I want to register a complaint about the House of Commons Translation Service. There are two problems with the way things are recorded for posterity: one is that politicians seldom say what they mean — a familiar complaint — the other is that Hansard doesn’t get down what they say.
One day, sitting in the Press Gallery, I heard an MP express himself forcefully in the course of debate. The next day I checked to see how the Hansard reporter got it down. There it was — “Some hon. Members: Oh, oh!”
But that's not what he said. What he said was, “Blow it out your earhole, George.” A service that can render that as an “Oh, oh” is a service not to be trusted. It is significant, I think, that the most famous words ever uttered by our Prime Minister in the House of Commons never got onto the Hansard record — instead, they appeared on campaign T-shirts as “Fuddle Duddle.” Whole generations of Canadians will be brought up to believe that Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s sharpest bon mot was “Fuddle Duddle.”
Well, I ask you, how are we to get the full, ripe flavor of parliamentary thrust and parry with this kind of slipshod reporting? The problem is compounded by the rules of parliament, the polite fiction that Honorable Members view each other with esteem, the monstrous jape that MPs never, never lie. Our politicians rise in the House each day half-gagged, unable to exchange the courtesies available to the rest of us in the course of normal conversation. Occasionally, an MP makes an end run around the niceties. In his parliamentary memoirs, former MP Gordon Aiken tells of the time Drummond Clancy, a colorful Tory, felt he had been tormented too long by one of the Liberals opposite. He rose and asked the Speaker, “Would it be out of order if I called the Honorable Member a son-of-a-bitch?” The Speaker nodded. “I thought so,” said Clancy, and sat down.
In the old days the rules were more lax and speech more open. Once, William Ewart Gladstone rose in the British House of Commons to comment that his lifelong nemesis, Benjamin Disraeli, was bound to end his days either at the end of a rope or as a result of “some loathesome disease.” Disraeli replied smoothly, “That depends on whether I embrace the Honorable Member’s principles or his mistress.”
My guess is that if somebody got off a line like that in Ottawa today, Hansard would smother it in an “Oh, oh.” We would all be better off if our MPs spoke more openly and the Hansard process stopped messing with the record. This is not usually the fault of the reporters themselves. Relevant portions of the “Blues” — rough copies of the Hansard Report — are sent to each Member who requests them and is recorded as having spoken and “minor corrections” are permitted. These minor corrections often take the edge off overly frank statements.
I am thinking of starting a translation service of my own — call it Hansard Laid Bare for argument’s sake — to set the record straight. A typical exchange and its translation might go something like this:
Hansard: Hon. Robert L. Stanfield: Mr. Speaker, I move, pursuant to standing order 26, that this House now be adjourned to consider the grave and pressing question of tapeworm infestation among Nova Scotia turtles.
Translation: Old Bob: I saw a piece in the paper the other day about tapeworms, and it looked like a pretty good thing to hit the government with.
Hansard: Mr. Speaker: While we are all aware of this serious problem, I am unable to find that it is a matter of such pressing urgency that the ordinary business of the House should be set aside. As it happens, there will be an opportunity to discuss the issue under orders of the day.
Translation: Speaker: Forget it.
Hansard: Mr. Stanfield: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Prime Minister. I wonder if the Prime Minister could tell this House what action his government is prepared to take to meet the menace of tapeworm infestation among Nova Scotia turtles?
Translation: Old Bob: I won’t forget it.
Hansard: Right Hon. P. E. Trudeau: Yawn.
Translation: Lucky Pierre: Yawn.
Hansard: Some hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Translation: The rabble: Aw, nerts. So’s your old man. Stuff it in your ear. Shuddup. Sit down. Forget it, Bob.
Hansard: Mr. Heward Grafftey (Brome-Missisquoi) : Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct a question to the Minister of Agriculture. Can the minister assure this House that the tapeworm infestation among Nova Scotia turtles will not affect the export of Canadian eggs, and if not, why not?
Translation: Grafftey: Hey, Whelan, wake up.
Hansard: Hon. Eugene Whelan (Minister of Agriculture): My officials are looking into this problem at this very moment, Mr. Speaker, and I can assure the hon. Member that I will be making an announcement very shortly.
Translation: Old Gene: What the hell is this all about?
Hansard: Mr. George Hees (Prince Edward Hastings): Mr. Speaker, we see once again that this government is not prepared to act to protect the people of Canada.
Translation: Gorgeous George: Yack, yack, yack.
Hansard: Some hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Translation: The rabble: Put that in your pipe and smoke it, wise guy. Aw go eat your nose.
Hansard: Mr. Stanfield: Mr. Speaker, I have a supplementary question.
Translation: Old Bob: I think we’ve got them on the run.
Hansard: Mr. Speaker: While I have no wish to limit questions, I should point out that time is precious, and there are other matters to consider.
Translation: Speaker: If you’ll lay off the tapeworms, we can get out of here in time for a game of golf.
Hansard: Mr. Stanfield: I just want the record to show the callous indifference of this government toward that glorious region of Canada I have the honor to represent.
Translation: Old Bob: Yeah, okay, let’s go play golf.
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