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1999 Annual Report
The Year In Review: Alberta a Leader among Commonwealth Parliaments
W.J. David McNeil, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly
Thanks to the staff's commitment to professionalism and collaboration, the Legislative Assembly Office (LAO) met or exceeded its goals for 1999. Every branch and individual member of the staff made significant contributions, and all of them deserve to be congratulated for this achievement. The Assembly collectively and members individually made new and often unexpected demands for services in addition to those traditionally provided, which challenged the LAO to achieve new milestones in the provision of services. The LAO continued to be a leader among the parliamentary support organizations of the Commonwealth in terms of service excellence, expertise, and innovation, and that leadership was evident in the role LAO staff played in interparliamentary associations in 1999.
Increased sessional workload
The Assembly sat 62 days in 1999, one day fewer than 1998. The number of hours increased marginally, from 337 to 346. On December 8 the Assembly sat from 8 p.m. until 4:38 a.m. the next day, the third longest sitting in history. However, the length of the sittings alone does not give a true picture of the significantly increased pressure on Table Officers and House support staff. The number of tablings in 1999 was nearly double that of 1997 and 47 percent higher than in 1998. Written questions increased 74 percent from 1998, and the number of motions for returns was triple that of the previous year. As well, Parliamentary Counsel dealt with an unusually large number of amendments to bills. Nevertheless, personnel met all these challenges effectively. In the fall sittings three new people began training as Table Officers to provide additional support, namely the two committee clerks and a procedural clerk. When the bills and journals clerk resigned in December, plans were made to replace her with one full-time person and a second sessional person to help with the increased workload.
Other direct support for the work of the Assembly involved timely and accurate transcripts of the House and its committees by Hansard staff, the index of Hansard, ongoing committee administration from committee clerks, Assembly sessional publications subscriptions, responding to thousands of public requests for information about the Assembly, Visitor Services' and security's assistance with members' guests and other visitors to the Chamber, and ready access to authoritative research information from the Legislature Library. All of these areas made major contributions to the smooth and effective operation of the Assembly and enabled the elected members to perform their duties without worrying unduly about this essential support.
The newly created position of digital services librarian significantly increased the Library's ability to access information electronically and to provide it to members and other clients more quickly using the latest computer technology. Other library initiatives included a new information brochure, planning for a new web-based catalogue interface, and the first open house and tea, during which MLAs and other users were able to get an introduction to service enhancements as well as to get better acquainted with the staff. In August Library staff received an emergency lesson in document preservation when renovation work on the Legislature Building caused water damage to materials in one of the library's storage vaults. For several weeks all available staff were dedicated to the preservation work, and by year's end the damaged documents were ready for reshelving.
Constituency staff information sessions
Other types of LAO support for the Assembly and its members may not be evident to the public, but they are just as important to the work of our parliamentary system. These include finance, administration, freedom of information requests, legal services, human resources assistance, computer systems, public education, and special events. To ensure that constituency office staff know the people involved and how to access these various services, staff of Information Systems Services (ISS), Financial Management and Administrative Services (FMAS), and Human Resource Services (HRS) conducted administrative information seminars in Calgary and Edmonton in the spring. A third seminar in December involved staff from all other branches. These seminars were very well received, and plans have been made to schedule at least one such event each year.
The most talked about concern at the end of the year, of course, was the potential impact of the year 2000 on computers. ISS staff began preparations several years ago so all hardware and software would continue to function smoothly once January 2000 arrived. This included replacing old hardware and upgrading or patching numerous programs to ensure everything would function in the new year. Thanks to good planning and the expertise and dedication of the staff, the new year arrived without a hitch. ISS also continued to provide high quality support to all LAO system users throughout the year by servicing equipment, upgrading software, and responding to nearly 2,000 calls to the help desk.
Web site development
A major initiative spearheaded by ISS in 1999 was the development of the Assembly's web site and the creation of the new Intranet site, Our House, for MLAs and staff. Early in the year bills and amendments were published on the external Internet page after an internal test in 1998 on the new searchable database containing these materials. In the spring a web site committee of staff representing all LAO branches was struck and given the task of utilizing web site capability as a major communication tool both within the LAO and with the public. By the end of the year the Intranet page was up and running. It includes directories of staff for each branch, Standing Orders, a daily news service, an outline of services provided by each branch and how to access them, forms for expense claims and time sheets, and a variety of other features. By year's end the committee had turned its attention to further developing and refining the contents and appearance of the Internet site.
