Former Ontario Speaker of the house has stern words for his Queen’s Park colleagues

By Steve Paikin - Published on November 30, 2018
Dave Levac with an artist portrait
Artist Juan Martinez (left) and the subject of his portrait, Dave Levac. (Steve Paikin)

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Dave Levac has never been a shrinking violet — he was not afraid to exercise his authority during question period when he saw members of the legislature misbehaving.

“When I stand, you sit!” he’d bellow at MPPs who’d failed to recognize his authority quickly enough when he tried to restore order.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that at a special ceremony last week during which Levac’s portrait was unveiled (an honour granted to all Speakers), he offered some stern admonitions to his colleagues, who’d gathered in the main foyer of the legislative assembly.

“Don’t wreck this place,” Levac said. “Yes, politics is messy. It’s supposed to be. But don’t be too cute by half. This place is sacred. Use it for the good of the people, and don’t wreck it.”

Those words were a reflection of Levac’s deeply held belief that democracy, Queen’s Park-style, is crucial to Ontarians’ well-being, and that the traditions and conventions that protect everyone’s rights ought not be trifled with.

And Levac — facing an audience that included two former Speakers, current Speaker Ted Arnott, deputy premier Christine Elliott, several former MPPs, and even more current MPPs — wasn’t finished. At a time when politicians who are unhappy with the coverage they receive routinely accuse the media of publishing “fake news,” Levac took a completely different tack.

“Don’t let up,” he told reporters covering the event. “You’re not fake news. You tell it like it is. Especially in light of what’s going on around the world, don’t let up.”

When’s the last time you heard a current or former politician say that?

Dave Levac won his first election, in the riding of Brant, in 1999, and he did so in unexpected fashion. Despite the fact that Premier Mike Harris had won his second consecutive majority government that year, Levac took the riding away from the Tories — and he held on to it right up until the June 2018 election, in which he didn’t run. Will Bouma took the riding (now known as Brantford–Brant) back for the PCs. He showed up for Levac’s portrait unveiling, and the former Speaker noted his presence.

“My successor, Will Bouma, is here,” Levac said, setting up the punch line. “I’m mentioning that because I’d sure as hell have mentioned it if he wasn’t.”

After his re-election in 2011, he successfully ran for Speaker of the legislature. Despite doing a job that tends to chew people up and spit them out, Levac was re-elected by MPPs to serve as Speaker again after the 2014 election. By the time he’d left the job, earlier this year, at the age of 64, he’d logged more time in the chair than any of the other 41 Speakers who’d held the job since 1867.

Yes, Levac could chew out colleagues with the best of them. But he was just as well known for the emotional remarks that he’d end each sitting of the legislature with. At the portrait unveling, he spent many minutes thanking those who’d supported him throughout his political career — and, in an unusual gesture, he asked all of his family members to stand and “accept my love. To my lovely wife, Rosemary: you’re my rock,” Levac added, barely holding back tears.

a man beside a portrait

Levac was also known for having a good sense of humour, and he seemingly couldn’t resist the temptation to pull a funny one when it came time to unveil his portrait: the curtain covering it fell to reveal a massive Lego caricature of the former Speaker, complete with trademark bushy moustache. When artist Juan Martinez’s real portrait was next revealed, there was lengthy applause. The portrait captures the majesty of the job — and, significantly, depicts Levac carrying a red blanket, representing his Métis heritage.

As a former teacher and principal, Levac had just the right skill set to keep order among an often unruly bunch at Queen’s Park. And while he had his share of blow-ups and confrontations with MPPs, he also believed deeply in the positive possibilities of politics.

“No matter what anyone tells you,” he told the audience, “we, in politics, are a family. And we all come together for the betterment of the people of Ontario.”

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