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An interview with Brant MPP @DaveLevac (Part 1 – Speaker stuff)

I was up in Brantford yesterday and had the opportunity to visit the campaign offices of Dave Levac, current Liberal MPP for Brant and Speaker of the House in the past session. I was given the opportunity to have a sit down interview with Mr. Levac to discuss some questions on how the campaign was going and get some of his views on various topics. I wanted to thank Mr. Levac as well as Bob Yuhaz, director of communications for their hospitality and accommodation (and also to my friend Danielle Takacs, who took me out on a Dave Levac literature drop with her to some Brantford neighbourhoods. It reminded me the importance of volunteers in a campaign to do tasks like this)

Mr. Levac was very generous with his time and replies, and so I’ve decided to split the interview into two parts; the first part will be about his thoughts on being Speaker in general and what he dealt with this past term, and the 2nd part (posted likely tomorrow) will deal with the election campaign and issues in general

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Scott: This government had a challenging time during this mandate. Some have called it one of the more raucous sessions of the Legislature they’ve seen. I was wondering what you feel personally  was your biggest challenge during that time as Speaker?

Dave Levac: Not to jump in! Quite frankly, there were things that were being said that I call half-truths; not providing the people with all the information in order to make decisions on whether there was good governance going on. I think the evidence became clear that there were some things that shouldn’t have been done or there were things that should have been done that weren’t. I say that as the Speaker during that time frame you’re referencing. But, as a person who wanted to jump into the middle of this and try to correct the record, I was restrained because of my position and my respect for the position and the institution itself.

Now, that said, during the writ I’m allowed to say some of those things, so what I would probably venture to say is: why was it raucous? It was because the Tories, for whatever reason, two times now have said without sight unseen, without even taking an opportunity to see what was in the Budget, they were voting against it, even before it was written.. because they simply wanted to get power, and for me, that’s not what democracy is about.  To credit the NDP, in both cases, they did take their time to try to evaluate and analyze. This time around, I shake my head still to this day not understanding why the NDP were so in a hurry not to give this Budget an opportunity. It was probably the most progressive opportunity for a Budget to speak to people that I’ve ever seen during an economic change.  We had an opportunity to show that slash and burn and cut isn’t the way to go and that there is a progressive way to put a Budget out that would still produce jobs, protect those that need protection, and to provide an opportunity and a “hand-up”.  That was turned down by the NDP.

S: That leads into my next question. So far, have you found it easier or harder campaigning for re-election when you’ve been the Speaker? Context: you’ve been the “referee” in the legislature where you wont vote on  bills in most cases, and you must, despite your Liberal MPP status, act in an objective manner on rulings. Have people given you some slack on issues that they might be angry about at the Liberal government because they know you were Speaker?

D: In fairness to the people, they do not use the position as an excuse for me. I’ve told people up front that bad behaviour is not supported by me from anybody. I do agree that there were some things done that should not have done. The present Premier has said that there were things done that should not have been done. She apologized for them, taking responsibility as the Premier, and then immediately took steps to  fix them – to show that she was meaningful. It was belittled and mocked.

So, at the doors, what people have been telling me is a) they thought the plug should not have been pulled by the NDP. They thought it was a progressive Budget that would have been helpful to our community. The 2nd thing that they’ve told me was they say the words “Gas Plants…” etc. etc. and then all of a sudden when I ask them “Do you think that the government has been bad for Brant and that I haven’t done my job?”. They say, “No, no, you’ve done your job, you’ve done a great job, we want you back, we’re just upset that they did that”. I say “you’re right, we should be upset that they did that. Now, let’s fix it, and not let it happen again”

S: Is it easy or hard for you to go from being the Speaker to being a Liberal MPP running for re-election and defending the Liberal Government policies?

