As producers of the official transcripts of parliamentary debates, Canada's Hansards are responsible for ensuring parliamentarians and Canadians have a fair and accurate report of what happened on any given day on the floor of a legislature. In this roundtable, four directors/editors of Canadian Hansards discuss how their teams work to make the transition from "the colourful theatre of debate to the black and white specifics of text."
CPR: I'm sure some outsiders think of Hansard as a verbatim record of parliamentary debates, but there's a lot more to it than that. What are some of the biggest misconceptions of your work that you've encountered from parliamentarians or other parliamentary observers?
LF: I think the biggest misconception is that there's no editing required in making the transition from the colourful theatre of debate to the black and white specifics of text.
RK: People think it just magically appears at the end of the day. That it's just there. I have people who call me five minutes after a one-hour speech and they ask, "Can I have a copy of that, please?" (Laughter). They don't realize that we have to research all the names of the constituents and companies they mention as well trying to figure out what they were saying in their different languages ... which are all English!
RS: I think most people are surprised by the amount of labour that's involved in actually turning out a product at the end of the day. We have a staff of about 30 people. When Members come to our office and see the number of people typing away, they're just blown away that there are so many people. I think they only see the tip of the iceberg with a few people in the chamber or around the building. There is a large, and in our case, part-time staff which is required to turn that transcript out by the end of the day, as Bob said, or in our case to get a draft up within about an hour.
DC: We have a Hansard reporter at every session, whether it's the legislature or committee, and they're just at a laptop taking very brief notes to help with the transcript. I think most of the MPPs in the room are under the impression that the Hansard reporter is simply there typing live and that's what will become the transcript. I know a few committee chairs have turned to the reporter and asked, "Can you read that back to us, please?" (Laughter). I think they've seen too many courtroom movies. It takes a huge team effort. Most days our legislature starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. All those hours of debates are posted to the website the same night. There are committees meeting at the same time, so it's a huge team effort.
CPR: Are there many differences among the Hansards in jurisdictions across Canada?
DC: The short answer is yes. There are 10 provincial Hansards, three territorial Hansards and then the House of Commons and the Senate in Ottawa. Depending on how many annual sitting days there are, and if Hansards of committees are produced as well as debates in the legislature, you'll have either a full-time staff, or a hybrid with full-time staff supplemented with a lot of sessional staff. The territorial Hansards are all contracted out. They're all private sector. Some legislatures have more than one language that can be spoken. As far as I know, New Brunswick and the House of Commons and Senate are the only ones that do translations into the other language spoken. Others might report in whichever language was spoken.
RK: I think the main difference is numbers. When Robert was mentioning up to 30 members of staff during the sessions, that just makes me cry--with envy. (Laughter). We have seven full-time staff and lately we've been moving from building to building because our former office building was condemned. As a result of space constraints in our temporary location we're down to about 14 for the session and have to complete the transcript that day. We also have committees, but those transcripts aren't completed on the same day. It takes maybe two to three days. I think we pretty much do the same things in terms of production, it's just the numbers and the hours that are different.
RS: I agree. There are a lot of common issues in the nuts and bolts of how we assemble the document. At a certain level, we all have people transcribing, people editing and we're all dealing with language problems and problems understanding what a Member said or what they're trying to say. But the workload does vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For over two-thirds of our year we have two houses that we're reporting at the same time, so that's why we need 30 people.
LF: In Saskatchewan we have about 36 part-time editors at Hansard and three full-time people - the managing editor, the production manager and the indexer. That is a large staff to manage concurrently sitting committees. I think that local labour market conditions can also really affect how Hansards are staffed. If you're working, let's say in Yellowknife, and you have to produce in French, how you're going to staff that position really does depend on the availability of people.
RK: Another issue when staffing is when you mention the hours when you're interviewing. You have people leave that room so fast! (Laughter) Today we might sit from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m., but we won't know until 10 p.m. People aren't prepared to give up their lives for that like the rest of us old fogies.
LF: That's very true Bob. I'm finding there are many intelligent young people who refuse to have their lives totally hijacked by their work schedule. I definitely see a change in mindset with our people.
RS: One thing I'll add is that as you go from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, some legislatures have longer calendars with sessions in the Spring and in the Fall while others are really compressed into a single period of time in a year. Here we have a Spring session and sometimes a Fall session, though we never really know. So when it comes to staffing, it's difficult to know whether to get a full-time person or part-time staff. I think it would be difficult trying to manage a situation where your House sat for 12 weeks in the Spring and then didn't sit again for another year.
DC: I think that's why they can have private contractors take over in the North--they have very abbreviated sessions. They have language professionals doing other things for the rest of the year who can be applied to Hansard when it needs to be produced.
CPR: What are some of the ways Hansard (in your...