TAKING DOWN OUR MEMBERS
T. M. FRASER
THE BUSINESS of the first years of the Canadian parliament was conducted in a happy-golucky fashion. Not only were there no prayers, but from Confederation until 1874 there was no official report of the debates. The first seven or eight years’ history of our parliamentary proceedings must be gleaned from scrap-books (preserved in the Library of Parliament) containing clippings from the various newspapers of the country. Some golden words which fell from the lips of certain members of the Senate arc lost for all time; because to the clipping for May 15th, 1876, there is this note, written by one “A. L.": “The remainder of the debate of this session was not reported.”
Apparently opinion was widely divided on the necessity for any report other than that furnished by the newspapers; and the debates on the subject which continued for years are exceedingly interesting. The question was first raised in the House by Alexander Mackenzie in 1867. He said a number of members desired official reports; and a committee was appointed, of which he was chairman, to investigate the question. It recommended the “employment of competent reporters for the production of a volume in the style of Hansard, in both languages,” to comprise a report averaging fourteen columns of 1,400 words each daily. It was proposed to allow members to make any verbal corrections which the first edition might be found to require.
It is interesting to note that strong objection to corrections was made by Sir John A. Macdonald, and what happened thereafter, in that connection, is referred to later on in this story. Sir John maintained that whatever was said should be published as spoken. Sir John’s words afterwards “returned o plague the inventor.”
The first proposal came to nothing. One gentleman feared the fourteen columns might be filled before nine o'clock, “and when he or some other gentleman arose to deliver a most able speech after that hour, there would be no space for them.” Another favored verbatim reports, as tending to make members “ashamed to have said so much about so little.” Nearly all said a kind word for the work being produced by the newspaper reporters; Hon. Joseph Howe observing that “although they sometimes made a better speech for the member than he had made himself, they seldom made a worse one.”
Year after year thereafter the subject was brought up, discussed, and nothing done. Hon. Charles Tupper and others deplored the fact that, in the interest of history, nothing official was being recorded of the most important years of parliament. A motion that the work be done and paid for from the members’ indemnity carried “amid roars of laughter,” but it was apparently laughed out of existence.
Meanwhile, in 1870, 1871, and 1872, the debates, such as they were, had been printed by private enterprise. Mr. Cotton, of the Ottawa “Times” Printing and Publishing Company, had undertaken the work; but it was difficult to get the House to agree to buy even the printed reports, as it is noted that a proposal to purchase copies for distribution among the members was brought up in the form of a round robin, with closed doors, on the eve of prorogation.
In 1874 the first definite step was taken. A committee was appointed to inquire into the manner in which the work was carried on in the British House and elsewhere. It proposed that a reporting staff of five be created under a chief reporter, who would superintend the preparation of a report to be printed and delivered in the post-office the following day. There were to be six copies for each member in sheet form daily, and two bound volumes for each at the end of the session. The daily reports were to consist of matter equivalent to about eleven columns of the size of the Toronto “Globe.” In the discussion it was said that the present reports were “almost burlesques”—largely, apparently, not because of delinquencies of reporters, but because “the reports had to be prepared hurriedly and telegraphed.” Edward Blake complained that the reports were one-sided, and the leading newspapers on both sides had to be read and compared to get the truth. He favored a Hansard, and denied the allegation that it would tend to prolong debate; stating that “no one would make himself a bore for the sake of being reported in Hansard.” Alas! How little he knew!
"PHE report was adopted; and the contract for the reporting was given to two newspapermen, Mr. Burgess and Mr. Richardson, who were to pay their own reporters out of the lump sum, about five or six thousand dollars. It was estimated that reporting, printing and translating would not exceed $9,000. The arrangement began with the session of . 1875. Sir John proposed that the reporters be admitted to the floor of the House. But the contract system was unsatisfactory, and there was constant agitation for a change, the contractor apparently yielding to the temptation to increase his profits by “sweating”—a fault which, by the way, was also found to exist In
the contract system in the British House of Commons when the system was investigated a few years ago.
In 1879 some of the members of the Press Gallery submitted a scheme for an improved method of carrying on the work. It was adopted; and with certain necessary changes has been since followed. It recognized the staff of Hansard as officers of the House. The reporters are classified by the Civil Service Act and hired by the Commission, beginning at $2100 and advancing to $2800, for the session. They may take private work during the time between sessions.
