My Journey as a Page at the Ontario Legislative Assembly
Arushi Nath, Grade 8. It was the summer holidays of 2022. I was doing the usual fun stuff while schools were closed: summer camps, bike rides, daily runs to my […]
Arushi Nath, Grade 8. It was the summer holidays of 2022. I was doing the usual fun stuff while schools were closed: summer camps, bike rides, daily runs to my […]
Arushi Nath, Grade 8.
It was the summer holidays of 2022. I was doing the usual fun stuff while schools were closed: summer camps, bike rides, daily runs to my local public library and meeting friends when I got a message which would cut my summer vacations short. I was selected as a participant in the Page programme at the Ontario Legislative Assembly and would need to report to Queens Park, Toronto, on 19 August 2022, for an orientation program. My Page duty would be from 29 August to 14 September 2022 for the 1st Session of the 43rd Parliament of Ontario.
I rejoiced at this opportunity even though it meant shorter summer vacations. So, what is the Page Program?
The Page Programme at the Ontario Legislative Assembly
Page is a unique educational program for school students to experience the provincial legislature in action and gain an insider understanding of how governments in vibrant and stable democracies function. In Canada, at the provincial level, parliament or legislature refers to the Monarch, represented by the provincial Lieutenant-Governor, and the elected Legislative Assembly.
Each year approximately 150 students from across Ontario are selected to participate in Ontario’s Legislative Page Program. For almost three weeks, the Ontario Legislative Assembly becomes their school, and other Page participants from across the province become their new classmates leading to new friendships and learnings. The legislative Pages get to meet key parliamentary and political figures and learn first-hand about Ontario’s Parliament and the legislative process.
Applying to the Page Program
The latest updates about the Page program, when they accept applicants for the new cohort, and the application process are available from their website: https://www.ola.org/en/visit-learn/programs/about-page-program.
The Page program looks for outgoing, high-achieving, community-involved students who have demonstrated responsibility and leadership throughout their student life. These are the most essential and appropriate requirements as the Page duty is all about moving outside of your comfort zone: learning new things, being open to new experiences, willingness to engage with a diverse spectrum of people who may be holding viewpoints different than yours, maintaining an open mindset, having a pleasant personality, willingness to work under pressure and strict schedule, and ability to make independent decisions with confidence.
To apply, you must be a Grade 7 or 8 student with an academic average of Level 4 or 80% (or higher). The application process is well-designed. You need to create an online profile https://laopageprogram.powerappsportals.com/en-US/ that includes information about you, your guardians/parents, and your school and two open-ended questions. One question is about your experience, achievements and leadership skills you have demonstrated so far. The second question concerns how you are a good fit to be a Legislative Page and how your selection would enrich the Page program.
It is essential to take time to write your essays, starting by reading the program requirements and thinking about your unique experiences, abilities and skills that would make you a good fit and be beneficial for the program. As there is a word limit (750 words) for the essay, ensure your essay is sharp, exciting and reflects the real you!
Remember: you may miss school to participate in the Page program. The Page Program writes an official letter to your school principal so that you are formally excused from attending classes at school while your Page program is in session. The PAGE program also holds classes in math and other subjects at Queens Park so that you can stay updated on what you would miss at school.
I applied to the Page program at the start of my 2022 summer vacation, and in a few weeks, I learned about their decision through a phone call, followed by a letter saying I was accepted as a PAGE. I was elated!
Page Program Orientation Day
Orientation is organized for each new cohort under the Page program. Pages and their parents/guardians are invited to meet the Page program coordinators, see where Pages would work and their Page quarters, and learn about their daily schedules at the legislature.
The orientation day is held inside Queens Park: the seat of the Ontario Legislature. For most parents and the Pages, it is their first-time visit to the historic building. The orientation starts with a briefing about the Page program, its uniqueness, and how it evolved over the years. It is followed by an introduction of staff members engaged with the Page program. All the Pages in that cohort then get to introduce themselves and the electoral districts they represent. It is the first opportunity to meet and make connections with other Pages, all of whom will be working closely over the next few weeks.
We are then explained the dos and don’ts as a Page. Being a non-partisan program means each Page is expected to represent and serve the entire legislature, not just the ruling party or the opposition parties. Our own viewpoints or the parties we support should not determine how we function inside the legislature; hence, having an open mindset is an essential attribute of a Page. We are also given a daily honorarium for our duties to the legislature. The cost of daily public transit from our residence to Queen’s Park is covered under the program!
