Nearly 24 years ago, I left Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital to return to Toronto and Queen’s Park to join the political staff of Robert Nixon, who had just been named Treasurer (now known as Finance Minister) in the newly formed Liberal Ontario government of Premier David Peterson. I was Mr. Nixon’s Legislative Assistant which entailed helping to prepare him for the daily theatre of Question Period in the Legislature. Each day the House was in session, I would accompany him over to the “Leg” (pronounced ledge) as we called it. He would take his place in the chamber, and I would sit in the staff seats located behind the Speaker’s throne and beneath the Press Gallery. I spent many, many hours in the Leg absorbing the atmosphere and following the debate. Other than the Legislative Clerks, Pages, and the Sergeant at Arms, only duly elected Members of Provincial Parliament are permitted to set foot on the floor of the Legislature beyond the Speaker’s Throne. Not once in my nearly two and half years at Queen’s Park did I ever get to stand on the floor of the Leg.
Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century (though I hate the sound of that) and a phone call arrives from the office of the Speaker of the Ontario Legislature. The Speaker presides over the Legislature. Ontario was hosting a meeting of The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the Legislature, and I was invited to address the delegates and talk about my novel. Nearly 100 elected parliamentarians from the federal government and all provinces would be in attendance along with Clerks from each jurisdiction and a few international VIPs. I readily agreed and only then learned that the session would be held in the Legislature itself.
“Do you mean actually on the floor of the chamber?” I asked.
“Will I actually be speaking on the floor of the chamber?” I double-checked just to be sure.
Well, last week for the first time in 24 years, I returned to the Legislative Chamber, sat briefly in my old spot behind the Speaker’s Throne where I’d spent so many hours, so long ago, and then I simply walked out onto the floor. For those of you with little interest in politics or our parliamentary traditions, this may prompt a hearty “yeah, so what.” But for me, it was a real thrill. The chamber itself has been completely refurbished since my earlier days at Queen’s Park and it looked stunning.
I spoke for about forty-five minutes, read a passage or two, handled some questions (not unlike in Question Period!), had some laughs, and then it was all over and I left the chamber through the main doors, something else I’d never done. Since the publication of TBLP and the Leacock shock, I’ve had some amazing experiences and been granted wonderful opportunities that never would have otherwise come my way. Speaking to a group of federal and provincial politicians and parliamentary clerks ranks right up there with the most memorable of them. Luckily for me, perhaps less so for all of you, the Legislative photographer was on hand.