At the time this article was written Smirle
Forsyth was Clerk Assistant of the Ontario Legislative Assembly.
When members of Ontario's legislature took
their places at 2:00 p.m. on April 28th, 1983, they found new electronic timing
devices installed on the east and west walls of the Chamber with a master
timing unit at the Clerk's Table. The timing device met with initial criticism
from some members who found it difficult to adjust to a 24 hour clock or who
found the flashing seconds digits and the intense green light of the display
units distracting. One member stated that the timing devices reminded him of a
hockey arena. Labelling them "digital obscenities", he called for
their removal. And one columnist likened putting "a flashing, digital
clock on the richly panelled walls of the Legislature ... (to) wearing jeans to
dinner with the Queen." However, despite some of the initial criticism of
the Legislative Timer, it has met with the general approval of many of the
members and has taken its place with the other electronic innovations (i ' e '
television cameras, microphones and loudspeakers) in the Chamber.
The installation of the Legislative Timer
came about as a result of a proposal submitted to the Board of Internal Economy
in June, 1982. For a number of years, a timing device had been located on the
Table and provided the Clerks at the Table with the time for oral question
period, the length of speeches, division bells, etc. However, this information
was not visible to the members of the House and notes, hand signals and
coloured lights were used at various times to indicate to the members the time
remaining in question period, in a speech or debate or in a division bell.
The Board considered the timing device
proposal following a visit to Westminster by the presiding officers and the
Standing Committee on Procedural Affairs. At Westminster, members saw video
units in the Chamber of the House of Commons and throughout the Parliament
Buildings which provide information on the time and subject matter being
debated in the House. As a result of comments concerning the equipment in place
at Westminster as well as increasing requests by members for the time remaining
in the oral question period, etc., the proposal for a new timing unit was taken
to the Board and subsequently approved.
The timing device was designed and built by
Evertz Microsystems Inc. of Burlington, Ontario. Special care was taken in
designing and constructing the timer and display units to ensure that the new
electronic equipment blended in as much as possible with the traditional and
historic setting of the Chamber. The cathode display tubes in the remote display
units on the Chamber wall were manufactured in England by English Electric
Valves Company and are housed in boxes painted to match the colour of the walls
of the Chamber. Wood carver Robert Kroeker, of Virgil, Ontario, constructed the
housing for the master timing unit on the Clerk's Table out of walnut to match
the wood of the Table and carved rosettes on the top of the unit to match those
on the Clerk's chair which dates to 1832 and is one of the oldest pieces of
furniture in the House.
The Legislative Timer consists of a master
timing unit which is equipped with two local displays and two keypads to permit
operation of the unit by a clerk on either side of the Table. One six-digit
time display with 0.8 inch high digits sits on the Speaker's desk on the dais.
Two wall displays with high-brightness five-inch high digits are located in the
centre of the east and west walls of the Chamber. The digits in the wall
displays are green. Green was chosen because it emits a higher light intensity
than red, blue or yellow. This is especially important when the television
lights are turned on.
The master timing unit contains a 24 hour
real time clock, three multipurpose up/down timers labelled "A",
"B" and "C", an up/down Estimates timer and a division bell
timer which controls the ringing of throughout the Parliament Buildings. All of
the timers operate in hours, minutes and seconds except the Estimates timer
which displays hours and minutes only. The information on each of the timers
may be displayed on the remote wall display units. A different timer from that
shown on the remote displays may be viewed and pre-set by a clerk at the Table.
In this way, the time remaining in oral question period may be displayed while
a clerk pre-sets the time for, say, the first two speakers on a private
member's resolution and the time for a possible division bell.
If a timing unit is pre-set to the
down-counting mode, the timer will count down when started. When the timer
reaches 0:00:00 it will stop counting and the displays will flash on and off
for approximately 15 seconds before the real time will be displayed. If the
timer is pre-set to the up-counting mode, it will count to a maximum of 9 hours
59 minutes 59 seconds (or 999 hours 59 minutes for the Estimates timer) and
will then flash on and off and revert to the real time as with the
The timing unit is also programmed to ring
the division bells in three ways. The bell timer may be pre-set and activated
when required. When the timer is activated, the bells ring until the timer
reaches 0:00:00. After f lashing on and off for 15 seconds, the displays will
return to the real time. Because quorum counts may be called for at any time
and the bells must be activated as soon as the Speaker or the Chairman calls in
the members if a quorum is not present, the master timing unit has a special
timing programme. By pressing a designated quorum bell button and the
"Start" button, the time for a quorum bell is automatically displayed
and the timer and bell activated. In situations where there is no time limit on
a division bell, the bell may be manually controlled from the Table. In such
cases, it is usual practice to display the real time while the bell is ringing.
Should a technical failure prevent activating or controlling the bells from the
Table an override switch at the entrance to the Chamber may be used to control
the division bells.
In the case of all of the timers, the time
being displayed may be stopped or frozen by pushing the "Hold" button
or by activating another timing mode. To prevent tampering with the timers when
the House is adjourned or in recess, the keypad may be locked. The keyboard may
be turned on by entering a special code. An additional feature permits the
power to the wall display units to be turned off. This conserves the life of
these units and should enable us in effect to double the life of the units. The
intensity of the light emitted may also be controlled and, by reducing the
intensity, the life of the units is further prolonged.
To prevent the loss of information stored in
the various timers in the event of a power failure or brownout, an internal
rechargeable battery is provided to supply emergency power for up to ten hours.
An external battery may also be connected in case of a prolonged power failure.
Despite its many features the Legislative
Timer has not replaced the Legislative Clock hanging high above the Speaker's
Gallery. It was designed to complement the Legislative Clock which continues to
grace the walls of the Chamber as it has for most of the past 90 years.