The Senate has had its own Hansard since 1871. Its first reporter was J. G. Bourinot, afterwards Sir John Bourinot, Clerk of the House of Commons, and author of the classic work on Canadian Parliamentary procedure which has been the vade mecum of all Speakers of the House or Senate since it was published. When appointed he was given a seat on the floor of the Red Chamber, and the sonorous title, Shorthand Writer to the Senate and Committees of the Senate. In 1878 the Senate reporting was taken under contract by Messrs. George and Andrew Holland, and continued in this way until 1916, when Mr. Albert Horton, who had been chief of the Commons Hansard, and Editor of Debates for seventeen years, was asked to organize an official Hansard staff for the upper House. He did so; and since that time the Senate reporting has been carried on under his supervision with the assistance of a staff of two regular and one reserve reporters. The form and style of the reports of both Houses and the index was introduced by Mr. Horton, whose work has left a distinct impress on the reports of parliament.
There are two editions of the Commons Hansard, the unrevised and the revised. The former is issued before 10 o’clock daily during the session in pamphlet form, and contains the report of the previous day’s doings just as it comes from the hands of the reporter and editor; but not, be it noted, in all cases as it came from the lips of the speaker! It is designed to be in the nature of a proof-sheet, being not for general distribution, but for the use of the members, press correspondents, and a few others.
The rule as to revision allows the members twentyfour hours after the issue of the unrevised edition in which to make corrections in their speeches for the revised edition; but they are not supposed to change in any way the sense of the words as originally spoken. As a matter of fact, this is in some cases done for them by the reporter or editor—or, rather, an attempt is made to impart sense to the words actually uttered. As an example of what a inember, in the intoxication of verbosity which may come to a man when upon his legs, actually says to the House, take the following verbatim transcriptions of a reporter’s notes; they are taken from speeches delivered years ago, and the speakers now talk not with the tongues of men, but—let us hope—of angels:
“I do not know that I have anything more to say. 1 should be glad if I have contributed anything that will, and this is the last word, induce honorable gentlemen who are members of this great central legislative body, representing a country second to none, a country with the same amount of population that the world has not an equal to, with undeveloped resources sufficient for a hundred millions. The time will come faster now, we see it coming, the possibilities of Canada, the capabilities of Canada, its untold, undeveloped wealth are world-wide, and our great cousins to the south have at last awakened up to the knowledge of it, and good men and true men, and many men are coming here to take advantage of it. Let me say this word with regard to that. Don’t have any fear on one or two points. I say it modestly, but I have visited many parts of the West in my younger days, and sometimes in older ones, and there was no place I like to go better than in the wilds of those far off countries.”
When the above appeared in Hansard it did not read, as it does here, as though the baby had been playing with the type-writer; nor did the following, uttered by a well-known cabinet minister of days gone
“We know perfectly well that the earnings, the expenditures which were made year by year have been made under the same method, have been made in exactly the same way year after year, during the life almost, the entire life of the I.C.R. The only difference—they have varied, of course, year by year in
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TakingDown Our Members
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amount. In some classes of expenditure this year’s outlay may be larger than last; next year it may be much smaller than this year. But in making a comparison, in order to ascertain whether or not we have utilized any portion of the money which has been given us by parliament to expend upon capital account in an improper manner, utilized it in such a way that we had been able to reduce outlay for maintenance upon maintenance of way and for works which we woutd otherwise have been required to make, and reduce it below a sum which it was under the late system and under the former government, their policy to expend it, then if we were to do that then we would be open to criticism, and then mv honorable friends coming in with their comparisons would show wherein we had got an unfair advantage over
He added, with unconscious humor: “I do not know whether I have made myself plain, and as this is an important matter, I will state my case again.”
Some Real Gems of Oratory
In paying a tribute to Speaker Lowther, on his retirement from the chair in the British House of Commons, recently, Mr. Lloyd George referred to him as having the great quality of “the discriminating ear.” It is even more necessary to the parliamentary reporter.
'T'HERE are hundreds of gems, of purest ray serene, which issue from the member but never get past the wise editing of Hansard. Here are a few samples:
In delivering an eulogy on a deceased cabinet minister, a member of the House (who possibly had in his mind somewhere the well-known speech of Bright —“the angel of death is abroad in the land; we may almost hear the beating of his wings”) said: “The angel of
death is getting in his dint y work.” Here are some other classic examples:
“The government stepped upon a nest of adders, and dropped it like a hot potato.”
“The honorable gentleman found when he had opened the Pandora’s box that out stepped the Trojan horse” (referring to the reciprocity pact).
“I have only one more word to say, and I can say it in two words.”
“This is like Hamlet with the Merchant of Venice left out.”
