Lights, camera, reaction: Legislature TV coming to a channel near you

To the relief of insomniacs and political observers, the Alberta legislature will have its own dedicated television channel this spring.

After question period was pulled from television last fall, the Alberta legislature is getting its own channel

Proceedings of the Alberta legislative assembly have been broadcast for years. Now the assembly is getting its own television channel to carry gavel-to-gavel proceedings. (CBC)

To the relief of insomniacs and political observers, the Alberta legislature will have its own dedicated television channel sometime this spring. 

Bringing gavel-to-gavel proceedings from the Alberta legislature to television is something viewers have been asking for through calls to their MLAs, according to Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Rob Reynolds.

"Their constituents have been rather vocal in protesting about how question period was not on television anymore," said Reynolds, "even though it was live streamed."

Tradition began in 1972

Televised broadcast proceedings of the Alberta legislature began on March 15,1972.

The webcast of question period began in 2003, with live streaming in 2007, said Rhonda Sorensen, spokesperson for the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

But daily questions period, where opposition MLAs try to hold the government to account, was pulled off most television airwaves last year.

Cheryl Scarlett, director of human resources, information and broadcast technology for the Legislative Assembly, said the Legislative Assembly Office has been working for some time to secure its own broadcasting licence.

It was left scrambling last fall, said Scarlett, when question period was dropped.

A private broadcaster had been routinely carrying proceedings from the chamber from early afternoon until 3 p.m., but the station "went in a different direction," she said.

This year, you will likely be able to watch the Alberta budget speech online and on television. (CBC)

While some Shaw community channels carried question period in rural areas, the proceedings were not carried in the major centres of Edmonton and Calgary, said Scarlett.

Legislative Assembly staff were able to secure a relatively fast licence from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in December, approving the legislature channel.

The licence was acquired through the parliamentary and provincial or territorial legislature proceedings exemption order, Scarlett said.

24 hours a day, no advertising

The Alberta legislature channel will be on the air 24 hours a day, carrying proceedings directly from the floor of the legislature and committee meetings.

During those times when live proceedings are not on or being re-broadcast, Cheryl Scarlett said a simple slate with music will be shown.

Sorensen said no firm date has been set for the first broadcast, however the Legislative Assembly Office is working with Telus and Shaw to broadcast the opening of the spring session, which begins March 8 with the speech from the throne.

"There will be no advertisements, there will be no commercial activities on it," Reynolds said. "It will just be the proceedings of the assembly and its committees."

In a moment of light-hearted banter, members of the standing committee on members' services welcomed the news this month of a new legislature television channel.

It prompted Nathan Cooper, the UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, who stands about five foot six inches, to suggest a new reality television show alongside six-foot-eight-inch UCP MLA Jason Nixon called "Big and Little."

"We would sort of lay out for the people what it's like to be an opposition MLA and ways that people can engage in the democratic process," said Cooper during a committee meeting on Feb. 1

"I'm not sure where that proposal gets sent to, but I just wonder if it might be a possibility for us," joked Cooper.