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Brant Historical Society features Dave Levac in speaker series

FeaturesBrant Historical Society features Dave Levac in speaker series

Over 20 people attended the Brant Historical Society’s Speaker Series presentation at the Brant Museum and Archives on Wednesday, November 22, 2023.

Dave Levac, 41st Speaker of the Legislature and former MPP for Brantford-Brant, was the guest of honour for the evening as he gave attendees a look into the historic and present-day role of the Speaker of the Ontario Legislature.

Levac was born and raised in Eagle Place, and after graduation from Pauline Johnson, he went to Wilfrid Laurier University before going to teachers’ college at Queens University. When he came back to Brantford, he began teaching elementary school in 1977 and by 1989 he became principle.

In 1999, he entered politics where he served as the MPP for Brantford-Brant until 2018. He then went on to be the Chief Government Whip before finally becoming Speaker of the Ontario Legislature in 2011 and served until 2018.

Dave Levac was Speaker of the Ontario Legislature from 2011 until 2018. Photo courtesy George Stamou.

Levac stood in front of attendees to note that during the presentation he would be talking about the history and the design of the Speaker’s role, and that he would be sharing some anecdotes as well.

The guests couldn’t help but chuckle as Levac noted that his anecdotes may or may not be historically accurate.

“I did some research on the Speaker before I became Speaker, because I felt that it was important to know the role I was getting into,” he said. “And there have been various stories told about Speakships in the parliamentary system, so I will give you some anecdotes and I won’t claim them to actually be historically accurate, except to say some of them are close enough that you can actually repeat it and not get accused of not knowing anything.”

Levac got started with a little bit of history surrounding his Speaker’s uniform, including the tricorn hat, which is currently housed at the Brant Museum and Archive.

“The tricorn hat got its name because of its three corners and it is very special,” he said. “It’s said that the hat came from the ingenuity of farmers. The hat used to be round and when it rained it would flop and get in the farmers’ faces, so they tied it up.”

Dave Levac, 41st Speaker of the Legislature and former MPP of Brantford-Brant, discussed the origins of the tricorn hat during the Brant Historical Society’s speaker series on Wednesday, November 22, 2023.

However, Levac also noted that another gentleman had previously told him that the story was only half right.

“He said ‘you got half the story right, that is correct, it was a farmer’s hat and they used it to keep the sun out when they were farming and they would tie it up when it rained’ however he also said that ‘just like in some of the movies you’ve watched about the wars and the American Revolution, this was a hat worn by the Army,’” quoted Levac. “The rumor is that when it rained, all they had to do was tip their head backwards and the water would go out the back instead of the front. The second part of the rumor was that the guns back then weren’t all that accurate, so they used their peripheral vision and the tip of the hat to fire at something.”

Levac noted that was part of the historical storytelling that may or not be true.

“Both of those stories come from historical storytelling, but it sounds cool so I would say… use it,” he chuckled.

The former Speaker said that the only time he wore the hat was during the Parade to and from the Chamber.

He also spoke about the tradition of “dragging” the newly nominated Speaker to the Speaker’s chair.

“Even today, in all provinces and territories and even at the national level, the people that nominate you or the leader of the party that is in power, and the leader of the opposition, depending on which government chooses that tradition, they grab you by your arms and drag you and push you into the seat,” he said.

Levac said that the purpose of the tradition is to pay homage to the original speakers in Britain.

“The original Speakers in Britain usually had their heads cut off by the King, that was when the king was still all powerful,” he said. “The king would call the speaker into the King’s Chamber, and demand that the speaker do this or that, or he would demand them to tell him everything. If they didn’t, they would get their head cut off and they would replace the Speaker immediately and then they would have to literally drag him to the seat.”

He said that this was a part of the honour and the privilege of being the Speaker and that it allows a person to mimic the fact that they are willing to give up their life for the role.

“So you’re honouring and paying homage to the speakers that lost their lives for democracy,” he said.

Lillia Dockree, Lorraine Sherred, Corinne Nadjiwon, Dave Levac, Brian Moore, David Cook, and Keith Gloster pose for a photo during the Brant Historical Society speaker series on Wednesday, November 22, 2023.

Levac mentioned that the speaker is chosen by the majority and that the role is a neutral one.

“Once that person becomes the Speaker, myself included, they cannot attend any of their party meetings or fundraisers, they cannot vote for the leader and they cannot attend the annual meetings. I had to be this neutral referee,” he said. “It’s like the Montreal Canadiens playing the Toronto Maple Leafs and the referee comes out wearing a Montreal jersey…you’re not going to trust them. The decisions you make as the Speaker has to be for the members of the Legislature, not the government and not for the opposition. If one member is not receiving the proper etiquette that they are supposed to have, it’s up to the Speaker to ensure that person’s rights are protected.”

He then went through the three duties of the Speaker role. 

One being that the Speaker works with the Clerk to manage day-to-day operations of the Legislature like staff, building repairs and weekly meetings. Two, being that the Speaker serves a ceremonial role by representing the Legislature across Canada and abroad, as well as welcoming dignitaries.

“It’s something that I’ve been extremely privileged and honoured to participate in,” he said. “I cannot believe my blessing because I was just a kid from Eagle Place and it still baffles me when I talk about some of this. I got to meet Nelson Mandela, the former Queen of England and most of the royal family, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the King and Queen of the Netherlands to name a few. The ceremonial side of the job is really the icing on the cake.”

He said the final part of the job is to enforce and interpret House rules by maintaining order and decorum. He noted that while many members were respectful, there were many times he had to hand out warnings or ask members to leave.

At the end of the presentation, many took the opportunity to chat with Levac, as well as ask any questions that came to mind about his role within the Legislature.

The next speaker series will take place on Wednesday, February 24, 2024 and will discuss family businesses of downtown Brantford.

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