Everyone is given a visit to different floors of the historic Queens Park building. They are shown the Legislative Chambers, where the legislature sits during the session, the offices of the Speaker, Premier and the Head of the Opposition Party, and the press briefing room. They are given a briefing on the exhibits, murals, paintings on the wall, and important dates. Legislative Pages are then separated from their parents to show them their homeroom/Page Quarters which would serve as their official meeting place for the duration of their duties, and given an overview of the tasks they would perform.
Legislative Pages have a strict dress code which they have to adhere to while working at Queens Park. Measurements for dresses are taken during orientation day. As each Page needs to be able to freely access the Queens Park building during the duration of their duty, they get a security badge to enter the premises. Photographs are taken during the orientation day for these security badges – so make sure you look your sharpest! Orientation day is exciting and not to be missed. It is an excellent opportunity to ask questions, meet other Page participants, and become comfortable with the new surroundings. And you also get lunch and snacks on that day!
Daily Schedule of a Page
The Page program is well planned, and all official activities happen at Queen’s Park: the seat of Ontario’s Legislature. There is a dedicated team to handle the program. All the Pages act under the guidance and direction of the Page Program Coordinator, who is also a certified Ontario teacher. During my term, the Page coordinator was Franco Gutierrez, and the Administrative Assistant was Paula Carreiro. Both of them worked tirelessly to create a smooth, fun and learning experience for the Pages.
A typical day starts at 8:00 am and ends near 6:30 pm. Pages now have an identity badge, so they are no longer a “visitor.” Their badge gives them quick access to the Legislative Assembly so that they can carry out their official duties. After arriving at the Queen’s Park, the Pages immediately head to the Page Quarters, which is their homeroom. There they change into their official uniforms. The daily briefing starts at 8.15 am sharp, where the Pages are informed about the tasks for the day. Pages get divided into two groups at the start of the program. It ensures that one group of Pages is always present at the Legislative Chamber at all times while the Assembly is in session from morning to evening. Each group gets dismissed at a different time (alternating between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm) and has a different schedule.
At 9:00 am, the Pages proceed to the Legislative Chamber for their duties. There are 6 to 17 pages in the Legislative Chamber at any given time. A maximum of 8 pages can be seated on the dais. The dais is the steps on the podium where the Speaker sits. Four Pages are seated on either side of the dais. The rest of the Pages stand against the wall near the room’s main entrance, which is directly opposite the Speaker. This arrangement allows Pages to access all sections of the Chamber where the Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPPs) are seated. Each Page is responsible for duties within their quadrant of the room. All the Pages frequently keep changing their positions. A Page has to be available on the right-hand side of the Speaker at all times.
Every day the Assembly adjourns for lunch and reconvenes after lunch to finish the remaining business of the day. During the lunch break, the Pages return to the Page Quarters to eat the packed lunches they got from home and talk or read. The Page Quarters has a ping-pong table that we used to take to take a break. Some days, we also went out to buy food or snacks from the Cafe in the Queens Parks building, appropriately named “The Quorum.” But our little honorarium meant our buying power at the Cafe was extremely limited!
For the remaining part of the day, the Pages are either in the Legislative Chamber or in class. During class time, the Pages take Math and English lessons so they can stay updated with studies happening at their school.
As our PAGE programme overlapped with summer vacations and the beginning of school when studies had not fully started, our classes were limited mainly to the legislative history of Canada.
Dress Code of a Page
There is a strict dress code that Pages need to follow depending on whether they are in their Page Quarters or outside it.
Outside the Page Quarters, pages must have their full uniform on at all times. The uniform includes a 3-piece suit, a tie, black pants, and dress shoes. When Pages go inside the Page Quarters for breaks, lunch, or class, they can switch back to regular clothes. Most simply remove their suit and dress shoes to make themselves more comfortable. Each Page is given an individual locker to store their stuff. Over the weeks I spent in the Ontario Legislature, I found it very useful. The locker allowed me to store my uniform to be worn in the House and not bring it home every day. Some of the uniform requirements, such as pants, shirts, shoes and belts, are provided by the Pages. The Blazer and name badges are provided by the Page program and returned at the end of the program.
