At the time this paper was written Peter
Brannan was Chief of Hansard and Editor of Debates for the Ontario Legislative
Hansard operations across Canada vary
greatly in size and complexity, primarily because of differences in the length
of sessions in various jurisdictions and the degree of priority required to
produce transcripts. Where legislatures or councils sit for only two or three
months a year it is hardly feasible to assemble fulltime salaried staffs. Other
factors, such as the requirements for bilingual reporting and the desired
sophistication of the finished product, also affect the size and complexity of
operations. This article outlines the evolution of Hansard reporting in Ontario
and some of the problems that face Hansard staffs everywhere.
There are a number of different ways to
report parliamentary proceedings, including the time-honoured manual shorthand
method utilized in Ottawa and Westminster. This requires the minimum of
installed plant, such as sound recording and reproduction equipment, and has
the advantage of the flexibility of the human ear and the ability of the
individual to interpret the voices and sounds heard. Any difficulty encountered
with this method increases with the size of the Chamber (unless an adequate
sound pickup and amplification system is utilized) and with the volume of
interruptions or duplication of voices. Manual shorthand reporting is also
dependent upon the availability of the exceptional skills needed. The skills
have become increasingly scarce over the years. There has been some resurgence
in the training of manual shorthand skills in recent times and the Westminster
Hansard organization has undertaken the training of its own shorthand writers,
having recruited people with the other requisite skills and knowledge.
Following on from manual shorthand is the stenorette
machine, which employs a form of shorthand requiring less dexterity from the
operator and enabling high shorthand speeds with relatively less training. This
is currently used in several parliaments and to cover court proceedings.
Yet another reporting method is the stenormask.
It probably requires the least resources of any recording system, but is
suitable for only relatively small meeting rooms. The operator repeats all that
he hears into a microphone contained in a mask so that this output is recorded
on tape either remotely or at the operator's position. This system enables one
operator to work for several hours at a stretch, with the output being handled
by several transcribers in a remote location.
A skilled stenomask operator can do a
certain amount of editing at the source, but cannot give the same consideration
to this as a shorthand writer when dictating to the amanuensis. The stenomask
operator's task becomes increasingly difficult as the size of the meeting and
the volume of interruptions or interjections increases.
Finally there is tape recording, which has
evolved as the major reporting method in legislatures around the world. It has
been used to record the debates of the Ontario Legislature since 1957.
Development of Ontario Hansard
Hansard-style reporting of a full session
actually began in Ontario in 1944 when a 2,613page verbatim report of the
twenty-first parliament was prepared by four Hansard reporters. It was
typewritten and 20 onion skin carbon copies were made for distribution to the
premier, cabinet ministers and party leaders. The final page bears the
signatures of the reporters, testifying before a notary public 1hat the
foregoing is a true and accurate record of what has been said in the
The first session of 1945 appeared in
mimeographed form following a request by Agnes MacPhail, CCF member for York
East, who suggested that each member should receive a copy. Premier George Drew
also expressed dissatisfaction with the previous arrangement of onion skin
A formally printed Hansard was produced in
1947 by Garden City Press of Toronto and in 1948-1949 by Ryerson Press. There
was a return to mimeographed production from 1950-1953 following the remark of
Premier Leslie Frost that for the price of printing Hansard he could pave nine
miles of Ontario highways!
In 1954 Hansard was again printed. At the
beginning of the session the Premier moved a resolution authorizing Mr. Speaker
to "employ an editor of debates and the necessary stenographers at such
rates of compensation as may be agreed to by him." This procedure was
followed during the 1950s and 60s. Difficulty in obtaining highly skilled
shorthand writers prompted the move to tape recording in 1957. The 1/4-inch
reel-to-reel tape was transcribed using regular stenographic dictating machines
by the same typists who had served in conjunction with the shorthand writers.
The chief Hansard reporter, Mr. R.C. Sturgeon, though near death, worked on
editing the debates from his hospital bed in that year.
Hansard production continued as a part time
operation when Edward Burrows took over the contract in 1958. There was an
emergency in 1960 as a result of the illness of Mr. Burrows, and the Speaker,
the Hon. William Murdoch, initiated enquiries at the nearby offices of
Maclean-Hunter Publishing Company for someone to take over the editing and
operation of Hansard.
It was at this point that some members of
the current fulltime Hansard team became involved with the production of the
report of debates. Several Maclean-Hunter editors including Ernest Hemphill,
Don Cameron and the author worked in their spare time with the existing team of
typists led by Mrs. Eileen McFadden. At that time the legislature sat for only
three or four months each year. The editors were employed by various publishing
houses during the day and arrived at Queen's Park at 6 p.m. to work until 10 or
11 p.m., and often later. This part time contract operation lasted a further
ten years. By 1970, with the steady growth of the legislative year and the
extension of Hansard to the reporting of estimates committees outside the
Chamber, the part time operation became impracticable.