D:  The position of Speaker is sacred to me. I love the traditions of our Parliament, of the traditions and work that the Speaker is charged with doing. I handled that job well, and I respected it enough to not allow myself to be “a Liberal MPP/Party hack”.  That did not happen, I won’t allow it to happen. I was invited by the opposition to get down into the mud and go ahead and play that game. FIrst of all I think it shows their arrogance and their ignorance of what the system is supposed to be. It tests my mantle, and quite frankly, I’m more honourable then that.  I do not and will not mix the two, and I’ve made that clear, and I think I’ve upheld that honourably.

S: What was the biggest effect – positive or negative – of you serving as Speaker for the people of Brant?

D: There’s no question in my mind that being the Speaker – if respected by everybody properly – is a valuable exercise, because I do have the Office of being Speaker, where I do get to talk to anybody I want when I need to. Every time I have done so has been for the benefit of my community or for the benefit of Ontarions. So, when I wrote letters or when I explain things to certain individuals, Ministers, etc, that ‘I think you’re moving down the wrong direction’, I told them, and that includes the government of the day. I also was able to arrange meetings for my mayors and the Chiefs of the Six Nations and the Chief of Mississauga New Credit.  They came to us, and we were able to secure some positive opportunities for us, and at the end of the day, anyone that has done their job that they’re supposed to be doing… you still go to the government.. and you still have to be able to have a relationship that can break down any barriers, and I’ve done that every single day.

S: As a followup, what would you say are the benefits for the riding having an MPP that is the Speaker?

D: Let me tell you what the tradition has been and a story that was told to me by a former Speaker. In Ontario, there has only been 42 of them in our history, so being Speaker of the House is an honour for me, personally, and for my family, and for the riding. The person who schooled me in this said ‘when I was in opposition, I used to have to go over to the Minister and say “I got something going on in my riding – can you help me out?” – and tried to form relationships, and  I don’t think standing up and calling people liars and yelling and screaming at them from a political partisan stance, and then turning around and saying “By the way, I need help in my riding” is a smart thing to do. The 2nd time around, I was a backbench government member an you could get in a little closer because they were in caucus – you could talk to the Minister. But, when you’re the Speaker, they come to you’

So, that is a physical difference. They respect the position of Speaker, because they understand the Speaker in this position is neutral, and they don’t play partisan politics. Because they’ve dedicated themselves and given up being the hard-nut partisan political guy, who wants to have the government do everything for them in their riding, there’s an honour that is presented, that you try to take care of the Speaker because they sacrificed their partisan position and became neutral. Because they’re neutral, they try to avoid the partisan politics, and because they do that, there might be some things you give up. I don’t go to caucus.. Cabinet..my riding association meetings, leadership conventions, provincial council, the federal council. I disassociate myself from partisan politics. The tradition is since you’ve sacrificed that, they try to help you. That’s how it works for the Speaker of the House.

S: Do you and have you enjoyed being Speaker?

D: I’ve absolutely loved the job, because it does allow me to do something I’ve tried to be for my whole political career which is focus on my community, community-based politics, what do we need – as opposed to partisan government-type politics, which is if you’re a Tory/NDP, you must be bad – only Liberals are good. That to me is garbage. Mr. and Mrs. Tim Horton out there don’t want that played anyway. Only 2-3% of the population really get into hard knocks politics. The rest of us simply want good governance.

S: If you are re-elected in Brant, and the Liberals are re-elected to government, would you put your name forth again to be Speaker?

D: I would have to have the same dialogue in my mind and with my family and with my volunteers, my campaign manager, and people I seek guidance from. I would do the same thing when I ran the first time… I had to analyze it and say yes, I’m going to try this. a) I have to get elected, I’m not going to assume and b) The decision has to be made at that point by two people – myself personally.. and the Premier of the day.  If the Premier decides she wants to tap me on the shoulder, if they’re the government, I have to give consideration to that as well…I do like the job; I think I’ve done a good job, and I would be more then willing to let my name stand if its a position that ends up being better for all of us together, and I don’t have a problem doing that.

 

 

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