how much he enjoyed the experience.
“He likes to know how things operate and run, so that he can make an educated decision, whether it’s religion, politics,” she says. “What I love about my son is he’s open-minded and loves to experience and see things firsthand before he comes to any opinion or judgment.”
The most challenging part of the entire experience, he says, was memorizing the 124 faces, ridings and parties of all of the members, adding he was also surprised with how well-run the program was overall.
“I thought we’d just be sitting and be just a decoration, but they have a whole quarter where we learn. There are teachers and administrators to watch over the program. We got security passes and name tags and they arranged meetings with all the MPPs for lunch," he says. "We met the premier, the sergeants-at-arms and the Speaker. It was really well thought out.”
Despite the positive experience, Julien says he's unsure if he wants to pursue a career in politics one day, but added he would jump at another opportunity to be part of the page program.
“As soon as I left the program I wanted to go back,” he says. “We also delivered the bills, petitions and reports ... so Bill 28, which was the one about CUPE and the notwithstanding clause, was delivered by one of my friends.
"It was just amazing to be there, holding it and being a part of history.”