The Hansard Reporting Service became a
fulltime branch of the Office of the Speaker in February, 1970, with
considerable autonomy, the staff being responsible only to the Speaker of the
legislature for prompt and accurate reproduction of the debates and subject
only to his directives. This degree of autonomy was maintained, in terms of the
legislative or political independence of Hansard, when the operation became part
of the Office of the Legislative Assembly on its formation in 1975. For
administrative and budgetary purposes, however, the Editor of Debates (Chief of
Hansard) now reports to the Director of Administration and is under the
jurisdiction of the Board of Internal Economy.
When Ryerson Press went out of business
several years ago a number of staff members and much of Ryerson's equipment
were taken over by The Carswell Company, which is still printing Hansard.
Production of Hansard from Tapes
Any tape recording system requires an
appropriate number A microphones, controlled by a sound console and console
operator. The design of the system and the acoustics in the meeting place will
determine how many microphones can be activated at one time but it is not good
practice to have more than one or two microphones "live"
The console operator can also control the
volume of the recording system and of any sound reproduction system. The
identity of speakers can be provided by the console operator speaking into a
small microphone connected to an auxiliary recording track. The same operator,
if he is sufficiently skilled, may also repeat the more significant
interjections on to the auxiliary track along with the identity of the member
making them. This individual's contribution is vital to the reporting process,
and in the coverage of a large chamber or gathering it can be an extremely
skilled and demanding job.
The reel-to-reel tape system used in the
Ontario Legislature was changed to Philips-type cassettes in 1975, thus making
up two four tracks available for different recording functions. The two
additional tracks were initially used to facilitate the recording of
interjections but these tracks were subsequently disconnected to prevent the
possibility of electronic eavesdropping. The additional tracks are now used
only when instantaneous translation is provided in the legislative chamber or
In order to expedite the transcription
process the debate is normally reduced to five-minute tape segments with a
15second overlap to ensure continuity of reporting. Depending upon the
complexity of debate and difficulty in dealing with different speakers,
transcription of a five-minute segment can take anything from 20 to 45 minutes.
Innovations in the Ontario Hansard service
in recent years include the use of a terminal and computer to produce the
cumulative index, which is updated in monthly printouts, and the introduction
of word processing equipment for the transcribers and editors.
The conversion to word processing has truly
revolutionized the Hansard operation at Queen's Park. The work of the
transcriber particularly, has been eased greatly by the elimination of
typewriter noise and the ability to make corrections easily and cleanly. Other
aspects of the word processing system have helped to speed production and
generally to provide a more comfortable and attractive work place.
Word processing provided something more of a
chore and a challenge to the editors. They are also working directly on the VDT
screens rather than on the traditional "hard copy" manuscript. After
working with pen or pencil for upwards of twenty years, editors had to learn to
"massage" and "manipulate" the words and sentences of the
debate by the use of a typewriter style keyboard.
Initially, this slowed down the editorial
task and, depending upon the facility of the individual, word processing may
have permanently slowed down the editing aspect of the job, but the pace has
picked up noticeably with experience. Meantime, any disadvantage has been more
than offset by the production of clean corrected transcripts for the committees
and the general improvement in the production process.
In effect, Hansard staffers have replaced
the former manual typesetters, the output from their terminals being revised
and stored in a small central computer for transmission directly, via telephone
data link, to the commercial printer's typesetting computer. The resulting cold
type/offset printing process has considerably streamlined the whole operation.
In addition to some cost saving, the new
system also provides many working advantages, such as rapid reference to
glossaire of names, titles and other frequently used material. Suspected
mis-spellings recurring in any batch of copy can be easily detected and
corrected by a Search and replace" function.
Looking to the future, some foresee the
"automatic" production of the printed word from the audio tape,
through the medium of a cunningly programmed computer. Certainly this is not
beyond the bounds of possibility but it seems to be a long way off. Others see
the day when shelves full of dust-gathering volumes will be completely
obsolete. to be replaced by video/sound viewers linked to computer banks with
search and retrieval capability.
The latter route is easier to swallow than
the suggested automatic transcription from audio tape capability, from the
point of view of Hansard staff members who have exerted every fibre of their
joint human capabilities in endeavouring to decipher the contents of some of the
more boisterous or difficult recordings of debated.
It may be that the computer and its screen
or printer could utilize a phonetic code that would be acceptable to the user
and this would overcome the obvious difficulties of trying to program the
distinction between "bow" and "bough", or "to",
"two" and "too"! Another problem to confront any computer
trying to convert the spoken word to the printed form is the whole question of
The Great Interjection Controversy
The reporting of interjections has been a
fairly controversial matter over the years. Ontario was one of the more
"gungho" provincial services in that we prided ourselves on recording
and reporting as many interjections as possible, utilizing both tape and
shorthand writers (termed 1nterjectionists').