1 Perhaps the most extraordinary scene which ever occurred on the floor of the House of Commons—-and it is given not only for the purpose of illustrating the difficulties of the reporter in a running debate, but for its historic interest-occurred in 1878. It was in the closing minutes of the session, and even while the debate was going on, Black Rod was thundering at the door of the House. Sir Donaid Smith, afterwards Lord Strathcona, arose to explain the circumstances under which he had deserted Sir John Macdonald on what was commonly knowjn as “the Canadian Pacific scandal.” Sir John and Hon. Charles Tupper, recognizing that they would-not have an opportunity to reply, were strenuously endeavoring to prevent him from making his speech, assisted by a running chorus of interruptions and encouragements. For half a ¡f°,zen pages of Hansard this verbal mêlée continues, ending as follows:
Mr. Tupper: “Mean, traitorous cow-
Mr. Smith: “Who is the coward, the House will decide—it is yourself.”
Mr. Tupper: “Coward, treacherous—”
Mr. Smith: “I could not support
Mr. Speaker: “Admit the messenger!”
Sir John A. Macdonald: “That fellow Smith is the biggest liar I ever met.”
Hansard never lost its poise, and ends thus:
“A message from His Excellency the
Governor General by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod:
“Mr. Speaker, His Excellency the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this Honourable House in the Senate Chamber.”
“Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, with the House, went up to attend His Excel-
Thus ended Hansard; and thus ended, also, the parliamentary reporting career of the too accurate reporter. It will be recalled that Sir John had been strong for the reporting in Hansard of the speeches of members “just as spoken.«” But thei-e are exceptions to every rule; and woe to the unfortunate man who cannot recognize an exception when he meets it face to face!
Coeval and Coevil Reporters ’"PHIS was an occasion when the editorial Jove of Hansard nodded. Possibly he may have been afflicted with an ingrowing sense of humor, and thought the sacrifice of another man’s job would be well worth while in order to have this scene embalmed in the amber of Hansard. It is a fact, also, that in those early days the Hansard staff was not, in many respects, the model of propriety it is to-day. It was to some extent recruited from a class akin to the tramp printer of more recent years, whose ambition was to gain as extended an experience of men and cities as possible. The Editor of Hansard of that period was one of the most unique of the many newspapermen who have gi-aduated from the Press Gallery to Hansard staff. He was an Englishman, who wrote that extraordinary prePitman system described by Dickens in David Copperfield, the difficulties of which would appal the frequent and frivolous lady amanuensis of to-day.
Bwas coeval (and eoevil) with
his age; but half-drunk, half-asleep, or wholly awake and sober, he wrote with extraordinary speed, and like copyptate.
fThere are some things never recorded in Hansard at all, although they are spoken in the House. For example, during the Laurier régime, one member observed to another that, if he stepped outside he would “slap his chops” —a punitary-culinary operation actually performed by one member upon another under similar circumstances two or three sessions ago. After the debate ended, Sir Wilfrid, always jealous of the honor and dignity of the House, approached Mr. Campbell, who was reporting when the contretemps occurred, and “speired,” without actually asking, what Hansard would likely do with the incident.
“I think I must have missed that, Sir Wilfrid,” said the discriminating Hansard man, not without significant expression.
“Ah,” said Sir Wilfrid, suavely, and putting his hand on the reporter’s shoulder, “I suppose Hansard cannot be expected to catch everything that vtappens!”
On one occasion (of course, before the consulship of Bacchus ended) a member had dined not wisely but too well, and kept up persistent interruptions of a speaker who had the floor. All Hansard records of the incident is that the member who had the floor uttered this sentence: “If the honorable member will give a little sober thought to this subject,” and so forth; but there was a long and significant pause after the word “sober” which produced the necessary effect in the House.
A great deal may be read into Hansard by those who have heard the speeches it contains delivered. Some bright speaker may say, for example: “Even the heavens are thundering against the government!” Hansard cannot explain, but doubtless a thunder-storm was in progress at the time.
There is one interpolation in the debates, however, which was justified, f The report of Hansard for February 3rd, 1916, ends with these words:
“9 p.m. At this time, Mr. C. R.
