Getting an early start in politics

Pop quiz – name the Ontario minister for seniors’ affairs.

Need a hint? Just ask 13-year-old Kate Beverly.

Before she started a month-long stint as a page in the Ontario Legislature, the Grade 8 student memorized all 107 Members of Provincial Parliament by name, face, riding, and title.

Beach Metro News recently spoke with Kate and her mother Karen to find out how she did it.

“Karate,” said Kate, smiling.

In karate lessons, she explained, students practice a pattern of kicks, punches, and other moves called a kata.

Weeks before she began at Queen’s Park, Kate connected each Ontario MPP with a kata move. Her mother would say the name of an MPP, such as “France Gélinas,” and Kate would answer with a matching karate move and the MPP’s riding – in this case, “Nickel Belt!”

It took time, but Kate said it was well worth it.

For the last month, Kate Beverly got to trade her usual Grade 8 classes at St. Denis Catholic School to work as a page in the Ontario Legislature, where she sees MPPs in action and learns firsthand how the provincial government works. “It’s too good for words,” she said. “I can’t even describe it.” PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
For the last month, Kate Beverly got to trade her usual Grade 8 classes at St. Denis Catholic School to work as a page in the Ontario Legislature, where she sees MPPs in action and learns firsthand how the provincial government works. “It’s too good for words,” she said. “I can’t even describe it.”
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

MPPs are forbidden from addressing each other by name during debates at Queen’s Park. They refer to each other by title, or with phrases like “the hard-working member from Ottawa-Orléans.”

For a page like Kate, whose main job is to deliver notes, papers, or water to MPPs, that means she could be asked to quickly deliver a binder to the Associate Minister of Finance, and she has to know who that is.

Recognizing all the MPPs also helps pages follow the back-and-forth of Question Period, which Kate said is often a highlight of her day.

“They give some really good speeches sometimes,” she said. “And some MPPs are just hilarious – I don’t have another word for that.”

Queen’s Park is the only provincial legislature in Canada where the pages are in Grades 7 and 8, rather than high school or university.

“Everyone seems to have an understanding that they’re children,” said Kate’s mother Karen.

“They’re kind, and all of them are trying to be mentoring.”

Some MPPs have asked Kate what she thinks about an issue – she and Barrie MPP Ann Hogarth spoke about the rising status of women in the workplace.

Last week, Kate and the 21 other Ontario students serving as pages this fall got to have lunch with Premier Kathleen Wynne. Earlier they met Ontario Head Clerk Deborah Deller and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, hearing firsthand what their work is all about, and why they got into public life.

For the last four weeks, Kate has traded her regular classes at St. Denis Catholic School for an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. day at Queen’s Park. Besides their work, pages take a class on how Ontario laws are made, keep up with their math, and go on Friday field trips to places like Ripley’s Aquarium, the Harbourfront skating rink, even the story-rich attic at Queen’s Park.

While they are not paid a wage, pages do get a $15 daily honorarium, making the experience something between a month-long field trip and Kate’s first-ever job.

“It’s too good for words,” she said.

“It beats my first job working in a kennel,” said her mother, laughing.

About 140 students become pages each year, and they come from all over Ontario.

“It’s so cool to meet all the people,” said Kate, adding that pages in her group come from as far as Thunder Bay.

In the legislative chamber, pages wear a formal black uniform and, like everyone in the public galleries, they must keep quiet.

“In the assembly, if something happens, they all have to keep a non-partisan face,” said Karen.

But the pages do have their own private quarters – equipped with a classroom and even a ping pong table – where they get a chance to relax.

“They’re allowed to go in there, take their jackets off, and go, ‘What did she just say?’”

While Kate likely has an inside scoop or two, this reporter had no luck shaking one loose. Pages take their non-partisan role seriously.

“You’re there to observe, not to participate,” said Kate.

Asked what new laws she might like to see at Queen’s Park, for example, Kate said it would be tough to answer without showing her own politics.

“Next question,” she said, smiling.

In the Queen’s Park chamber, a large room with three tall windows looking south onto University Avenue, government and opposition MPPs sit in facing rows. Between them sit clerks, transcribers, the sergeant-at-arms and, on a slightly raised stage, the Speaker.

Of all the MPPs’ roles at Queen’s Park, Kate said being Speaker is what she would most like to do.

“The Speaker makes sure the house is in order, it’s not getting too carried away, and no one is going berserk,” she said. “If they do, he’ll ask them to leave, and if they don’t, that’s when the sergeant-at-arms starts to come in.”

“He’s got a sword,” she added.

While debates do get vociferous sometimes, Kate said the MPPs are generally well behaved.

“I guess on TV, when MPPs are trying to make a point, they seem a bit more tough than they are,” she said.

“But they’re really nice when you get to know them.”

At 13, Kate has a few years to go before she can vote. So far, she doesn’t support any one political party.

“Whoever is doing the right thing, I’ll vote for them,” she said.

After watching real issues come up in the legislature, Kate feels how important it is to choose the best MPPs for the job.

“It’s even scarier than getting my driver’s licence,” she said.

“No, that’s more scary,” said her mom.


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