TORONTO — Unlike many teenagers, Daniella Mikanovsky has already been involved in politics – years before she’s even allowed to vote.
The 14-year-old student, who is finishing Grade 8 at Thornhill Public School, recently served as a legislative page at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto.
During her term of duty, Mikanovsky was a messenger on the floor of the legislative chamber. She met key parliamentary figures and learned about Ontario’s parliamentary system of government.
“I first heard about the page program when I was visiting Queen’s Park with my family, in the summer before seventh grade,” she said. “Near the end of the tour, the guide took us to a mock [legislative] chamber and explained where different people in the chamber would sit. She started explaining about Grade 7 and 8 students from all over Ontario who would also work in the chamber.”
Mikanovsky was instantly intrigued and asked for more information. “I was interested about the program because I liked being challenged. I wanted to try something new and different. As well, I really felt that I met the criteria.”
To apply for the Legislative Page Program, students must have an 80 per cent average or higher, be living and studying in Ontario, and be involved in the community and responsible.
“I had to write a 750-word essay explaining why I was a good candidate for the program,” Mikanovsky said. “At the time of my application, I had volunteered several times, raised and donated money, was on my school’s volleyball and basketball teams, was qualified with a bronze medallion [in swimming and lifesaving], worked on my school’s yearbook, took care of my school’s pets and was on the Media Club.”
In August 2011, Mikanovsky received the good news. “My sister woke me up at around 9 a.m., an early time for me to be awake during summer break. She gave me the phone, and the woman on the other side explained to me that I had been accepted to the page program. At first I didn’t believe her and thought I was still asleep and dreaming. But after the second time she told me this, I was ecstatic. I was literally running around the house smiling. I even woke up the next day still happy.”
Her term of duty was set to begin on Nov. 13, 2011, but when former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature’s session, the program’s start date was moved to February 2013.
To prepare for the page program, Mikanovsky had to memorize the names, faces and ridings of all 107 MPPs, as well as where they sit in the chamber. On her orientation day, she was told she had to learn how to get around in the legislative building, and, more importantly, how to deliver four key documents.
“These documents are reports by committees, bills, motions and petitions. Pages take these documents from the MPPs to either the Speaker [of the Legislative Assembly] or the clerks. Of these things, the most difficult task was memorizing all the MPPs.”
During a typical day in the program, pages arrive at Queen’s Park at 8 a.m. dressed in their uniforms. They deliver messages and water to the MPPs in the legislative chamber, take classes in legislative process and mathematics, and meet with key legislative players, such as the party leaders and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
Mikanovsky decided to document her experiences in an online blog that she titled The Perks of Being a Legislative Page (http://legislativepage.blogspot.ca). She wrote of her responsibilities, being page captain and meeting many important figures.
“I got to have lunch with Mr. Dave Levac, Speaker of the House, and with Deborah Deller, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. I also really enjoyed meeting with the honourable David C. Onley, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Ontario (the lieutenant governor), and Ms. Kathleen Wynne, the newly appointed premier of Ontario.”
Mikanovsky said she created her blog because she wants to be a writer when she is older. “I want to write books or perhaps be a journalist. Writing a blog would help me enhance my writing skills. Also, when I was researching about the Legislative Page Program, I noticed that there weren’t any blogs that were written by pages about their experiences. If I were to write one, other kids can be inspired to embark on the same amazing journey that I did.”
While Mikanovsky enjoyed every aspect of being a page, she said the biggest highlight from her time at Queen’s Park was making amazing friendships. “All the kids I met there were so nice, so funny, so talented, so great to be around every day. We spent over 40 hours together every week.”
She said the most important thing she learned is how Ontario runs. “It may not seem this way when one looks at the chamber during Orders of the Day, but the MPPs are always busy, always working. Also, there are so many things that the parliament needs to keep track of! I found it almost surprising just how much the people there knew about our large province.”
Through her blog, Mikanovsky said she hopes to encourage other students to become a page. “The three weeks I spent at the legislature have been some of the best weeks of my life.”