On an April evening in 2014, I opened an email and panicked. It was from a Model United Nations conference I was supposed to attend. The conference was in five days, and I was just told that I was put in a special committee — House of Commons — and I would be the Leader of the Green Party.
Coincidentally, I was a high school student in Saanich. As such, I was well aware of Miss Elizabeth May. I knew that she was (and still is) my MP and that her job was (and still is) to help people in her constituency. In the midst of my research, I realized that my ideas were only based on guesses of what Elizabeth might do instead of what she would do, and those ideas seemed vague, unconvincing, and somewhat immature. I wanted to be an outstanding Green, even though it was just a mock House of Commons. I tweeted Elizabeth the next day, and she responded within hours. I probably had asked too many questions over the next day or two, as eventually she asked, politely, whether we could correspond by email. So I sent her a long email at 6pm PST. She responded at 11pm, which would be 2am in Ottawa, with an email twice as long as mine. Her answers were capitalized to make it easier for me to identify them. I don’t remember more details about this, but I remember one of my questions being “How often, and when, do you compromise in the House?” And she responded, “I DON’T”. I took a deep breath. While the responsibility to strictly carry out her principles was then a challenge, I calmed down knowing that I would succeed with her help.
I couldn’t thank her enough for this. She stayed up late for me, an unknown high-schooler who was facing a deadline for a high-school debate. Yet she answered all of my questions, obvious or wise, with as many details as she could offer, and corrected my ideas and vocabulary for political correctness. I was thrilled.
As a way to pay her back, I gave her a copy of my paper at the next town hall meeting she was hosting. It was late when I finally approached her and told her that everyone who had read it said it was “very Green”. After our encounter, I thought we would never meet each other again.
But her wit and wisdom haunted me; they made me look deeper into all the issues I had researched, and then I realized, “Wow, the Greens are an unknowingly amazing party!”, and that Elizabeth is an underrepresented yet significant figure. I’ve watched numerous speeches. Although I often drift off in the middle of one, as all English learners do, I do feel her power, her determination, and her passion on all of the issues at hand. She was right, she never compromises. As for me, I had always been an acquiescent follower. Principles for me had been an endless abyss. If someone had smashed my belief and said, “that’s the reality”, I would have agreed. By watching her speeches and reading all sorts of articles about Elizabeth and the Greens, I felt like I’d finally found the ground. I could remain silent when confronted, and I could apologize for something that was not my fault. Nonetheless, I had learned that I could not tolerate people, especially those who have the most power, dictating others’ lives to feed their own desires.
A year went by, during which Elizabeth and I had several exchanges. I once invited her to a Model United Nations event at my own school, but it did not work out because of a scheduling conflict. My friend who also worked on this event dropped her jaw when I told her that Elizabeth had agreed to come. “It’s actually not that hard”, I told her, “just tweet her.”
Just a few days later, I found out Elizabeth would be organizing a town hall meeting at our school, one of a new series which she calls a “youth town hall”, that’s aimed to understand young people’s lives better. It was a privilege and a stroke of luck to join her, along with a dozen other students and a few staff members, for a luncheon. The conversation was in-depth. I have to apologize here to those who had lots of questions that day, for talking about immigration issues for too long. It wasn’t intended. When I asked, “What was the role that the government wants foreign students, workers, and landed immigrants to play”, I was expecting a clear answer. The fact that Elizabeth was also confused about the point was scary. I can’t say I had all my faith in her, but I did understand that if my MP who works her hardest to ensure her constituents’ beliefs were considered doesn’t understand the government’s behaviour, I would probably need to interrogate Mr. Prime Minister myself.
A few seconds later, she asked me whether I was facing any hardships in the immigration process. So, I went on with some honest responses and expressed concerns over the new system, which spiralled into a 20-minute discussion on the topic. In the end, she promised to help our family with whatever hardships we may face.
I must have been the luckiest, yet most privileged girl on Earth. I was well aware that my family was in a so-called “normal system” now, only with bad timing. We were not stuck in a refugee camp unable to access the outside world, nor being exported unreasonably, nor homeless. We’re only waiting, and it’s only me who will be affected if things go wrong. I’m young, I can always try again.
I remember my face burning. “I’m not a Canadian yet.” I stared down at the sour cream left over on my plate to hide my disappointment. I could feel that everyone in the room was staring at me, or trying not to stare. The person beside me, another Chinese girl, froze. I’m not even a permanent resident. I’m an international student, able (although barely) to pay her own through-the-roof tuition. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. There are so many people worse off than me. I don’t deserve the attention and sympathy.
Elizabeth’s next sentence almost threw me out of my chair. She said, in such a determined tone, “You’re in my constituency. I’m responsible for helping you.”
“Even if I’m international?”
“Even if you’re international. I’m your MP. It’s my responsibility to take care of everyone who lives in my riding.”
Later that day, I wrote an email to her riding office, explaining in detail about my family’s situation, my concerns, and what I think should be done. I must have whined a lot, as there was no response for weeks. Then, one day, I got an email asking me when I would like to visit my mother who works on the other side of the country. It would be paid by Elizabeth’s Air Miles. After several emails and phone calls, we had booked me a one-way ticket to Toronto. That was my moving ticket, my ticket to have no more official connection with Elizabeth. I was also notified that a staff member from the riding office had also contacted me, only the message was unseen because a delay in receiving my emails.
Then the summer came. A surprise family reunion made me laugh and cry at the same time. For some reason, I wanted to share my joy with Elizabeth, yet she was nowhere to be found. We went to the riding office for the first, and maybe the last time, to say thank you. The next day, on the plane, I secretly wished for another MP who would say “you’re in my constituency, I’m responsible for helping you” to an unknown, sometimes childish international student.
A special Credit to Cam: Thank you very much for editing it word by word and having your mom to read it!