The Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), also referred to as the “Gord Downie bill,” honours the late poet and lead singer of popular Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, who passed away in October 2017.
The appointment of Ontario’s first Poet Laureate is expected by March 2021.
“Poetry nourishes and inspires, and our poets speak to our hearts and souls. This initiative could not come at a better time.”
–Ted Arnott, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
The Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie) was passed unanimously in the Legislature in December 2019.
Applications for the position were accepted until September 15, 2020. A selection panel is preparing a short list of the nominees for December and will announce a chosen nominee by February 2021.
The role of Ontario's Poet Laureate
The Poet Laureate’s responsibilities are to:
- promote art and literacy in Ontario
- celebrate Ontario and its people
- raise the profile of Ontario poets
- raise public awareness of poetry and of the spoken word
- act as a spokesperson for literature in general and poetry in particular
- provide a focal point for the expression of Ontario culture and heritage through the literary arts
Some of the activities the Poet Laureate may be involved with include:
- writing poetry, occasionally for use in the Legislature if called upon by the Speaker or the Lieutenant Governor
- visiting schools, presenting or arranging poetry readings and assisting with writing workshops or other activities
- advising the Legislative Library regarding the collection of the Library and acquisitions that may enrich its cultural holdings
This is a two-year appointment with an annual honorarium of $20,000. There is also a travel and administrative allowance.
Becoming Ontario's Poet Laureate
Who can become Ontario's Poet Laureate?
The Poet Laureate’s main residence must be in Ontario. They must have lived in Ontario for at least six months of the past year.
They must have published at least one volume of poetry within the last 10 years or be able to show that their work over the years has brought honour to their self and to Ontario.
How does someone become Ontario's Poet Laureate?
The Poet Laureate will be selected by a panel that includes:
- The Honourable Ted Arnott, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and MPP for Wellington—Halton Hills
- Vicki Whitmell, Executive Director and Legislative Librarian, Information and Technology Division, Legislative Assembly of Ontario
- Rita Davies, Chair, Ontario Arts Council
- David Tsubouchi, member of the board of directors, Ontario Arts Council and former Ontario cabinet minister and MPP
The panel may interview all shortlisted candidates.
The Poet Laureate can also be appointed by the House if there is a unanimous vote by all MPPs present during the vote.
How long can someone be Ontario’s Poet Laureate?
The term of office is two years, or until a successor is appointed.
Nominations for Ontario’s first Poet Laureate were accepted from July 1, 2020 to September 15, 2020.
Anyone can make a nomination. Nominators may be MPPs, members of the public, or members of the arts and literary community. Individuals may nominate themselves, as long as they have letters from two colleagues in the literary field who support the nomination.
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