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Behind the Scenes: The House of Commons Administration

Major-General Maurice Gaston Cloutier (1935-2005)

The House of Commons lost its longest-serving Sergeant-at-Arms last year with the passing of Major-General M.G. "Gus" Cloutier. General Cloutier joined the House following a distinguished career in the Canadian Armed Forces and, for 27 years, performed the duties of his office with dignity, courtesy and a sense of humour. As Sergeant-at-Arms, he was responsible for security and building services and all ceremonial aspects of House tradition, of which the most public duty was to shoulder the ceremonial Mace during processions to and from the Commons Chamber. General Cloutier also served as Canadian Secretary to Her Majesty The Queen, coordinating her visits to Canada in 1994, 1997 and 2005 as well as her Golden Jubilee of 2002. He was respected throughout Canada's Parliament and is sorely missed.

General Cloutier

General Cloutier.

Table Research Branch Celebrates 25th Anniversary

In 2005, the Table Research Branch of the House Administration marked its 25th anniversary. Established by the late Dr. C.B. Koester, former Clerk of the House of Commons, the Branch is the focal point for procedural expertise and advice, and produces publications, training and information for Members of Parliament, House staff and other wider audiences.

Supporting Members of Parliament

Whether they are working on legislative issues on Parliament Hill, talking with constituents in their riding, or meeting with other legislators abroad, Members of Parliament are supported in their work by the staff of the House of Commons Administration.

The House of Commons Administration is made up of five Service Areas: Procedural Services; the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel; Information Services, Parliamentary Precinct Services; and Corporate Services. These areas, which draw on the equivalent of some 1,737 full-time employees, are accountable to the Clerk of the House of Commons, who reports to the Speaker, and serves as Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy. The first woman to serve as Clerk of the House of Commons, Audrey O'Brien, was appointed in October 2005 following a review of her nomination by a standing committee and a ratification vote in the House. Ms. O'Brien succeeded William C. Corbett, who retired after 26 years of dedicated service to the House.

The Board of Internal Economy governs the House Administration. The Board is chaired by the Speaker and made up of Members from all recognized political parties. It is responsible for all matters of financial and administrative policy affecting the House of Commons.

Strategic Objectives

In the Strategic Outlook for the 38th Parliament, the House of Commons Administration presented four main objectives that reflect its vision, values and mandate, and provide a framework for its activities in support of Members. These objectives are as follows:

  1. Respond to the evolving role of Members
  2. Enhance ongoing services to Members and sustain the institution
  3. Promote understanding and support the advancement of legislative institutions
  4. Apply the highest standards of public-sector governance in a parliamentary context

The following sections highlight the House Administration's key accomplishments achieved under these objectives in 2005-2006, and commitments for 2006-2007.

I. Responding to the Evolving Role of Members

While the institution is over a century old, the House of Commons is constantly evolving to meet the demands of a modern society by introducing new ways of conducting its activities, and connecting citizens to the work of Parliament. The House of Commons Administration supports this work by responding to the needs of Members of Parliament, providing new tools, refining procedures and making the most of new technologies.

Supporting the Evolution of Parliamentary Practices and Rules

  • Many of the rules by which the House of Commons operates were adopted in an era of majority governments. The 38th Parliament was the first to have a minority government in over 25 years, and many of these rules were put to the test in this environment. The House Administration provided support and advice in applying the existing rules in new circumstances, and in drafting and implementing further changes to the Standing Orders. This support will continue to be provided in the 39th Parliament, which also has a minority government.

Ensuring a Flexible Technology Infrastructure

Newly elected Members attend orientation sessions

Newly elected Members attend orientation sessions where they learn about their roles and the services provided by the House Administration to support them in their work.

Photo: © C. Diotte

parliamentary heritage
Got the Blues?
An English Hansard reporter dictates his shorthand notes to an amanuensis.

For many years, proceedings were typed on carbon sets for distribution to the printer, translation services, the press and Members. The copies sent to Cabinet Ministers and parliamentary secretaries after they had spoken in the Chamber were on blue paper, which is why the draft debates are still commonly referred to as the blues.

There are also the less well-known yellows, the reporters' copy from the French debates office; the greens, the English reporters' copy forwarded to the Press Gallery; and the whites, the final edited Hansard.

  • The Administration continued to ensure a responsive, robust and secure technology environment by
    • selecting a tool for managing video and audio assets of Chamber and committee proceedings;
    • upgrading the cabling, monitoring and control systems in the Chamber broadcast control room;
    • planning and implementing information technology services and infrastructure as part of the Long-Term Renovation Program for Parliament Hill; and
    • providing underground connectivity with buildings located on either side of Wellington Street, where Parliament's main buildings are located.

