Thursday, February 08, 2007

Parliament Website Is a Dud

Almost everytime I visit the Parliament of Canada website, I generally end up leaving frustrated. How is that CNN can post transcipts in two hours, but we have to wait a day, to several days, or never, to get relevant information from our government? By the time the information is posted, it is literally "yesterday's" news. If the goal is too allow Canadians access to their system, then this site is largely failing.

Case in point, I keep trying to get some information for the subcommittee on the Clean Air Act. I shouldn't have to rely on scattered CSPAN coverage, but if you actually visit the subcommittee homepage (once you manage to find it), you find you are better off reading a soundbite or two in the mainstream press. No transcripts, apparently no new meetings scheduled (it said the same yesterday, then presto, we have a meeting this morning), pretty much NOTHING. I want to know what is going on, what is said, uncensored, so I can form my own opinions. The government needs to do a much better job of allowing real access, and this sub-site serves as proof. If anyone wants to bother checking out the link please do, and tell me if I'm just cranky or my criticisms are valid. If anyone agrees, you can complain here-


Suzanne said...

You are absolutely right. The website is hard to navigate. I've had the same trouble with committees.

And what is the deal with having meetings in camera? Unless there's a National Security issue, all meetings should be public.

It can sometimes take several days, even weeks, to get information.

I sometimes notice the transcripts are published in a fashion favourable to the government.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I stumbled on the subcommittee meeting last night on cpac. I'm sure it was something that happened earlier in the day if not the day before as I'm on the west coast and it was late. But it was interesting. Enough that I went looking for more information and like you ran into nothing at all useful. Huge swatches of it have not been updated in a shamefully long time.

Then on the "New Gov of Canada" site which is separate and apart from the actual Government of Canada site, not surprising, there is not even a search function that I could find there is not a word except all the usual talking points.

Caught a bit more about an hour ago on cpac, but between Baird "lowering the tone of the committee and pretending not to understand the questions put to him" (Ms May) and John Moffet sounding embarrassed by the questiones put to him by Nathan Cullen and Mark Holland it's clear who has done thier homework, who is covering like a cat and who just wishes the ground would swallow him up.

This should be run on major channels twice a day so that Canadian's could see for themselves the truth of what goes on in committee. It's amazing, if heartbreaking theatre.

For more info I ended up going to wikipedia, "clean air act" and "Domestic policy of the Harper government" both made for interesting reading especially for someone not completely up to speed.

Even the Canada Gazette, has nothing regarding the meetings. But I did find this, the minutes of the 6th meeting today the 8th of Feb.:

Pursuant to the Order of Reference of Monday, December 4, 2006, the Committee resumed consideration of Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (Canada's Clean Air Act).

(here it comes...wait for it...)

Hon. John Baird made a statement and answered questions.

At 10:52 a.m., the Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair.

Yes, I am feeling so so informed!

I have taken your advice Steve and I emailed them. Sheesh. What an outfit!

Someone call an election and bring these clowns down!

Anonymous said...

Would the delays in posting the Hansard be due to the fact that unlike in the US, everything here has to be translated into the other official language?

Steve V said...

Thanks, it's not just me :)

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I find navigating the committee websites the worse of all and these are actually quite important. Much of the decisions behind many bills are made at the committee level. In addition they produce good reports that actually study the issues carefully and look at all sides instead of just your usual partisan rhetoric.

BlastFurnace said...

The changes made to the Parliament website since CNG came to power are totally maddening. It wasn't exactly perfect during the Chr├ętien years but it was way better than now. I have a better and easier time finding stuff in the Congressional Record.

The problem is, as some said above, a slide towards secrecy. Remember the al-Mashat affair (the Iraqi ambassador who was allowed to jump the queue and immigrate to Canada)? The heated exchange between the immigration official who told John Nunziata to shut up and "I'm not bitter's" angry reply: "Who the hell do you think you are?" showed up in the committee's official transcript, verbatim. Any chance of that happening today may be why they don't post it anymore -- it could be too embarrassing. The real embarrassment is the muzzle and lack of clarity.

If it's an issue of web security (changing the text to put words in someone's mouth) then just said the printed version is the offical one. Even in the early years of the Parliamentary website, the committee meetings' discussions were presented uncut, and it made for very informative reading.

As for translation problems, that's nonsense. An unofficial transcript is often printed up within the hour after someone speaks (for the benefit of the press gallery and members who need cheat notes for the scrums). You'll hear people on the hill refer to the "Blues" and the "Greens" (for English and French). The rough drafts also help the editors write up the final version, getting rid of repetition for example.

Interpreters are on hand at all times for that reason (to ensure the transcribers can do a rush job) but the problem there is their translations are technically accurate but don't always reflect nuances. Not that we'll ever see the f-word in the official Hansard but it has been known to crop up in debates (and therefore the rough drafts) -- and there are least a dozen ways to say it in French.

Be that as it may there's no reason not to put up something within a few hours. That also goes for committee reports which often help shape the agenda -- or used to until CNG. They should be available the moment they're released.

Olaf said...

This is just one more indication that years of Liberal neglect have taken its toll...

Steve V said...

Did you know loading time increased by 28% during the Liberal reign? The new government understands the issue and will implement measures to deal with the problems "soon".