Primary Duties of a Page
There are three key duties of the Pages:
First. The primary duty of a page is to deliver papers. These could either be speech notes or essential documents.
Speech notes are to be delivered right after an MPP makes a statement. It starts with the Page going to the “Hansard” table to get a piece of paper directed to the MPP who just spoke, asking them for their speaking notes. The Page takes the paper to the MPP and waits next to their table until the MPP hands them their notes. The note is then delivered to the Hansard. Important documents, which could be a bill, motion, petition or report by committees, are introduced in the afternoon right after the Assembly convened again after lunch. If they were introducing a bill or a motion, the Page would take the document from the MPP and bring it to the Speaker, who would read the title aloud. The Page would then bring the document to the Clerk. If they were introducing a petition or report by a committee, then the Page would bring it directly to the clerks.
Second. Serve water to the MPPs. It starts with MPPs signalling Pages closest to them requesting water, either with ice or without ice. The Page acknowledges the request and returns with one or two water glasses on a silver tray. The MPPs have the option to get water with ice or without ice. Most prefer two glasses of water at a time and filled with ice.
Third. Sometimes Pages are entrusted with special tasks. These usually involve delivering notes to the Hansard located on the 5th floor of the building or delivering to Whitney block. This task is the only one that the Pages have to perform in groups of two. To reach the Hansard, you need to take an elevator, while the Whitney block is in a separate building accessible from the Ontario Legislature by an underground tunnel. While I would deliver letters to the Hansard almost daily, Whitney block deliveries were rare, and only a couple of Pages got the opportunity to go there.
Life Inside the Legislative Chamber
Being a Page is a privileged position as it allows you to be present on the floor of the Legislative Chamber while it is in session. The only other people allowed to be on the floor apart from the MPPs and the Speaker are the Clerks, Hansard, Sergeant-at-Arms, Ushers and Pages. This privileged position allows you to observe the functioning of the legislature closely.
When the Legislative Assembly is in session, a bell is rung 5 minutes before the time appointed for the Meeting of the House. It summons all the Members into the House. Each day starts with the Speaker reading the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes there is a reading of a prayer from other faiths – per a rotating schedule reflecting Indigenous, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i and Sikh religions.
The next part is “Orders of the Day” and forms the core part of the day. During “Orders of the Day,” the House debates its main business for the day, such as a bill or a motion. It usually goes around for one hour. During this period, the House discusses the most pressing issues, such as current bills and motions. Members tend to speak longer during this time. An interesting fact I learned: except where otherwise expressly provided by the Standing Orders or by unanimous consent, no Member shall speak in the House for more than 20 minutes!
There could be days when there are no “Orders of the Day.” On such days, the House meets later at 10:15 am rather than at 9.00 am.
“Orders of the Day” is followed by the “Morning Routine,” which may include Members’ Statements, Introduction of Visitors, Question Period, and Deferred Votes. Seeing and hearing about visitors making an appearance at the Legislative Assembly is always fun. These could be prominent personalities such as artists, singers, visitors from abroad, and parents of the Pages!
The “Morning Routine” is followed by the “Question Period,” where selected members from all parties have 60 seconds to ask questions directly to the Government. If they choose to, they also have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions right after. The debates between the ruling party and the opposition often get heated during this time. I found the “Question Period” interesting as I could experience how democracies function and the vital role of opposition in acting as a watch guard.
As a Page, the “Question Period” is also one of our most busy times as the ruling party and opposition members make many interventions. After each Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) has spoken, the Pages have to collect their speaking papers and deliver them to the Hansard table. It meant that the positions of Pages frequently kept changing during this period.
The Head Clerk is the chief permanent officer of the Legislative Assembly and is an expert in parliamentary rules and procedures. The role of the Head Clerk is to advise the Speaker and Members on questions of procedure and interpretation of the rules and practices of the House. Other clerks support the Head Clerk, seated at a long table in front of the Speaker’s chair.
The Hansard has to make a word-by-word record or official transcripts of everything that is spoken in the legislature. The MPPs can make their intervention in English or French, and interpreters are seated at all times to provide simultaneous interpretation (from English to French and French to English) for the Legislative Assembly and its committees. The Hansard table is in the Legislative Chamber’s middle section, after the Clerks’ long table.