Improving Members' Access to Parliamentary Information

  • Work proceeded on the development of "Today in the House," a Web site that will provide Members of Parliament, staff and the public with a central access point for information about the daily proceedings of the House of Commons. The House Administration will launch the initial phase of this site in 2006-2007.
  • The House Administration, with its partners in the Senate, the Library of Parliament, and Public Works and Government Services Canada, created the Parliamentary Information Services Vision and Strategy, a critical first step in defining a collaborative approach to information management and enabling these institutions to work more closely for the benefit of parliamentarians, their staff and the public. Over the coming year, a new governance structure will be implemented for sharing this information.

Involving Canadians in the Parliamentary Process

  • The House Administration introduced new features for the House of Commons Committees Web site to give users better access to committee reports, contact information and further details about the work of committees.
  • An e-consultation toolkit was also piloted by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and will be introduced to committees at the beginning of the 39th Parliament. The toolkit is a platform of basic electronic consultation tools that have been developed to help committees wishing to use the Internet to consult Canadians.

II. Enhancing Ongoing Services to Members and Sustaining the Institution

One of the essential roles of the House Administration is to sustain the institution by improving the basic services and support systems required to meet Members' needs, and to provide the public with secure and appropriate access to these important national buildings. Over the past year, its activities in this regard have included planning for construction and emergency relocation, and producing documents and seminars to increase knowledge of parliamentary issues.

Renovating the Parliament Buildings

  • The House Administration contributed to the update of the Long-Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary Precinct and to the related implementation strategy. The plan sets out a program of major new construction and renovation work and was revised in response to new priorities.
  • Renovations to the West Block commenced, as did plans for relocating occupants to allow major construction work to proceed. Interim accommodations will be developed for the relocation of all West Block functions over the next few years.
  • In partnership with Public Works and Government Services Canada, the Administration continued to oversee the planning, design and installation of facilities, infrastructure and information technologies to support the relocation of Members of Parliament their staff and parliamentary functions.

Improving Information Technology Services

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On Time, Every Time
A Reporting Service employee monitors the audio recording of proceedings.

After the debates have concluded, sometimes already late in the evening, work continues through the night so that Hansard is available by 9:00 a.m. the next morning.

The transeditors change audio into text that is then edited, translated and proofread. The Publishing and Quality Assurance Officer oversees the process and makes the text available electronically.

The 9:00 a.m. deadline has consistently been met with dedication and precision, first by the Official Debates Reporting Branch, and now by Parliamentary Publications.

  • The House Administration is finalizing a new electronic form for purchasing office supplies in the constituency that will provide more timely service to Members. Implementation will occur in the upcoming fiscal year.
  • The House Administration continued to refine its technology systems to improve the management of financial and human resources information and better support Members and the House Administration.
  • Sustainable approaches and technologies to support real-time closed-captioning of proceedings were assessed, and the appropriate technology will be selected in the next fiscal year.

Refining the Business Continuity and Resumption Plan for the House of Commons

  • The House Administration refined its Business Continuity and Resumption Plan to ensure that Parliament can readily relocate and resume its activities in case of emergency. Alternate sites for relocation were identified, and threat, risk and impact analyses were conducted for certain sites. Relocation plans and strategies were also developed for Chamber and constituency activities.

Sustaining the Institution and Improving Services

  • Through the Election Readiness Program, the House Administration and the Library of Parliament provided new, returning and departing Members with services in the period surrounding the dissolution of the 38th Parliament and the opening of the 39th Parliament. Initiatives included a Web site concerning services to Members, a toll-free hotline, an information centre and service fair, and orientation sessions on administrative and procedural services. In the two months following the election, the information centre received over 674 visitors, and the telephone hotline responded to 1,393 requests.
  • The House Administration developed documents on a range of parliamentary matters. For example, a guide to parliamentary associations was developed for association chairs; a new version of the House of Commons Standing Orders was introduced, highlighting provisional sections for easy reference; and e-versions of the Practical Guide for Committees, the Glossary of Parliamentary Procedure, and the Practical Guide for Private Members' Business were all updated.
  • Throughout the past year, the House Administration and the Library of Parliament offered seminars to Members and their staff on various procedural subjects, such as the legislative process, financial procedures, and work in committees as well as in the Chamber. In the coming fiscal year, the Administration and Library will continue to support Members and their staff through seminars on such topics as Private Members' Business.

III. Promoting Understanding and Supporting the Advancement of Legislative Institutions

Speaker Milliken welcomes participants to the Parliamentary Officers' Study program, November 2005

Speaker Milliken welcomes participants to the Parliamentary Officers' Study Program, November 2005.

