With the political landscape as febrile as ever and an election just around the corner, there is perhaps no more exciting time to be at Queen’s Park.
That’s certainly bound to be the case for Luke Dixon, a St. Jacobs resident and Grade 7 student at the Foundation Christian School in Winterbourne, who was selected to represent the Kitchener-Conestoga riding in the province’s prestigious Legislative Page Program.
For two weeks, the young student will serve as a page at Queen’s Park, where he will get to meet and work with the most senior politicians in the province and watch the democratic process in action. And it’s that firsthand experience, says Dixon, that drew him to the role.
“It looked a lot more interesting to be on the chamber floor doing things then just sitting there or watching TV,” he notes. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone because you get to learn about things and you meet a whole bunch of new people, and it’s a great experience.”
Each year, the Legislative Page Program selects approximately 140 bright students in Grades 7 and 8 from across the province to serve in the humble, but vital, role of a legislative page. It’s a demanding job, as Dixon explains it, placing them right in the thick of action while simultaneously asking them to remain in background and as unobtrusive as possible.
“We’re trying not to make ourselves noticed but to do what’s needed,” says Dixon.
That can involve taking and passing notes between the MPPs and other members, getting water for anyone on demand, preparing the chambers for the day and delivering books and references requested by the clerk. As such, pages have to be extremely observant and mindful of details, and quick to move at a moment’s notice when they’re needed.
The result, in theory anyway, is a smoothly running and efficient legislature; like the grease in the wheels, the pages are what help keep the enormous machinery of government in motion.
For anyone who has ever been audience to a meeting of an assembly of any kind, the event can seem fastidious if not downright tedious. But on the floor, Dixon says that it can be a very fast-paced and exciting environment.
“It’s a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of work, especially memory work because you have to know all the MPPs by faces and seats,” says Dixon. “So it’s hard at the start, but it gets easier. And actually being in the chamber is a lot of fun versus just sitting in the galleries.”
It’s also a great way to learn the ins-and-outs of Ontario’s political process.
“So right now they’re doing the routine things like the introduction of bills and petitions or reports by committees or member statements,” said Dixon. “So it’s fun. The two best parts for pages are probably question period and routine proceedings because you have the most to do.”
The day begins at 8:15 a.m. for the young pages, as they are briefed early on the day’s events and what will be required of them. They are also tasked with getting the chambers ready ahead of the MPPs for the start of legislature.
“Once order is called and the Speaker comes in, he reads the prayer and then he calls the orders of the day. And at that point half the pages go down to legislative process class, and half of them stay in the chamber to help wherever needed, and then everyone’s back up for question period because it’s quite busy,” explains Dixon.
From there, the legislature adjourns for lunch, after which are the routine proceedings occur. “And that’s the bills, motions, reports by committees, petitions, member statements and statements by the ministry and responses. Not in that order, but those six things.”
Dixon will soon be returning to his home in St. Jacobs as the legislative session ends, but he’ll be returning with a wealth of new experience and insight. The youth is certainly keen to encourage others to apply for the program, though with one caveat.
“I would recommend it to everyone who is good with memorizing things, because you need to know all the MPPs and their faces and their ridings and their names, their portfolios if they have one, and where they sit,” he said.
“It’s a really good experience and I would recommend it to people. But if they find they have trouble with remembering things for school, it might not be the best for them because you have to know a lot.”