Despite our best efforts we still received
complaints of uneven coverage, since we tended to pick up more of the
interjections made by members seated closer to our interjectionists. With the
installation of a new sound system in 1975, we largely overcame this problem by
installing a four-track recording system and devoting two of those tracks to
picking up interjections.
This plan seemed to work very well except
that we were reporting more and more interjections, including a liberal sprinkling
of such remarks as: "Right on", "Great stuff", "Good
government", "Nonsense", "Terrible" and
"Wonderful", together with the occasional "Hear, hear" and
just plain 1nterjectl This sort of coverage made for a very cluttered report of
the debate and the impact of the interjections was actually exaggerated by
their inclusion in Hansard. The main speaker may not have been deterred in his
progress by any of these remarks, but his speech appeared to have been
thoroughly disrupted when one looked at Hansard.
A policy of retrenchment began with the
blessing of successive Speakers of the House, but accompanied by continuing and
persistent debate in the editors' room. Some editors applauded the reduction in
coverage of the interjections while others felt we were not doing our job
properly by leaving them out.
Finally, in 1979, we felt we had progressed
to the point, both in the reduction of the volume of interjections reported and
our improved electronic pickup, that we could afford to remove our interjectionists
from the floor of the House and employ them on other duties. This was done with
the permission of the Speaker of the day and we proceeded on, blissfully
unaware of the gathering storm.
As soon as the members realized we had
dispensed with the interjectionists' services there were a number of questions
to be answered: Without them, how could Hansard pick up interjections? What
would happen if the recording system tailed? Would the interjectionists be laid
off? And even: How could we produce any record of the remarks of members
without the Hansard reports in the chamber?
Some MPPs expressed concern that this
decision had been made without consultation and the Hansard chief was invited
to appear before the Members' Services Committee to explain the situation. On
learning that the interjectionists; were deemed no longer necessary because of
the introduction of the interjection recording tracks, some members expressed
concern that such an installation could conceivably be used for electronic
eavesdropping. As a result of these meetings, and to quell the growing fears,
the interjection recording tracks were disconnected and the shorthand reporters
were reinstated to their location in the chamber.
At the same time there was a great deal of
discussion about the desirability of reporting more, or fewer, interjections.
The clerk Of the Members' Services Committee was instructed to contact Hansard
organizations in other jurisdictions across Canada to find out how they handled
them but, even with this information on hand, the committee members could reach
no clear consensus as to their wishes regarding Ontario Hansard's reporting of
In the absence of any clear recommendation,
and after further consultation with Mr. Speaker, the author presented his own recommendations
for consideration by the all-party Board of Internal Economy. The guideline
that emerged, and which was given the blessing of the Board, stipulated the
no place in the official report of debates apart from certain well defined
exceptions. The exceptions are (a) those interjections which evoke a response
from the member who has the floor, and (b) any unparliamentary remarks that
result either in a rebuke from the presiding officer or a formal complaint to
the presiding officer by any other members.
These guidelines were adopted gladly by some
Hansard editors and with some reservation by others. In practice we have no
been too stringent in our interpretation. Where it has appeared desirable to
include interjections to indicate a boisterous period in the debate, or when
interjections have resulted in persistent calls for order from Mr. Speaker or
the chairman. we have reported those remarks.
This interjection policy has helped us to
meet the increased work load in the Ontario Legislature and its committees in
recent years. Under the old rules a transcriber had been known to struggle for
an hour or more deciphering a five-minute tape and inserting the interjections.
Then the editor would spend a great deal more time deciding which interjections
were eligible and which should be excluded from the report. With the
establishment of reasonably firm guidelines, the process has speeded up
This is not to say the controversy is
finished. On the opening day of the fall 1981 session an opposition member
expressed the view that all comments made in the legislature, which are able to
be taken down accurately by the interjectionists, should be included as part of
the Hansard record:
You must surely be
aware (Mr. Speaker), having sat in this House for a good number of years, that
an interjection could be just as important as a question, or just as important
as a lengthy speech, depending on what the interjection is. 1 want to say to
you that 1 do not believe it is right or proper for the proceedings of this
House to be edited by a civil servant after he has, by himself, decided that
the Hansard should look like a magazine instead of looking as it should, with
all the interjections included. My point is that some interjections are
recorded, others are not. This is entirely unfair because we leave this matter
in the hands of a civil servant. We leave this matter in the hands of a
bureaucrat to decide how Hansard shall look.
The same member raised the matter again on
November 24th, 1981, and Mr. Speaker replied as follows:
The policy of the
Hansard Reporting Service, with regard to recording interjections, is similar
to that of most other major jurisdictions and is based upon guidelines approved
by Mr. Speaker and the Board of Internal Economy. The difficulty of recording
and reporting the growing number of interjections has escalated in recent years
and, after consultation with successive Speakers of the House and Hansard
staffs in other jurisdictions, the policy was adopted of recording only those
interjections that evoked some response from the member who has the floor and
which, as a consequence, form part of the debate.