Photo: © K. Rodier

The House of Commons Administration supports Members of Parliament as they promote a greater understanding of Canada's parliamentary institutions. These activities can range from producing authoritative works on the House of Commons, to sharing the beauty of the Parliament Buildings via the Web. The Administration also provides valuable support to Members as they work with other legislatures around the world, sharing ideas and experiences with their counterparts, and helping existing and emerging legislative institutions.

Updating Major Publications on Parliamentary Procedure

  • To continue to offer the public searchable access to essential procedural reference works, the House of Commons Administration updated or made available online a number of key documents which explain the procedures, history and traditions of the House of Commons.
    • The first edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice - also known as Marleau-Montpetit after its authors - was launched on the Parliament of Canada Web site. Planning and research will proceed on a second edition in the coming year.
    • Designed especially for the Internet, the Compendium of Parliamentary Procedure (which replaced the Précis of Procedure) was published and explains how the House and its committees function.
    • Work was completed on the second edition of the Annotated Standing Orders, which provide commentary and a historical summary for each of the Standing Orders - the written rules of the House of Commons. A Web version of this publication will be launched in 2006-2007.
Parliament by the Book

Several publications were produced in print and online to explain the work of the House of Commons and Parliament to Canadians:

House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Compendium of Parliamentary Procedure

Annotated Standing Orders

Providing Learning Opportunities for Parliamentarians and Officials from Canada and Abroad

  • In partnership with the Senate of Canada and the Library of Parliament, the House Administration continued to offer its Parliamentary Officers' Study Program for senior parliamentary staff from other legislatures. In addition to English and French seminars, and in response to an increased level of cooperation within the Americas, the Parliament of Canada invited Brazil and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas (FIPA) to participate in a special Spanish program in late October 2005.
  • The legislatures of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay sent representatives to learn about the Canadian parliamentary system and discuss common challenges that parliamentary officers face. A special session of the Parliamentary Officers' Study Program will be held in 2006 for representatives of the new Afghan parliament.
  • In August 2005, the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Commons co-chaired the 2005 Professional Development Seminar of the Association of Clerks-at-the-Table, enabling Association members to increase their knowledge of the parliamentary system and procedure in Canada, and share best practices.

    Sixty-five federal, provincial and territorial Clerks-at-the-Table attended, as well as several Clerks from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  • From September 11 to 15, 2005, the Senate and the House of Commons hosted the 5th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Parliamentary Administration (CAPA). CAPA is a network for senior officers responsible for parliamentary administration in all Canadian parliaments. Members of CAPA provide services and direction in areas of administration, finance, human resources and information technology. The Conference held on Parliament Hill provided a unique forum for the participants to exchange information and share knowledge and practices related to parliamentary services.
parliamentary heritage
Technological Growth
A reporting secretary transcribes from audio cassette.

The technology used to capture the proceedings changed very little until the mid-1980s. Reporters wrote in shorthand and then dictated their notes for transcription after leaving the Chamber.

The ability to record to cassette and transcribe to diskette were the first steps in a huge technological revolution. Transcribers were soon able to save to a network, eliminating the need for hundreds of diskettes per day. Cassettes were later abandoned when Hansard staff were able to access digital audio recordings of the Chamber from their personal computers.

In 2001, the House of Commons launched PRISM, a system capable of managing all aspects of information publishing, from the capture of the spoken word to the distribution of Hansard itself.

Sharing Parliament's Heritage with Canadians

  • The House Administration launched the Heritage Collection Web site in the fall of 2005 to give Canadians easy access to authoritative information on the art, architecture and artefacts of Parliament. Heritage profiles of sculptures, ironwork and other features will be added to the site on an ongoing basis.
  • To support the Year of the Veteran and to highlight a less well-known feature of the Parliament Buildings, the House Administration created a Web site profiling the Memorial Chamber. Launched in December 2005, the site offers a virtual tour of this serene yet stunning room which honours people who died in military service throughout Canada's history.

IV. Applying the Highest Standards of Public-Sector Governance in a Parliamentary Context

The House of Commons implements best practices and effective management processes, and promotes the responsible stewardship of its resources as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure its accountability and transparency to Canadians.

Keeping the House of Commons Secure

  • The House Administration improved security by strengthening communications and integrating security activities with its partners in the Senate of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In cooperation with the Senate Protective Services, the Administration introduced a common identification card for the Parliamentary Precinct. This identification card promotes ease of accessibility with enhanced security features. Upcoming security initiatives in 2006-2007 include "Security is Everybody's Business," a strategy to increase employees' awareness of security issues.