In collaboration with ISS, the staff of FMAS put together budget proposal packages for the Members' Services Committee's consideration in December. ISS staff provided technical support to the process, and FMAS staff used the financial information from branch managers to create a document that the committee could readily understand. Thanks to their expertise and diligence the budget process went smoothly, and the estimates were approved quickly.
FMAS also provided high quality support in administration and finance, ensuring that constituency leases were maintained, expense claims and invoices were paid promptly, financial information reports were accurate and timely, and a variety of related services were provided. Staff implemented a number of electronic commerce applications, ensured LAO and MLA telecommunications technology was appropriate and up to date, and updated stationery and related materials to reflect the implementation of a new telephone area code for areas north of Red Deer. FMAS also worked closely with Auditor General staff to produce financial statements for the Legislative Assembly.
HRS administered numerous changes to benefits packages for employees and MLAs and implemented the 2.44 percent increase in MLA remuneration authorized by the Members' Services Committee. Branch staff co-ordinated 14 competitions in 1999, participated in 143 selection interviews, and facilitated the hiring of 34 new staff. The branch provided reliable and timely payroll support as well as ongoing assistance in all human resource areas. As part of its responsibility for workplace wellness, HRS led the continued work of the ergonomics committee, which includes representatives from all LAO branches. The committee developed and implemented an ergonomic education program, and in 1999 presentations were made to 118 constituency and LAO employees and on-site assessments were conducted for 31 individuals in order to improve their workstations. HRS also played a role in the third annual staff recognition dinner in December. An interbranch committee co-ordinated this event, at which the Speaker thanked all staff for their support and recognized individuals who had served the LAO for five, 10, 15, and 20 years.
Public education and special events
Several branches were involved in outreach activities designed to educate the public about the legislative process. One initiative designed to help distinguish between the Legislative Assembly and the executive (the Government), was the creation of a new visual identifier for the Assembly. It is a simple drawing of Alberta's Mace, and this Mace was used on various documents throughout the year. In the spring a new fax cover sheet for all LAO branches was created using this image. This 1999 annual report is the first annual report to incorporate the image.
Overall visitor numbers were up 16 percent over 1998. Most of this increase occurred during the Christmas season when the Legislature Building was open evenings so that people who came to see the lights on the grounds could hear choirs performing in the Rotunda. More than 15,000 visitors attended Christmas events. As well, for the second time the public was invited onto the floor of the Chamber on Canada Day. Staff from several areas of the LAO assisted with this event, which over 6,000 visitors attended. Other LAO-supported special events which drew the public into the building and onto the grounds were the unveiling of the Famous Five portraits on the fifth floor, the Klondike Days breakfast, Halloween-o-rama, the annual craft sale, and the regional and national heritage fairs in the pedway. As well, Visitor Services offered several teacher workshops at Edmonton area schools and continued to develop the School-at-the-Legislature program in co-operation with the Alberta Museums Association.
The LAO continued to be active in interparliamentary relations in 1999. Alberta hosted the annual National Legislative Visitor Services Conference in June. The Senior Parliamentary Counsel and Director of Public Information served on the executive of the Canadian associations of parliamentary counsel and Hansard respectively. Staff published articles in two parliamentary publications, one on the changes to MLA remuneration and another on Mr. Speaker's Alberta Youth Parliament. There was also a regular report from Alberta in the Canadian Parliamentary Review. Staff from several areas participated in national and international conferences, at which some made presentations to share their Alberta experience.
Interbranch collaboration contributed to the success of the LAO in numerous ways in 1999, some of which are mentioned above. Another one was the Speaker's Cup golf tournament in September, in which 140 MLAs, former MLAs, staff, and friends of the LAO participated and an additional 60 attended the closing dinner. Staff from several areas worked on this event to ensure its success. Charitable contributions were made to the Kids Kottage Foundation, the Oilers Alumni Charities, and the Winnifred Stewart Foundation.
One major interbranch project that deserves special mention is the creation of Mr. Speaker's Alberta Youth Parliament, which received recognition and praise from MLAs, the Alberta-Northwest Territories Command of the Royal Canadian Legion which sponsored the project, all the participants, and other jurisdictions across Canada. Eighty-three grade 10 students representing each constituency participated in briefing sessions from cabinet ministers, opposition MLAs, and other private members as well as media representatives. Participants met in caucus groups to plan strategies and prepare for a day of session. The full day of session was broadcast live on Access television. Fifteen grade 10 teachers from across Alberta participated in a parallel program. By year's end preparations were well under way to conduct the second edition of this youth parliament in April 2000.
The electronic copy of the Legislative Assembly Office Annual Report is UNOFFICIAL and is provided for information purposes only. The printed version is the OFFICIAL Annual Report.