A group of students facing serious illnesses had some advice for prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau on what he should make his top priorities once he takes office, including free medicine, longer maternity leave, and a wild animal for everyone who desires a pet.
The students, who were in Grades 4 through 8, take classes at Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto School. They offered these responses and more, in a class exercise where they were asked to write a speech on what they would do if they were the prime minister of Canada.
The private school, located in downtown Toronto, is part of the Ronald McDonald House charity, which offers housing and services for families with ill children. The school is free for students to attend, as it is funded through donations, but it is not open to the public.
When these families require long-term medical care in downtown Toronto, the charity can offer them housing and schooling. In order to be eligible to receive these services, families must live a minimum of 55 kilometres away from the House, and must be referred by a hospital social worker.
The on-site school is unique in that it offers classes based on the Ontario curriculum for their children to attend, so that they don’t miss out on their learning while seeking treatment.
The school’s principal, Katie Doering, said the speech-writing exercise was part of a unit on government and democracy that happened to coincide with the federal election.
At the end of the unit, the students relied on everything they’d learned, and combined it with their own beliefs in a speech on what they’d do if they were the leader of Canada.
Some of the proposed changes were exactly what you might expect from children.
“I would make a machine that could make pets talk,” said Shivam.
But others showed that they were deeply in tune with the daily struggle of Canadians across the country.
“I would provide free medicine because it’s not your fault you got sick and need medicine,” said Aliviah Goode.
“Also, anyone under 85 should get free health care,” she added.
Aliviah’s sister Adaya recently had open-heart surgery.
“She’s doing good, she got discharged,” said Aliviah.
Aliviah also said that children should have access to “free school supplies.”
Nine-year-old Rayne Shim devoted part of her speech to asking for people to get their birthdays off from work, with pay.
But she too tackled the issue of universal pharmacare.
“I would give free medicine to everyone,” she said.
“Like, you don’t have to pay a lot of money for medicine because medicine can be really expensive,” she added.
Rayne’s sister is the middle of a battle with cancer.
Rayne said that the rich should also have to pay higher taxes, and advocated for a national daycare strategy.
“Maybe the daycare should be paid by the government because some parents can’t afford hundreds of dollars so kids can go to daycare,” she said.
Doering said the students’ speeches were telling of everything they learned about the responsibilities of government, but also of their own personal circumstances.
“It was a mixture of things we had talked about in class, but then they brought in their own ideas about things that were really relevant to them right now,” she said, noting that many talked about improving the healthcare system.
“And then of course we saw a lot of their personalities come out too,” she said, adding that there were specific requests for annual teddy bear picnics, as well as a statutory holiday once a month.
Here’s a further look at some of the students’ speeches:
“If I were prime minister, I would provide every family with a free healthcare plan because people can’t help it when they get sick,” 11-year-old cardiac patient Adaya wrote.
“I would also plan an annual teddy bear picnic, just for children! Children can bring their favourite teddy bear or stuffed animal and come to a beautiful meadow of flowers and have a lovely picnic. All food and blankets will be supplied!”
Her sister, Aliviah, said if she was prime minister, she would provide everyone with free medicine. Once that was done, she’d proceed to overhaul the education system and outlaw littering.
“I also have some personal ideas,” she wrote. “I think there should be a zoo in every city. My favourite rule would be that you can have a wild animal as a pet.”
Twelve-year-old Chayse, who is recovering from brain surgery, said if she were the country’s leader, she would build more affordable housing.
“Why you ask? Because I think people should have a nice place to stay and not have to stay outside on park benches or underground subway heaters,” she wrote.
Her younger sister, Jordan, said she would put more money into nursing homes and lower tuition for private schools. And, in an apparent nod to her sister, she said she’d create more schools for neurosurgery.
Up next on her ambitious agenda? More holidays.
“There would be a statutory holiday every month because sometimes you just need a break,” she wrote.
Doering said at the end of the unit, the students had the opportunity to read their speeches to their classmates and their families.
“They had a phenomenal time doing it,” she said. “It was very powerful to hear the messages that they had.”
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Natalie Johnson