At the time this article was
written Arthur Donahoe was Speaker of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly. His
paper was delivered to a meeting of the Canadian Study of Parliament Group in
We live in an information age and
this fact has placed an onus on governments everywhere to ensure that elected
members are provided with the personnel and resources to assist them in dealing
quickly and knowledgeably with issues as they arise.
All jurisdictions realize that with
the speed and complexity of events these days, it is unrealistic to expect an
individual elected member on his or her own to be able to gain an
understanding, form an opinion and respond knowledgeably and quickly to issues
Cabinet ministers have research and
communications resources at their disposal within their respective departments
to respond to issues affecting their individual portfolios. But a need has
emerged for other capabilities of a more general nature to serve all elected
members -- cabinet ministers, government backbenchers and opposition members
The research capability must be
able to provide the member with speedy access to information on a wide variety
of issues. It must be able to analyze the information, refine and tailor it to
the member's requirements. The communications capability must be able to take
the information, combine it with the member's thoughts and points of view, as
well as those of the party and create a product that communicates the desired
message in the proper way.
Research and communication services
for members of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly are provided through our
legislative library and through the caucus offices of the three recognized
parties. The budgets of both the legislative library and the caucus offices are
administered by the Speaker's Office.
Like other legislative libraries,
Nova Scotia makes available to members a wide range of books, periodicals and
other publications, and staff at the library will help members search out and
compile information on request. However, the research capability of the library
is confined to searching and compiling infomation for members. We do not at
present have a "research arm" of the library to refine and analyze
information for members.
With the increasing workload being
handled by committees of the legislature, the need for a research capability to
assist these committees in their work is becoming increasingly apparent. This
is an issue I hope we in Nova Scotia can address in the very near future, and
when that time comes, it is most likely that this research capability will be
centered in the legislative library.
Some of the services presently
offered by our library include: current awareness services including listings
of new books by subject; a table of contents service which invites members to
select articles from selected journals they may wish to receive; an MLA update
which tracks legislation of interest to members and includes book reviews and
listing of new books, and status of bills, which keeps track of the movement of
legislation through all legislatures in Canada including our own.
As well, the library indexes and
maintains complete and up to date clipping files based on provincial daily and
weekly newspapers and certain other publications. Statistical and financial
information is provided by the library as well through a number of
publications, reports and on-line databases. And of course, our library is the
repository for a unique collection of historical information.
Within the caucus offices, budgets
for research and communications are set by the Speaker's Office according to a
formula based on the number of members in each caucus.
To use the government caucus office
as an example, research and communications functions overlap with a director of
caucus services, a research assistant and a communications assistant all
involved in research and communications functions.
Day to day research functions
include collection, analyses, refining and cataloguing of information from
sources such as the legislative library, government departments, government
news releases, and selected periodicals. The recentintroduction of new
computers will permit information databases to be brought on-line and create
time saving improvements through the establishment of new indexing and
Much of the work handled by
research/communications staff involves responding to specific requests from
members. In many cases, this will involve tracking down and analyzing
information from sources other than those regularly accessed. However, it is
also an important function of these people to identify and suggest worthwhile
topics and issues for members to address.
On the communications side, caucus
office staff provide writing, editing and advisory services combined with a
limited layout and design and audio video production capability. Specific
research/communications by the caucus staff presently include: speechwriting,
preparation of news releases, articles, position papers, reports, newsletters,
resolutions and other material for use in legislature debates, video and audio
scripts, correspondence, maintenance of up to date clipping files, production
and coordination of a weekly cable television programme and radio and
television free time broadcasts; maintenance of an up to date record of
government accomplishments, both provincially and by constituency; production
of a monthly newsletter featuring government activities in capsule form;
production of regular reports and analysis of opposition activity, and keeping
abreast of issues and developments in the news.
Once again, the new computers have
provided staff not only with time and labour saving alternatives, but with the
opportunity to broaden the scope of in-house capability through the
introduction of options such as desktop publishing.
In the coming year government
members, through the caucus office, are considering producing regular
constituency newsletters, as Members of Parliament do now. These will be
produced entirely in-house.
The establishment of active caucus
committees to provide an avenue for involving backbenchers in policy
development is a concept that hs been underutilized in Nova Scotia in the past.
However, using the research and communications capabilities of the caucus
office, the government caucus last year established a caucus committee on
youth. This committee held public meetings around the province and produced a
report with meaningful recommendations that have been accepted by cabinet and
are in the early stages of implementation.
I have no doubt that this
successful experiment will be the forerunner of many similar efforts in the
future, and we will have to look closely at our ability to provide for such
efforts within the research budgets of caucus offices.
Until recently the government
caucus office provided services for backbenchers exclusively. It is becoming
increasingly apparent, however, that many of the services available are also
needed by ministers. Departmental research and communications personnel are
often loathe to perform tasks of a partisan nature, and this is perfectly
understandable. Yet, unless ministers have skilled research and communications
people on their personal staff, or within their constituency organization,
there is really no place for them to turn but the caucus office, and they are
doing so in increasing numbers.
The government caucus office, then,
is being viewed more and more as an office serving the entire government
caucus, and not just the backbenchers.
As a result of the recent
provincial election the size of the Official Opposition Caucus has gone from
six to twenty-one. It is expected that a substantial increase in the number of
research staff available to serve this expanded group will occur soon.
The subject of providing research
and communications capability for members in their constituencies is one that
has been brought to my attention from time to time during my years as Speaker.
My personal feeling on this matter is that with today's communications and
information technology, a province the size of Nova Scotia might be better
served by having each member equipped with a computer and fax machin linking
them with the resources of the caucus office than through the hiring of
constituency-based research personnel.
We are finding more and more that
the issues members are called upon to address in their constituencies and in
legislature are not strictly local issues. As often as not, they are local
manifestations of issues that are provincial, national or global in nature.
Speeding access to relevant information and the resources to assist the member
in gaining a perspective and formulating a response are absolute necessities if
members are to fulfil their responsibilities properly.