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The Story of Alberta Hansard

In 1972 Alberta began to publish a complete record of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly in a document called Alberta Hansard. The introduction of this publication marked a new era of openness in the Legislature. It was accompanied by greater freedoms for reporters and for visitors to the gallery.

Rules of the House

In the past there had been strict rules for the recording of legislative proceedings. Aside from reporters, no visitors were permitted to take notes in the Chamber, and reporters were very protective of their right to write. If a reporter spotted a visitor taking notes in the public gallery, a message would be sent to the commissionaire, who would put a stop to it.

No one, not even a reporter, was allowed to record sound in the House. Reporters had to rely on their memories and their note-taking skills in order to produce news stories. Interested citizens and Members of the Assembly had to rely on those news stories to stay informed of happenings in the Legislature.

Scrapbook Hansard

Recognizing that newspapers provided the most comprehensive record of Alberta's House proceedings, Legislature librarians established a scrapbook Hansard. Painstakingly maintained from 1905 until 1971, the scrapbook Hansard assembled newspaper stories covering the business of the Legislature. The news clippings were extracted mainly from the major newspapers of Calgary and Edmonton, literally hand pasted chronologically into a large album, and dated and indexed. As in other jurisdictions, Alberta's scrapbook Hansard acted as a precursor to the official record of debates. It is still available for viewing today at the Alberta Legislature Library.

A Sound Decision

In 1965 a recording system was installed in Alberta's Legislature Chamber. With the new recording equipment, audiotapes could be used to transcribe the proceedings of the House. The Clerk's office was responsible for providing the transcription service. At first speeches were transcribed and printed only on special occasions such as the throne speech or the budget debates, but Members of the Assembly soon began requesting transcripts of speeches made at other times during the proceedings. Before long it became customary to record and transcribe question period on a daily basis.

Interest in Alberta's legislative transcripts grew. By 1971 there were so many requests for transcripts that everything that went on in the House was recorded just to keep ahead of the demand. It became clear that Alberta needed a complete parliamentary transcript. News reporters joined in the call for a comprehensive written record of legislative proceedings.

Before Alberta would adopt a Hansard, there were many questions to answer. What form would the publication take? How much would it cost? What editorial practices would guide its production?

Alberta Gets a Hansard

On March 8, 1972, the government of Alberta introduced a motion to create Alberta Hansard. Although there remained details to iron out, Members from both sides of the House supported the publication of a Hansard. It was widely agreed that this was an idea whose time had come.

The next day, on March 9, 1972, the Legislature introduced another motion that would truly open the doors of the Legislature to all Albertans. For the first time, both sound and television recording would be allowed in the Chamber, and all visitors to the gallery were permitted to take notes.

Like all forms of parliamentary reporting, the possibility of television coverage in the Legislature had been hotly debated. Critics wondered how the television film would be edited. Would Members be represented fairly, or would their remarks be taken out of context? There was also concern that television might compromise the dignity of the Assembly. To address these concerns, the Speaker was given the ability through Standing Order 110 to set conditions for broadcast media operating in the Chamber.

Today Albertans have more access to their Legislature than ever before. Question period has been broadcast on television since 1978, and Albertans may access live streaming audio and video of the proceedings on the Internet. Alberta Hansard is now available both in hard copy and online. Why do we need a record of Alberta's legislative proceedings? Because as one member put it, "There is a bit of history made every day in this Chamber."