Last Updated October 27, 2006
OK, so in that sotto voce exchange in the House of Commons did Peter MacKay really suggest that Belinda Stronach was a dog? And back in the early 1970s did former prime minister Pierre Trudeau really say "fuddle duddle"?
The first thing to do in these cases is to check the record, and in Canada - in Ottawa and all the provincial and territorial legislative assemblies - that means checking Hansard.
Luckily for MacKay and Trudeau, these off-hand remarks were not recorded in the official record of the day - helping to get both men off the hook - to a certain degree.
Hansard is also in the news up in Yellowknife where, on Oct. 25, the territorial legislature suspended the publication of the printed record of debates in the assembly because it couldn't meet a court-imposed order to publish in both English and French. The controversial move is raising concern about what the lack of an official record could mean.
What is Hansard?
The name Hansard refers to the complete and official record in an elected assembly. It's named after the printing firm of Luke Hansard and his son, Thomas, who began printing Britain's parliamentary proceedings in 1774. In 1811, Thomas Hansard became the first person officially authorized to publish reports of debates in the British Parliament.
Do other countries use Hansard?
Canada uses the term Hansard for the official publications of proceedings in the House of Commons in Ottawa and all provincial legislatures and the assemblies in the territories. All British Commonwealth countries use the term Hansard for keeping records of these assemblies. In the United States the term is "Congressional Record."
Have parliamentary debates always been printed?
In the 16th century the British Parliament believed it should deliberate in private; publicizing proceedings was a punishable offence. In 1803 the House of Commons passed a resolution allowing the press to enter the public gallery. Official transcripts followed.
Has it always been called Hansard?
No. The first records of debates, published in 1810, were by William Cobbett, a 19th century reformer in England. Some have suggested that Hansard should be called Cobbett. In 1919, the word Hansard disappeared for a few years because editors hired by the British House of Commons disliked the work done by the Hansard family. As a result, Westminster reports were renamed Official Report. The name Hansard was reinstated in 1943.
Is it the same in Canada?
There was an early version of Hansard in Canada in the late 19th century but an MP moved that it be discontinued, arguing that parliamentary debates shouldn't be recorded. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald stood up to say that without a Hansard, "we have no means of tracing out the very groundwork of all our legislation - the motives and impulses of those petty municipal questions which were the chief subjects of interest in the early days and which have expanded into the larger subjects which are now engaging the attention of the people and the Legislature of Canada."
Macdonald's impassioned speech won the day and the motion to abolish Hansard was overturned.
Are there any controversies involving Hansard?
All the time. Going backwards from the MacKay-Stronach episode we'll find the famous "fuddle duddle" episode in the Commons involving former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. During an exchange between the PM and John Lundrigan, a Newfoundland Conservative, Trudeau mouthed a dismissive epithet he later claimed was "fuddle duddle." The Hansard of the day did not mention the epithet.
In a media scrum after the exchange, a reporter asked: "What were you thinking … when you moved your lips?" Trudeau replied: "What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you say 'fuddle duddle' or something like that? God, you guys!"
Do MPs ever abuse Hansard?
In his book Nice Work: The Continuing Scandal of Canada's Senate, journalist and author Claire Hoy wrote that the late Philippe Gigantes, during a filibuster in the Senate, read one of his books into the record, which contributed not only to the filibuster but also provided a compete French translation he later had published.
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