Introduction of Pages to the Assembly
During one of the days, the Legislative Pages are officially introduced to the House. For my cohort, it happened during the “Introduction of Visitors” on 30 August. All the Pages line up in the center of the House. Their names and the ridings they represent are called out, and everyone called out bows. It is very thrilling to have our names called out in the House, and it gives a chance for the MPPs to know us by our names formally. As all the speeches on the House floor get recorded in the Hansard, our names, too, appear in the House record and will remain so perpetually.
Page Captains and Marching Procession to the Chamber
Every day, two Pages are selected to be Page Captains. Page Captains is a very sought role as one gets to experience all the pomp and pageantry associated with parliamentary affairs. When the Assembly is in session, each day starts with a procession from the Speaker’s office. It then snakes its way up the stairs to the floor of the Legislative Chamber. The selected Page Captains get to walk in the procession right into the Chamber, starting with the Speaker, then the clerks, then the Sergeant-at-Arms carrying the mace, and finally, the two pages. I was the Page Captain on 7 September 2022.
Page Captains have an additional role of monitoring the work done by the Pages. They need to report the progress made during the day, the collective achievements and areas for improvement.
Meetings with Prominent People in the House
As a part of our learning journey, the PAGE program also sets up meetings of Pages with many prominent people in the parliament so that we can learn directly from them and ask questions. We met with the Governor General of Ontario (Elizabeth Dowdeswell), the Speaker (Tedd Arnott), the Sergeant-at-Arms (Jacquelyn Gordon), and the Head Clerk (Todd Decker). These meetings were memorable as we had seen them in action at the Legislative Chamber so many times, but now we had their full attention. We got to learn from their experiences, memorable moments in the parliament, hope for the future, and advice they had for Pages who wanted to become civically and politically active.
It is not all work at the PAGE program. There is a lot of downtime and fun activities. On Friday, the House does not meet, so Pages get to explore different parts of the Queens Park building. For instance, we visited the Press Gallery, where the MPPs talked to the press and the mock parliament room.
We also went on external field trips to the Royal Ontario Museum, where we visited the First Nation gallery and the Fantastic Beasts exhibit, and Mackenzie House, where we got to print some old-fashioned newspapers.
Preparing for the PAGE Program
One of the challenging tasks for most Pages is remembering the names of the MPPs. It may look daunting, but by making placement placards and daily practice, I was able to memorize the names of most of the active MPPs, their portfolios and seat placements. I did this by making a chart at home, placing the names of MPPs on the Post-Its, and then placing them on the chart based on their seating in the Assembly. The ruling party MPPs sit on the Speaker’s right side, while the opposition party members (some of the ruling party members) sit on the left-hand side of the Speaker. Straight ahead of the Speaker is where the Clerks, Hansard and the Sergeant-at-Arms are seated.
If you forget or are not sure of the name or the seating of an MPP, there are seating charts available to help you find the way. Mistakes may sometimes happen in the first few days. But everyone is friendly and supportive.
Interesting Bills and Discussions
During my term as a Legislative Page for the 1st Session of the 43rd Parliament of Ontario, I had the opportunity to listen to debates in the Legislative Chamber on wide-ranging issues, including housing, long-term care homes, the building of Highway 413, and health care. It allowed me to listen to both sides of the debate. The issue that saw the most discussions was long-term care homes. The Government had previously introduced a bill (Bill 7) which allowed hospitals to put senior discharged patients into long-term care homes without the patient’s approval to free up long-term care beds. The opposition argued that this meant the seniors could not choose which long-term care homes they wanted to stay in. It may result in their being forced to move to areas far away from their families and friends. On 31 August, the Bill successfully passed the third reading and was enacted as law after receiving Royal assent.
Another bill was the Plan to Build Act which talked about building Highway 413 introduced by the Government. They introduced the Bill intending to spend their transportation budget to avoid drivers getting stuck in traffic. The Official Opposition forcefully opposed the idea. They argued that the cost of building this unnecessary highway would be billions of dollars and would pave over 2,000 acres of farmland, cut through 85 waterways, damage 220 wetlands and disrupt the habitats of 10 species at risk while hurting our environment by adding greenhouse gases.
