At the time this article was written Jack
Ellis was the Member of Parliament for Prince Edward-Hastings.
Since 1981, the members of the subcommittee
on Telephone and Computer Services, Robert Daudlin (Liberal Essex Kent),
Laverne Lewycky (NDP, Dauphin). and myself have been concentrating on the
initiation of an Office Automation Systems and Information Services project,
known as OASIS.
The OASIS project is intended as a support
system for Members of Parliament and uses Local Area Network (LAN) technology.
The project would not have been possible without the co-operation and very able
guidance of the Administrator of the House of Commons, Arthur Silverman, and
his Director of Support Services, Robert Desrameaux. However since the
administration does not have and would not likely have in the future, experts
in this particular area, two staff were seconded from the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation. Juris Mazutis and Jim Phillips. With their total concentration on
this project we have achieved the accomplishment to date.
The beginning of the project coincided with
the availability of, and the formal implementation of word processing
facilities for Members of Parliament and administrative support staff. The word
processors themselves have been a tremendous boon to members and over one
hundred are now in operation in the various parliamentary buildings. The OASIS
project goes much further addressing itself to the areas of word-processing,
electronic data processing and retrieval, electronic mail, access to regular
communications networks such as telex, access to publicly available and governmental
data bases and television services, including those generated within the House
of Commons. In addition, in the administrative area, it will provide management
information, financial control, payroll, Hansard production, committee
reporting; all of which, will enhance the role of the Member of Parliament.
During March of 1983 a full service
demonstration facility was brought on stream and by 1985 we hope to make
available a full range of services to those Members of Parliament who wish to
benefit from it. All of the parliamentary buildings will be wired so that every
office will have the service availability, but only those members who request
the service will receive it. It is completely optional. In addition, as members
move from office to office, either at election time or for any other reason,
the only necessity will be to change the code name within the software of the
system to allow messages to travel to the member's new office.
Those members who opt for the service will
have access to and receive a wide variety of information provided to them in
their offices on their television set as well as their word processor and its'
printer. The member will have on his desk for his personal use a display phone
manufactured by Northern Telecom which will be able to access the same data as
the word processor and the television set. It is important to note that while
the technology for this project is new, the equipment to provide the services
are all off-the-shelf items; the majority of them manufactured in Canada. By
way of example, a member will have direct electronic access to all or specific
Members of Parliament, his or her particular party research bureau, their
riding office, the Library of Parliament, governmental departments, Hansard,
oral and written questions, in fact, access and retrieval of information from
any commercial information source in North America.
Furthermore, a member may call up and see on
a television screen in his own office, any speech, question or intervention
made in the House of Commons since proceedings were first televised. Actual,
live proceedings may be selected for viewing with French or English translation
or in the floor language. It television coverage of committees is made
available in the future, they too will be subject to similar type of office
viewing. Until video coverage of committees is sanctioned, we anticipate that
members will be provided the right to monitor the audio portion of such
proceedings. The usual complement of commercial cable programmes will also be
made available on the network for members.
Government departments, such as Statistics
Canada, are prepared to provide statistical information directly to each
member's office to the word processor, through the electronic mail facility and
to the television set via a Telidon interconnection. Statistics such as
unemployment, the GNP, and the Consumer Price Indices, will be provided
directly to members. A similar process will be available for the Hansard and
any information or statistics may be printed at the request of the member. Part
of the reason for doing this is obvious. There will be far less paper delivered
to every member and the ability to obtain this information quickly and
economically will be greatly enhanced.
A great deal of this information is now sent
to all members and a considerable majority of them immediately discard it
because there is no way you can cope with the amount of paper coming to your
office each and every day. Because members are not provided with selected
information, many suffer from an information overload.
One of the more attractive features will be
the ability of any member or his staff to access telex facilities and connect
with telex receiving stations anywhere in the world. Another helpful feature
will be the availability of a continuous television display of committee
schedules, official bulletins, together with access to training films.
The OASIS project will also make available
clips from all of the preceding evening's television news reports. Just as each
member receives clipping services from the print media, they will be able to
check a channel on their television set and find repeated, over and over,
during a specific time slot, a digest of the previous days television news.
Finally, in this context, any press conferences in the National Press Building
will be available to members in their individual offices. A number of these
latter facilities will also be available in the lounges off the House of
Commons, so that members on House duty will also be able to slip out and view
The electronic mail capacity means that if a
document or letter comes to the riding office that our staff feels is
particularly important, we will retype its contents and electronically forward
it to our Ottawa office for viewing/printing almost immediately. Routine type
letters may be originated at either end and printed at the opposite end,
depending on where the member is working from on that particular day. With few
exceptions, regardless of our location, we can keep in touch with our riding
offices and our Ottawa offices in the same fashion. Should a Party Whip wish to
contact any or all members of his party, he has but to forward such messages or
information, regardless of time zones, to our electronic mail boxes for a
recall and acknowledgement without having an established voice contact.
This is but a very brief look at something
some of us on the Hill are very excited about.