Stewart, Chief Doorkeeper of the House of Commons, came hurriedly into the Chamber and called out: ‘There is a bip fire in the reading-room; everybody pet out quickly.’ The sitting was immediately suspended without formality and members, officials, and visitors in the gallery, fled from the Chamber. Some of them were almost overcome by the rapidly advancing smoke and flames before reaching a place of safety. The fire, which had originated in the reading-room, gained momentum with extreme rapidity and was soon beyond control. It continued till the following day, resulting in the almost total de«truction of the Parliament buildings, together with the loss of several lives.” Hansard had to, and did, keep cool, even in the midst of flameçjf
Considerations of space require that a long jump be now made to Hansard of to-day. Tom Owens, who joined Hansard staff in 1888, laid down the poncil forever shortly after the opening of the present session, and passed to the land of “mots justes” made perfect; but his works do follow him, and the mark of his discriminating hand is writ large on the debates of his time. He was proud of Hansard and of its staff; and the evidence he gave before Mr. Speaker’s inquiry into the production of the Debates in 1918 shows it. He stated truly that, with the smallest Parliamentary reporting staff in the world, the Canadian Hansard has been evolved and managed with such skill that our system was admittedly adopted by the special committee of the British House of Commons in 1909, after experimenting with their own—the original—Hansard system since the first report of British parliamentary debates was made in 1803.
Meighen Easy to Take \/fR. OWENS was succeeded by Mr.
A. C. Campbell, an old “Globe” Press Gallery man, who joined Hanaard in the eighties. With him as associate editor is George Simpson. De mortuis, nil nisi bonum—but of the living, nothing at all! It is ill praising a Scotchman to his face; hut behind his back here it may be said that Mr. Campbell worthily carries on those traditions he did so much to create, though like any good general he gives most of the praise to his associate editor and staff. This staff is now made up * of seven English and two French re1 porters, with a typist to take dictation | from each reporter. The original systern of ten-minute turns, right round the clock, is carried on, one man entering the chamber and seating himself “on deck” beside the reporter actually at work, a few minutes before the latter has finished his “take.” .
Old Hansard men are full of good reminiscences of the House, and of the peculiarities, from the stenographic view-point, of its big (and little) figures. Premier Meighen is rated as easy, in the reporting sense. “Any man,” says one of the staff, “who will say what he wants to say in a way which can be heard, is all right.” Mr. Meighen always goes right to his point, as the press gallery will testify—more particularly when there is no reason that the objective should be nebulous— in direct and clearly defined stages. If
he really wants to take you where you think you are going, you may see it looming up some time before he has finished his utterance. Mr. Doherty— to quote an example of another form of rhetorical travelling—would never lead astray the reporter who will only bear in mind the words of some Hoosier poet—“.lust put your trust in Dollinger, and he will lead you through!” But when Mr. Doherty starts gathering the flowers of rhetoric he spies so many rare and beautiful specimens on side paths which look different from or better than the one before him, that he cannot resist diverging to pluck them.
Mr. Fielding is an extremely rapid speaker, but his enunciation is sharp and his words usually simple. The chief difficulty Hansard experiences with him is that the reporter dare not stop for an instant’s puzzling as to just what the word was that he thought he heard. If he does, Mr. Fielding will have gone on to pile up a torrent of others. But with silence in the chamber—and the House is usually listening when the member for Queens-Shelburne speaks—he can he reported without great difficulty.
Doctor Manion, of Fort William, is the bete noir of the reporter. He pours out a torrent of words which sometimes almost choke his utterance. The reporter claims that Dr. Manion takes an undue advantage; he clips off the end of one word and the beginning of another—“and we are playing that game ourselves, and it takes away our advantage.”
If a man will enunciate every word distinctly, and put a little "roughness” into his inflexion, that is all the reporter asks. He seeks some inflexion. Alonzo Wright, “King of the Gatineau,” used to make one big speech a year, and clear off all the arrears. “He had a typical Canadian voice; talked like blue blazes in a dead level of utterance; and it was like running on ice to try and follow him,” says one member of the Hansard staff.
When Laurier really prepared a speech, it was easy to report. He sometimes twisted pronunciation a little, but only enough to give the necessary “roughness” of enunciation which the stenographer desires. When he was merely talking at random about something his heart was not in, he took less care and was hard to report.
The Hansard man must be careful of “English as she is spoke” in the House. There are useful members, suffering from the not uncommon disability of incomplete acquaintance with grammar, who seem to have adopted as their own the preface which James Whitcomb Riley once placed on one of his books:
But this, and almost every other difficulty, Hansard seems to overcome; and the result is the bulky tomes, now five in number and ever growing, which are sent forth every year to gladden the heart of the remote constituent.
“Go, little booklet, go, bearing an honored name,
“ ’Till everywhere that thou hast went, they’re glad that thou hast came.”