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Michael Graham

Canadian Parliamentary Handbook/ complied by John Bejermi, Borealis Press, Ottawa, 1982, 517p.

The publication of the Canadian Parliamentary Handbook marks a milestone in the history of parliamentary biography in Canada. This book is the first completely bilingual directory of Senators and Members of Parliament to be issued in Canada. All other similar biographical directories are available as either completely unilingual English publications such as the Canadian Directory of Parliament, 18671967, or are currently only partially bilingual like the Canadian Parliamentary Guide.

As a bilingual register of Canadian federal parliamentarians the Canadian Parliamentary Handbook is an important book. However, this first edition lacks the consistency and accuracy to be considered important overall. The organization and presentation of information is excellent. The side by side bilingual format is efficient. The heading approach to each biography is clear and easy to read. But the editorial control is somewhat inconsistent. Information is often incomplete, sometimes out of date or even lacking altogether.

The Handbook provides basic biographical data concerning the Governor General, Senators and Members of the House of Commons. All information applies to the current Parliament. In addition to the parliamentary biographies, the register describes the roles and responsibilities of senior officials of the Senate and the House of Commons. In all cases a photograph accompanies the biography of parliamentarians. With one exception there are photographs of each senior official of Parliament. The inclusion of photographs in Parliamentary biography is not new in Canada both the Assemblée nationale du Québec, (1981) and the Canadian Construction Association's Legislative handbook include the photographs of elected officials. The Canadian Parliamentary Handbook, however also includes photographs of all Senators at the time of its publication.

The presentation of information is its strongest point. Readers used to long strings of unrelated information found in most biographical dictionaries will be pleased to find a workable and efficient alternative in the Handbook, which uses boldface type headings to organize information. These headings include: name of the Member/Senator, date of birth, education, profession, parliamentary service, committee service, marital status, spouse, children. A description of the makeup of the constituency is generally included for elected members. Presumably because constituency offices are officially unique to elected members, the address information is organized differently for Members of the House of Commons and Senators. The Handbook provides only parliamentary addresses for Senators; no home addresses are listed. The telephone number listed is the one for the Parliament Hill office. In the case of elected Members, the parliamentary, constituency and home addresses are listed. Corresponding telephone numbers are provided with the parliamentary and constituency address.

Three elements follow the biography of each Member of the House of Commons: election results for the 1979 and 1980 general elections where the Member ran in both those elections; the population of his electoral district; the geographic and legal description of the district as found in the Canada Gazette. Although this information is available elsewhere, it appears to be a handy compendium for the student wishing to quickly check various election results, or the constituent wanting to know the boundaries of a particular electoral district.

The basic problem with collecting information from other sources is to ensure that it is timely. It is unfortunate that the population counts in the Handbook are based on the 1976 Census and not the Census for 1981. For example, Terrebonne is listed at 103,213 persons while the 1981 count is 136,651; Beaches is listed at 80,008 while the 1981 count is 73,174.

While the text of the biographies is clear it is sometimes uneven and inconsistent. The descriptions of the individual electoral districts vary from ten lines with complete linguistic, ethnic and industrial descriptions, to one uninformative line, and in 19 of the first 114 cases examined, no constituency information at all! Of the ninety Senators listed in this book, only twenty-six biographies list year, month and day of birth. There is no list of abbreviations and the use of abbreviations is inconsistent i.e.; Qué.. and P.Q., for Quebec. Dates are sometimes written out in full, sometimes in numerical characters only. Under the heading Committee service, the Handbook does not always distinguish between special, standing, and joint committees. Under the heading of ministerial appointments, the exact day and month of the appointment is not always provided. The same is true of the appointments of parliamentary secretaries. This lack of consistency and accuracy can be frustrating especially if the user relies solely on it to verify facts or to obtain greater biographical detail on a particular Senator or Member of the House of Commons. It is hoped that the text will be revised with a view to issue timely, accurate and constant information in future editions.

For a 500 page book limited to the Federal scene, the introductory article on the Canadian parliamentary process is too short and too simplified. By contrast, the articles on the Governor General and the various administrative structures of Parliament are taken directly from the book Organization of the Government of Canada, 1980, and add no new information. The editor would have done well to incorporate parts from the 1982 edition of How Canadians govern themselves. The fact that little comment is made on recent constitution & developments is disappointing, especially given the book's article, the "Commemorative edition of the Constitutional Parliament of 1982".

A book like this needs an index and none is provided. If the editor continues with this format, a less expensive edition is recommended the heading approach lends itself to a loose-leaf format more readily updated. The lists of telephone number of the various services of the Senate and House are not of much use and certainly subject to the vagaries of continual change.

M. J. Graham, Chief Collections, Division Information and Reference Service, Library of Parliament

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 5 no 3

Last Updated: 2020-09-14