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Evidence of meeting #21 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was camera.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Audrey O'Brien  Clerk of the House of Commons
Louis Bard  Chief Information Officer, House of Commons
Michel Bédard  Committee Researcher

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

We will go ahead and get started.

Happy Valentine's Day to all of our committee members. You know I love you all.

We are on meeting number 21, and under Standing Order 108(2) today we're studying broadcasting in the House of Commons.

We have two great guests with us today.

Madam O'Brien, it's always great to have you at committee, and Valentine's Day is a special day to have you at committee.

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Okay, Preston is sucking up. It works.

And Monsieur Bard, it's always good to see you too.

Do you have an opening statement or anything you'd like to share with us today? We'll go right to questions, if you—

11:30 a.m.

Audrey O'Brien Clerk of the House of Commons

Mr. Chairman, there's nothing very much in the way of an opening statement, except perhaps to say we're delighted to be here to have a chance to talk to the committee about broadcasting.

As you know, since 1997, the House of Commons administration has been broadcasting, in a non-partisan way, all House of Commons deliberations. There are guidelines to be followed by the production crew which set out the principles behind the taping of debates. These guidelines ensure that the camera only covers the member the Speaker recognizes. To this end, the House of Commons broadcasting production crew carefully selects specific angles for the nine cameras placed throughout the chamber.

The proceedings have been televised since 1977. In 1992 the practice changed somewhat in order to include information related to the agenda for the day, such as oral questions.

Of course when new Parliaments are formed the shooting pattern may be adapted to allow a wider camera angle during transitions. This is particularly true during question period.

In 1992 the Standing Committee on House Management recommended that

Camera angles used during Question Period should be wider so that viewers can appreciate the context and flavour of House; when the Speaker rises, the whole House should be shown and when individual Members rise to ask or answer a question, wider shots should be employed.

We've nonetheless been very careful about this use of wide shots. It's been a long-standing practice that we don't have reaction shots and so forth, though we do use over-the-shoulder shots on occasion to establish context for the viewer.

Since 1992 the House of Commons and CPAC have worked in partnership to ensure proceedings are broadcast across Canada via both cable and satellite providers.

In 2009 the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs updated the Speaker's permission governing the use of audio, video, and text to the proceedings to enable greater access and reuse. The video content of the House is now widely available from a variety of social media and websites, and because of the high quality of the video that's produced you will see it being viewed, monitored, and used in a variety of new ways. It really is pretty well ubiquitous.

I have nothing further to add. We would now be pleased to respond to your questions.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you very much.

11:35 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

And Happy Valentine's Day to you, Mr. Chairman. Forgive me, lest I seem ungrateful for your affection.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Well, thank you. I'm speechless, and that seldom happens with your chair.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

And blushing.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Now that we have that on the permanent record....

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Mr. Albrecht, you're the first of the day.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And thank you to our guests for being with us today.

I've read through the guidelines, and certainly I don't have any major issues with the guidelines themselves. I think today we'd like to explore a couple of changes that we perceive may have happened, and possibly suggest some that may or may not be helpful. This is a good time to have a discussion.

One thing that occasionally occurs is that when you're up in the House and making a speech, it's not always evident which camera is actually filming the speaker. I wonder if you've ever given any thought to having a red light on the camera that's filming. It would do two things. It would give the person who is speaking the ability to know where he or she should be focusing, and there are also those few occasions when at the end or perhaps in the middle of a speech you want to make a particular point and you want to make sure you're looking into the eyes of the person who is viewing.

I wonder if that has ever been considered, or would it be a huge obstacle to consider that?

11:35 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Well, I'll defer to my colleague Monsieur Bard, who can better answer that. When I was talking to him in preparation for this meeting today, he was explaining the familiarization period that goes on with a new Parliament. People have different ways they turn and different angles; they face different ways. It's quite a process to get used to the particular players.

Perhaps Monsieur Bard could answer that.

11:35 a.m.

Louis Bard Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

Especially at question period, we have the list of members asking the questions, but then you have to prepare yourself for who may respond to that particular question; therefore, you may have two or three cameras at different angles to make sure we are getting ready, because we have only a few seconds of reaction time to make adjustments.

