Thursday, January 15, 2009

Good Wishes for a Good Year at the Levee

It’s called a New Year’s Levee. That’s pronounced “lev-e” not “lee-vee.” It’s a tradition carried out by a number of officials and organizations in modern times, from the Governor-General to the Armed Forces. But it originated in the court of French King Louis XIV, where in the Levée du Soleil, or the Rising of the Sun, was the practice of the “Sun King” receiving his subjects in his bedchamber after just waking up. Louis’ idea caught on with monarchs across Europe in the 18th century.

But in 2009 Guelph, a levee is a chance for MPP Liz Sandals to meet with her constituency, and they with her. This year, Sandals was joined by newly minted MP Frank Valeriote. Jenny Waterson, a staffer with Sandals’ office, told me that this was her boss’ fourth New Year’s Levee, and that they decided to offer Valeriote the chance to share the occasion given the fact that his office is still establishing itself after the MP’s victory last October. Waterson said that joint levees aren’t usually the norm, but in this case it was the logical thing to do.

The setting was the Italian-Canadian Club on Ferguson Street in the East End. The parking lots off Ferguson were full and the line into the main banquet was long. Who comes out to the levee? All kinds from the looks of it: seniors, young families, individuals; all from numerous multicultural backgrounds too. The attire was business casual, so lots of suits and ties, or failing that, a tasteful turtle neck. I took my place in line, and thought of something to say to both Sandals and Valeriote, and it had better be good.

Sometimes the line moved quickly, and other times it seemed to grind to halt. Snaking around the foyer of the Italian-Canadian Club, I noticed why there was a delay as I got closer to entering the Hall – the place was packed. Well, it wasn’t a standing room only situation, but as I got closer, I noticed that staff were opening up the patrician in the centre of the hall so that more tables were available for people to take a seat and enjoy the coffee and snackables offered, once pleasantries were exchanged with the politicians.

Waterson told me that the turnout for this year’s levee was good, and that the number of people that come out to it seems to increase with every year. I recognized a few people there. I caught up with Liberal blogger David Graham and talked about missing the never-ending by-election. I talked with Kyle Mitchell, whom I knew from my days at The Ontarion. He’s a former Valeriote volunteer and current Valeriote legislative assistant. He went to Ottawa expecting to get down to work, only to find himself back in Guelph once parliament was prorogued following November’s economic update. “Hopefully, it’ll be more predictable this time, and not as crazy,” he said about heading back for the budget at the end of the month.

Around this time, my position in line had finally made it into the banquet hall, and Sandals and Valeriote were just metres ahead now. Both politicians were in good spirits, enthusiastically shaking hands with well wishers and hugging old friends. I got Valeriote first, who took my hand warmly and wished me a happy New Year and gave me his thanks for coming out. I asked him if being a parliamentarian is everything he thought it’d be. Without stopping to think Valeriote said it’s not “about what you hope for, but about what you expect, and it’s certainly beyond my expectations.”

Clearly, the House being put on hold and the internal turbulence of his own party hasn’t affected the Valeriote enthusiasm for governance he showed on the campaign trail. Sandals, for her part, was just as welcoming and her experience at being on the receiving line was clearly evident as she shook hands and welcomed each person in turn. And then that, as they say, was that. Coffee and cookies were being served at the back of the room. Some people enjoyed them in groups and stuck around to converse, while others went home to enjoy their Sunday. Meanwhile, outside the banquet hall, they were still lining up.

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