Strengthening the House of Commons Management Practices

  • In the past fiscal year, audit, evaluation and review activities focused on election preparedness, the credit card policy, environmental compliance and contracting. As well, the House Administration's financial statements for 2004-2005 were audited. In 2006-2007, emphasis will be placed on the management of risks related to contracting and financial practices, both of which are now annual activities. Other upcoming assessments include conflict resolution, human resource data, business continuity management and the application of various policies.
  • As part of a multi-year policy framework, the House Administration reviewed or began developing policies on such subjects as managing conflict of interest, classification, and accommodating employee needs to foster the full participation of all persons in the workplace. Policy activities in 2006-2007 will focus on employment equity and contracting.
  • Recognizing the need for a life-cycle approach to managing its assets and ensuring their sustainability, the House Administration began the development of an asset management strategy.
parliamentary heritage
Worth a Thousand Words
A Hansard reporter takes over from his colleague.

Imagine using handwritten or machine shorthand to write over 200 words per minute and record four Members speaking at once. Parliamentary reporters could keep up that pace without even raising their heads to see who was speaking. A tape recorder could not capture all the voices clearly or distinguish the speakers.

During the first 110 years of Hansard reporting, reporters served 80-minute rotations: 10 minutes in the Chamber and 70 minutes outside the Chamber to sub-edit and dictate their notes, ensure the correct spelling of proper names and confirm the accuracy of quotations. Amazingly, teams of one French reporter and one English reporter could capture everything that was said in the Commons.

Managing Parliamentary Information and Information Technology Assets

  • The House of Commons Administration developed new methods of using technology to track key information on parliamentary associations and their membership. Software will be employed to produce reports for tabling in the Senate and the House of Commons, and for publishing on the Web.
  • Using the Members' Allowances and Services Manual as a test case, the House Administration piloted software that allows it to update online information quickly and easily, and provide users with accurate and reliable data.
  • The House Administration developed tools to manage and share critical information throughout the House of Commons, with parliamentary partners and through the Internet. These tools will enable information to be collected once and reused in many formats and publications, thereby preventing duplication of effort and ensuring greater accuracy of the information published. Initiatives included creating a "best practices" group to ensure publication standards; improving methods to track the use of time in the Chamber; and developing a consistent set of common terminology for storing, retrieving and managing procedural information.
  • To give participants easy online access to registration and conference information, enhancements were made to Web sites for two major international conferences to be hosted next year by the Parliament of Canada: the 12th General Assembly of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Conference on Environment and Development, and the 52nd Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Sustaining a Motivated and Effective Workforce

  • As a pro-active measure to address the expected increase in retirement rates over the next few years, the House Administration continued to refine and introduce new human resources practices to ensure that it can maintain a highly skilled and motivated workforce. Competency profiles will continue to be introduced for all positions for the purposes of staffing and evaluation.
  • In keeping with its human resources management strategy, the Administration developed an employment equity plan, which will be implemented in 2006-2007, and conducted developmental work to establish a conflict management resolution program.
  • In addition to developing policies on occupational health and safety, and accident prevention programs, both of which will be implemented in the coming fiscal year, the House Administration undertook new initiatives to foster a healthy and safe work environment. These initiatives included monthly sessions on health-related topics, vaccination and blood pressure clinics, the introduction of fitness classes, and a health-risk assessment pilot.
Former Environment Minister Stéphane Dion presents an environmental award to representatives of the Partners for a Green Hill Program

Former Environment Minister Stéphane Dion presents an environmental award to representatives of the Partners for a Green Hill program.

Photo: © C. Diotte

parliamentary heritage
Duty and Disaster
Photo of George Simpson

At approximately 9:00 p.m. on February 3, 1916, Members were in the Chamber, discussing the problem of transporting fresh fish.

The Hansard for that day notes a sudden interruption: "Mr. C.R. Stewart, Chief Doorkeeper of the House of Commons, came hurriedly into the Chamber and called out "There is a big fire in the reading room; everybody get out quickly'."

This dramatic moment was captured in the Debates because George Simpson, the loyal parliamentary reporter on duty, wrote it down and remained at his desk until the Speaker had left the Chamber. He then left himself, notebook in hand. That night at a nearby hotel, he dictated the events, and sent the text to the King's Printer like any other night.

Improving Environmental Management on the Hill

  • In June 2005, the first environmental awards ceremony involving the four institutions in the Partners for a Green Hill program (the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, and Public Works and Government Services) was held. The partners also received the Canadian Council of Ministers for the Environment 2005 Pollution Prevention Award.
  • A chemical products review identified 15 cleaning products that can be replaced by one environmentally friendly option, thereby reducing the risk of chemical exposure and the accidental mixing of incompatible products. The Administration also expanded the paper towel composting program by implementing the recommendations of the Annual Waste Audit.
  • Also initiated were a transit pass program allowing employees to purchase their bus pass through payroll deductions, and a Web-based carpooling program.