In terms of adding lights or having those kinds of things put in place, I'm sure we can look into that. If it's something you would like us to look into, I will.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I think it would be worth looking at. It's not urgent by any means.

Another perceived change we've noticed over the last number of months is that there appears to be a larger section of the screen that has the words, the text, so there are occasions when it appears that a little more than a third of the screen is actually blocked out by the script below. Did that change, or are we imagining that it's gotten larger?

11:35 a.m.

Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

Louis Bard

Since 1992 we've been trying to provide some context of what happens in terms of the agenda of the day and to try to describe to the viewers what is happening in the House at that time. It used to be static data that we had, and we went from French to English. In consultation with CPAC and the broadcasting industry, we've been looking at better ways to use the screen space, allowing members' names and titles to stay longer, and we were using the scroll bar to provide the English and French content of what was happening.

This has been a change over the last years. We've been adjusting to the industry standards and making a better image and representation of the screen.

11:35 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

If I may just add, Mr. Chairman, one of the things that is a bit of a challenge as well is that you have the name of the member, the riding--and the riding names seem to get longer, or maybe I'm just getting older--and the names of ministries, particularly as you get responsible for this, that, and the other thing. That also is causing this. But we're trying to clean up the screen so that the shot has less text and more of the photo.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

If I could just respond to that, I have to take at face value what you're saying, but it appears to me that we actually have more text. Recently we've had the entire summary of some of the bills that we're debating scroll across throughout the time that the bill is being debated. That seems to be a change. I'm not sure that it's helpful; it may be.

My bigger question is who provides the summary, what is being scrolled across the screen? Does it come from the Library of Parliament? Does it come from the bill? I'm just concerned that we're being accurate in what is there if in fact we need to have it there.

11:40 a.m.

Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

Louis Bard

The text comes from the order paper. That's where we get all the information from. We don't write or develop anything; everything comes from the agenda of the day and the order paper. We just take what is there and portray that.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Do we have feedback as to the degree of helpfulness of having that amount of wording scrolling across the screen? To me it's a distraction, but to others it may be helpful.

11:40 a.m.

Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

Louis Bard

The feedback comes from the broadcasting industry. They love what we produce. They like the quality of what we produce. They find it very informative. They like the fact that it's French and English, one right after the other; it scrolls rapidly. The feedback is very good from that perspective. It's so good that most broadcasters record our content live; that's what they use for the six o'clock news. They've invested to record all that content.

The broadcasters love it, there is no doubt. There is a lot of good information and they find our quality of production just unbelievable, how we've maintained that very high-quality product.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I don't want to get into another critique of the broadcast industry, but I think it would be helpful in the future if there are what I consider to be moderate to major changes along those lines to have some input from committee members as you are considering it. To me that would have been helpful.

Thank you.

If I have any time left I'll concede to one of my colleagues.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you.

You have about 30 seconds, if you'd like to use 30 seconds of Mr. Albrecht's time.

Ms. Charlton.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much.

I don't have very much to add to some of the comments that have already been made. I just wonder if you could perhaps tell the committee whether you've received any suggestions or criticisms from our members that we may not be aware of that we perhaps ought to be taking into account.

11:40 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

One of the things that Mr. Bard was explaining to me is that there is broadcasting at the request of the different parties. Mr. Bard would be happy to meet with the whips and representatives of the parties who may want better explanations as to how the camera shots are picked, and what have you.

We don't usually respond, which is to say that we don't take action to change anything without consultation with the whips. He could answer whether or not there have been specific cases.

11:40 a.m.

Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

Louis Bard

Absolutely. We have feedback from time to time on certain shots or certain parts of the day. We meet with whips very often who want to review the content to see if they liked, based on their choice of seating arrangements, what they saw in the shot and the angle, and whether it was straight or not—I mean, we have these kinds of discussions.

Those things happen a lot more at the beginning of a session than during a session. It seems that your communications experts are looking at this and making all kinds of recommendations, but we are very open at any time to concerns, to sitting with the whips, to looking at some of the content, to watching some videos to try to understand their concern. I mean, we're trying to adapt and adjust, but we need to stay within the guidelines all the time.

Also, we had feedback from a member once that said “Mr. Bard, I look too good on camera, and because of that I have to shave twice a day and I need to change suits.”