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Current Events Inspire Spirited Politics Club Debates

One of the fastest-growing clubs at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) is allowing students to flex their debating skills while offering real-life experiences in a co-curricular club that aligns with the academic programme.

The Politics Club debuted as a school club at the start of the pandemic in May 2020 and now has more than 130 students regularly engaged in the group’s activities.

“The Politics Club aims to enhance our school’s civic education programme through political events where a large community of students can engage in political discourse — whether that be through debate, after school discussions, or Q&As with guest speakers,” says Andrew Kos, civics and core intermediate teacher at SMCS.

Politics Club listening to guest speaker, Logan Kanapathi, MPP
The SMCS Politics Club welcomed Logan Kanapathi, MPP to speak with and answer questions from students.

Earlier in November 2022, the club invited Logan Kanapathi, MPP for Markham-Thornhill, to speak with and take questions from members. In the past, students have also organized virtual Q&As with former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin, and other politicians including Tom Mulcair and Peter MacKay.

Kos says the club is also planning Q&As with MPPs Paul Calandra, Mary-Margaret McMahon, and Jill Andrew over the course of the school year, and plans to host a school-wide political debate tournament in the spring.

Politics Club Holds First Student Debate

On November 22, the Politics Club held their first major student debate of 2022-23 after school in the Robert Campeau Lecture Hall on the topic of whether the Ontario government should promote a parallel private healthcare system.

“My experience participating in the most recent debate was amazing,” says Nikolas Begic, Grade 11. “This is the second debate I have done with the Politics Club and I have thoroughly enjoyed both. I especially enjoyed this one because it was very interesting to hear what the opposing side had to say and it was full of emotion and excitement.”

The debate was comprised of four rounds: opening statements, presentation of arguments, rebuttals that led to sessions of open discourse, and closing statements.

“Students become aware of the topic at least a week prior to the debate, and often bring stats and research to support their claims or stances,” says Kos. “We offer a 20-minute research and collaboration period before the start of the debate, where students can align and corroborate each other’s contributions.”

Selecting a topic for the debate involves brainstorming some ‘hot-button topics’ with student-moderators that might be of interest, combining them with student suggestions, and then voting on the best one.

SMCS students in the Politics Club participating in a student debate in the Lecture Hall.
SMCS students in the Politics Club argued either for or against whether the Ontario government should promote a parallel private healthcare system.

“The most recent topic was included in the poll because healthcare is a field that we have all interacted with at some point in our lives — especially during the pandemic,” says Kos. “There are clear issues with our healthcare system — whether that be a lack of funding, staffing, or long wait times — no one can dispute that; the debate manifests in how we address the issues.”

For Carson Weber, Grade 11, he opted to argue ‘for’ the parallel system.

“I wanted to share my ideas on how a private healthcare system could be implemented successfully in Ontario. Personally, I chose to discuss ways the government could allocate money to sustain the public healthcare system, while still allowing the choice for people to use private healthcare.”

In contrast, Begic argued against the motion, saying that “a parallel healthcare option does not improve wait times. The private system siphons resources from the public system and less than 10 per cent of the population would use it. It is immoral to say that if you have deeper pockets, you get better care.”

Matthew Devlin, Grade 12, was the head student-moderator of the debate, helping to organize, set up, and promote the event around the school.

“It was good to moderate as I got to understand both sides of the debate instead of only being focused on what I would have been debating,” he says. “This also widened my understanding of the actual issue being argued instead of just considering my personal beliefs.”

The student debate concluded in a stalemate with the results being based on the rate of change in the audience’s opinion. “The pre-debate poll had approximately 71 per cent of the audience supporting the motion that ‘the Ontario government should promote a parallel private healthcare system’,” says Kos. “At the end of the debate, 71 per cent of the audience still supported the motion, however, interestingly enough, six students changed their opinions after listening to the deliberations — three changed to support the motion, and three changed to oppose it.”

Upcoming Munk Debate Experience Further Enhances Discourse

On November 30, 15 students will have the opportunity to watch a Munk Debate at Roy Thompson Hall.

“The 15 most active and persuasive students were awarded tickets to the ‘Super Bowl’ of political debates,” says Kos.

According to their website, Munk Debates have been hosting debates in Toronto since 2008 to “help the world rediscover the art of civil and substantive public debate by convening the brightest thinkers of our time to weigh in on the big issues of the day.”

SMCS students in the Politics Club participate in a student debate
SMCS students who were the most active and persuasive in the debates were invited to watch a Munk Debate at Roy Thompson Hall.

The topic on the agenda is whether mainstream media can be trusted to provide unbiased reporting.

“I am most looking forward to learning about the criticisms of mainstream media,” says Devlin. “The media plays a prominent role in everyone’s lives. To better understand the issues with it, for example, the misinformation that mainstream media can spread, I may reflect on my own life with how I currently inform myself and should inform myself with mainstream media. Ultimately, I am looking forward to the lessons this debate should teach about mainstream media.”

Including Devlin, Weber, and Begic, other students who presented the best arguments and will also attend the prestigious Munk Debate include: Anish Krishanthan, Henry Hicks, Charles Pope, Harrison Smith, Truman Topolski, Colin O’Sullivan, Alexander Jamrozinski, Charlie Hepfer, Shiyu Zhang, Renzo De Bartolo, Will O’Connor, George Carayiannis, and Kenyon Adams.

“As the Civics teacher at SMCS, I believe our club serves as an exceptional co-curricular bridge to our academic courses and allows us to offer a holistic civic education programme like no other in the province,” says Kos. “It gives students an opportunity to deliberate political topics in a controlled setting, extend their learning beyond the classroom, and model respectful political discourse for the entire school community. The club provides students with unique opportunities to interact with prominent politicians, fosters the growth of students’ political acumen, and promotes the development of knowledgeable, trailblazing democratic citizens.”

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Clubs & Activities at SMCS


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