When Jaime Quintana Leal was elected President of the Senate of Chile, he announced (in Spanish only) in his inaugural address on March 12, 2019 that he was launching a youth initiative that will connect senators with Chilean youth.
Canadians should be proud of this announcement because — as he noted in his speech — the initiative was inspired by the Senate of Canada’s SENgage program, which launched in 2016.
SENgage connects senators with youth in their schools, at the Senate or at other youth-oriented events. What started out as a pilot project three years ago has transformed into a successful program that has a real impact on youth.
Last year alone, SENgage connected senators with more than 6,000 students. Canadian senators have participated in more than 300 visits with youth across Canada since 2016, either by teaching students about the role of the Senate or by hosting students visiting Parliament.
Through the ParlAmericas association, which works to promote parliamentary diplomacy in the inter-American system, Senator Leal’s office reached out to the Senate of Canada to learn how SENgage works and expressed an interest in implementing a similar program in Chile.
This is the kind of international exchange that makes parliamentary diplomacy so important. It is a crucial part of senators’ work as they engage in parliamentary diplomacy through various associations, like ParlAmericas, with the goal of expanding Canada’s interests abroad and sharing best practices.
Senator Rosa Galvez said she knows how valuable this program is for youth.
In March, she gave a speech to members of the School4Civic program about the importance of civic engagement. As vice-chair of the executive committee of the ParlAmericas Canadian Section, she also had the opportunity to visit the University of Toronto that same month to give a guest lecture to students on domestic environmental policy.
“As a university professor, I felt very comfortable sharing with students my experiences from the Senate,” Senator Galvez said.
She said she recognized the benefit of taking the time to visit classrooms to talk about the important role played by the Senate in our parliamentary democracy.
“I like to explain to them how I use my knowledge of the environment while reviewing legislation in the Senate,” Senator Galvez said. “It helps give them an inside look at policy making in Canada.”
Senator Yonah Martin is also no stranger to the classroom. She taught in secondary and middle schools for 21 years before being appointed to the Senate in 2009. Since becoming a senator, she has given multiple talks to students during SENgage events.
She finds real value in taking Ottawa to the students who may never have the opportunity to travel to Ottawa themselves so that they can learn firsthand from a Canadian senator how Canada’s Parliament functions.
"Once a teacher, always a teacher. It's a homecoming every time I visit a school and meet students who are eager to learn about Canada's Parliament. I have visited many schools over the years, but each visit is distinct in my memory and I especially enjoy answering their questions, which are always thoughtful and probing,” Senator Martin said.
“I know that the classroom is a microcosm of Canadian society and our students are the global leaders of our future. SENgage is, therefore, an important and effective program I am happy to support."
The SENgage program is a success story worth celebrating and a shining example of how parliaments ought to engage an increasingly active and engaged young population. The success of the SENgage program is proof that Canada — and the Senate — is at the forefront of civic engagement and empowering youth.