Once again, to reiterate, the Page program is strictly non-partisan. It serves all parties equally. You will hear viewpoints you may strongly agree with, are neutral or strongly opposed to. Having an open mind is essential, and so is respecting everyone’s views and supporting their right to express their views. The ability of the Page to serve different MPPs should not be affected by their shared political views.
Special Session: Commemorating Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
On 8 September 2022, it was announced that the Queen Elizabeth II of England had died. As Canada is a constitutional monarchy whereby the Sovereign is Canada’s Head of State, her death caused a huge interruption in the functioning of the Chamber. (https://www.ola.org/en/speaker/speakers-statements/statement-demise-her-majesty-queen-elizabeth-ii). Queen Elizabeth II’s death led to the cancellation of the last week of my Page Program. The Assembly was adjourned for six weeks, to resume on 25 October 2022, a day after Ontarians head to the polls for the municipal elections.
On 14 September 2022, the Assembly sat one last time that month to commemorate the late Queen. The Legislative Pages were recalled back to Queens Park for duty.
The Government brought a motion for a humble address to be presented to the King of England and for 35 minutes to debate on the subject. Ten minutes for the Premier and the leader of His Majesty’s Government (Doug Ford from the Progressive Conservative party), 10 minutes for the leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition (Peter Tabuns from the New Democratic Party), 5 minutes to the leader of the Liberal caucus (John Frazer), 5 minutes to the leader of the Green party (Mike Schreiner), and 5 minutes for the independent Member from Haldimand–Norfolk (Bobbi Ann Brady).
Everyone talked about their memories of the late Queen, many quoting the sentence she said on her 21st birthday in 1947, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” At the end of the allotted time, the House observed two minutes of silence in honour of Her late Majesty the Queen; and following the moment of silence, the Royal Anthem was played in honour of His Majesty the King.
It was a rare opportunity to have been present on the floor of the House as a Page during this special session.
Lunch with your Member of Parliament
Ontario is divided into 124 electoral districts or ridings, each electing an MPP to represent them in the Ontario Legislative Assembly (OLA). As all the Legislative Pages represent a unique riding, the PAGE Program allows the Pages to meet with their MPPs at a time of mutual convenience. As I represented the Spadina- Fort York district, my MPP was Mr. Chris Glover from the Ontario New Democratic Party, the official opposition party in the 43rd Parliament of Ontario. Mr. Glover was gracious enough to invite my family for a meeting with him over lunch. It was a memorable meeting as it was the first time I got to have lunch with a Member of the Provincial Parliament.
I prepared myself for the meeting by reading about his background and experiences as an MPP. Chris was also the Official Opposition Critic for Small Business, Technology Development and Innovation. This role interested me because I am passionate about science and technology. This year, I won 2022 Best of the Canada Wide Science Fair Award among 360 finalists across Canada. My project was on Planetary Defense Against Unknown Asteroids (https://hotpoprobot.com/2022/05/30/planetary-defense-wins-the-best-project-award-gold-medal-excellence-in-astronomy-and-other-awards-at-the-canada-wide-science-fair-2022/).
So, I had many questions on bridging research and policy on science, on issues related to science raised in the House, and his vision of science in society. Chris Glover also brought out a podcast, “Tech Talks” https://www.chrisglovermpp.ca/tech_talks, where he has conversations with various entrepreneurs, local start-ups and IT professionals to learn how the Provincial Government can improve the climate for technology and innovation in Ontario. The meeting was fun and informative. I asked many questions, and he was kind enough to answer them patiently. He also briefed me on his daily schedule as an MPP. It included meeting with people, participating in events, researching briefs, keeping up with the news, and preparing speaking notes on questions to be raised in the House.
The Page Program Opening a New Chapter
Page participants may be too young to vote in elections. But the absence of a vote should not mean a lack of views and voices – both matter in democracies. Participating in the PAGE program gave me a unique, real-time and inside experience of how democracies function, how bills get passed, how laws are made, and how debates happen within legislative bodies. Whether we agree or not with an opinion expressed by a Member, it does not affect the right of that person to express their opinion. And this is Democracy: the freedom of expression.
I came out inspired and confident. I turned from politically passive to politically active. I became more interested in my local issues and more interested in participating in democratic processes in my school, neighbourhood and municipality.
Some cool facts!
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