While the House is in session, visitors to the Legislative Assembly will observe the presence of young people sitting on the dais by the Speaker or running errands for the Members of Provincial Parliament. These young men and women, the Legislative Pages, are grade seven and eight students selected from all parts of the province to serve in the Legislative Chamber. During their term of duty, which typically lasts between two and four weeks, the Pages are assigned tasks in the Chamber, attend classes at the Assembly, and learn how the Legislature and government of our province work.
There have been Pages at Queen's Park since the current Legislative Building opened in 1893. Then, the Pages were boys or men employed by the Assembly. The Clerk of the House approved appointments to the positions, while the Sergeant-at-Arms was responsible for their conduct. There were few changes to the Page Program until 1929 when the revised Standing Orders indicated that the Clerk would assume responsibility for all officers, clerks and other employees of the Assembly.
The appointment of a tutor in 1952 was the first reference to the Pages' education. The Pages were tutored two afternoons a week and on Saturdays. By the 1960's, the educational component of the program had grown. Today, the Pages combine work experience in the Assembly with tutoring in mathematics and in the legislative process, which includes the history of the Assembly, its political structure, and how Ontario's laws are made.
Over the decades, the uniform worn by the Pages has evolved. Originally a black Eton jacket, formal white shirt, black bow tie, knee-length stovepipe pants, long black stockings and patent leather pumps, today the uniform consists of a black blazer, trousers, vest, shoes, socks and white dress shirt. When girls were accepted into the program, their uniform was essentially the same as the boy's because of its practicality and ease of movement.
The Pages have their own quarters in the main building of the Legislature which consist of a classroom, games room, lunch room, change rooms, bathrooms and offices. In this area, the Pages receive tutoring, relax and socialize with their new friends. The Page quarters were not always as comfortable as they are today. A debate was held in March 1946 when a young Member took up the Pages' cause and stated that the Pages' "cubby hole" was akin to "Fagin's den in Oliver Twist". However, there was little change to the Pages' living conditions until the tenure of the Honourable Fred Cass as Speaker in the 1960's, who had the quarters moved to a spacious office on the fourth floor. The facilities there were similar to those in today's Page quarters.
It was during Mr. Cass' time as Speaker that the Pages began to be selected from all parts of the province, rather than only from Toronto-area schools. In 1971, four grade eight girls from Durham County were the first girls to serve as Pages. The female Pages received the same wages and performed the same duties as their male counterparts. In the fall Session of 1980, there was an all-female group reflecting the high proportion of female applicants. Today, each Page group consists of an equal number of boys and girls from different ridings.
Since the 1960's, only students who maintain an 80% grade average or higher in school are eligible to become Pages. Applicants to the program must also be involved in extracurricular activities both in school and in their communities, must show an interest in current affairs and must get along well with their peers and adults. The program is highly competitive and the Pages selected to serve in the Assembly bring with them a standard of excellence in academic achievement, community involvement and behaviour to this unique learning environment. They take away with them the invaluable experience of hands-on participation in the legislative process and an inside look at how we are governed.