A few days ago I discovered a blog called Hansurdity, which specializes in finding “the weird, banal, outrageous or simply hilarious” in Alberta’s Hansard, and other Hansards.
Hansard, named for one Thomas Curson Hansard, a London printer early in the 19th Century, is the generally accepted name of the printed transcripts of Parliamentary debates in legislatures like Alberta’s that are descended from the Mother of Parliaments in Westminster.
This put me in mind of the only time I was ever mentioned in Alberta’s Hansard, and thus the only time I was ever mentioned in the debates of the Alberta Legislature. My name was included in the record for May 7, 1991. (This, as it happened, was a rather nervous moment for me. Not only had I just been appointed the Calgary Herald’s new city hall bureau reporter, it was less than a week before the birth of my daughter Lily, who is now in Grade 12 at Bellrose Composite High School in St. Albert, Alberta. Enough personal details! – Ed.)
A few days before, I had come across what was then known in the journalistic trade as a “scoop.” To wit, it was pointed out to me by a Calgary city official in possession of a sharp wit and a sharper pencil that a big government announcement shortly before might not, in fact, have been what the government wanted it to appear to be. (Quel horreur!)
That is to say, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a fellow named Ray Speaker (not to be confused with Mr. [No First Name] Speaker, who also appears in this account) had announced with enormous fanfare that that the Conservative government of the day was pouring $15 million dollars into a project to build low-cost housing for Alberta’s inner-city homeless.
This was a good thing, to be sure. However, unmentioned in his announcement – though noticed by my sharp-eyed informant – was the fact that a very similar sum of $14 million had disappeared from the native rural housing programs budgeted by the same department.
This being back in the day when journalists were still able to report the news, this fact formed the basis of a newspaper story that played very well in the next day’s paper, thank you very much.
That, in turn, prompted Mr. Ed Ewasiuk, New Democrat MLA for the riding of Edmonton-Beverly, to ask a question of the minister in the House, which was duly recorded in Hansard. (I have taken the liberty of adding some emphasis to the Parliamentary record, for which I am sure readers will forgive me.)
Here is Hansard:
MR. EWASIUK: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are to the Minister of Municipal Affairs on housing as well. Yesterday the minister and his colleagues announced that they’ve finally started initiatives to provide housing in the inner cities, which of course are very necessary although, I submit, inadequate to meet the immediate needs of the homeless in Alberta.
Behind the cautious optimism of housing advocates is the serious concern that the commitment to housing is only a shell game. While the minister was able to find $15 million for inner-city housing, he did so by robbing $14 million from the rural and native housing programs of his department. My question to the minister is: how can the minister say that social housing is a priority for this government when it has cut from one needy group to help another?
MR. R. SPEAKER: Mr. Speaker, I can understand the question that the hon. member raises. One or two days ago I raised the fact that often my research in this Legislature when I sat on that side of the House was from the daily papers. Often I found even as a member of the opposition that that research was based on false information and I was misled in the House. We find that here again today. So when I’m here on this side of the House, I’m responsible to try and put some truth in the articles that often emanate from our learned colleagues that sit in the upper gallery. *
I want to make it very clear that the article that was written by Mr. David Climenhaga of the Calgary Herald has more than one inaccuracy, and it is my intent to address those by direct letter to that author. …
Thus endeth the passage from Hansard.
Now, Mr. (R.) Speaker sallied forth and quoted this quote in a firm voice with a confident look on his face. (I know that, because I saw him that night on TV.) And, I say to you, this is the way to do it if your intend is to stand up on your hind legs before the Court of Public Opinion, though behind the secure doors of the Legislature, and deny the perfidious piffle that pollutes the public prints. And if your facts too contain an inaccuracy or two, no matter! The record stands, straightened, by you, in Hansard. (And who is to challenge your version of events?)
It was a measure of the times, I suppose, that having the fidelity of my reporting assailed by a Conservative Minister of the Crown in the Legislature passed with barely a ripple at my place of work. Later, with the newspaper chain led by certain well-known gentlemen of a neoconservative bent, now found by American courts to be felons of a most odious sort, the consequences for a mere city hall reporter might have been more serious.
Nonetheless, I must tell you, in my journalistic days I prided myself on the accuracy of my reporting, and for this reason Mr. (R.) Speaker’s comment rather griped me, as it still rather does. Naturally, although I knew it would be humiliating, I was prepared to pen a groveling correction when my (multiple) errors were at last pointed out to me in Mr. Speaker’s letter.
But here’s the thing. I waited, and the letter never came!
About eight years ago, when a mere decade had passed from the date of my mention in the debates of the Legislature, I reached a conclusion: to wit, that I was never going to get my letter of correction, not because it had been misplaced and left to gather dust on a shelf in the Edmonton postal office, but because, in fact, my story wasn’t wrong.
Ah, but that truth, alas, is unlikely to ever be reported in the privileged pages of Hansard.
In a just a few more days, 18 years will have passed. My daughter will have attained her majority and be legally entitled to take strong drink in the province of Alberta. And I will still have not received my direct letter from the minister (whom we are informed has now happily returned, like Cincinnatus, to his farm at Enchant) addressing my story’s alleged multiple inaccuracies. (Sadly, Mr. Ewasiuk, for his part, has passed on to another plane, and a bench at Edmonton City Hall honours his memory.)
And so, as Time Magazine used to say at least until persuasively informed otherwise, Mr. David Climenhaga, late of the Calgary Herald, stands by his story!
* That is, the baying jackals of the press.