STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
COMITÉ PERMANENT DE L’ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE
Wednesday 6 April 2011 Mercredi 6 avril 2011
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): I’ll call the meeting to order of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly. We’re here today for our orientation briefing on the television broadcast system of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. We have with us the Clerk and the director of broadcast and recording services.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): Yes. Since I last talked to you about broadcast and recording, we haven’t made a lot of significant changes, so we thought that since there are probably a number of you sitting here who haven’t actually had any tour of the inner workings of the broadcast and recording system, we would maybe take a break from this room and take you on a tour of the media studio operations and all of the rest of the broadcast and recording operations.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): I guess, as we go along, if you have questions as a result of the tour or of anything that Arleigh and I talk about, then just interrupt and we can deal with them as we go.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): These guidelines have actually been in place since broadcast and recording was first created and the chamber and room 151 were first televised, in 1986.
The principle behind the guidelines at the time was that the camera shots should really be confined to the member speaking and not be wider shots or shots left to the discretion of camera operators. The feeling then was that it’s not so much a television show as just a way of distributing the proceedings of the House to the wider audience.
I don’t know whether you’ve had an opportunity to go through these, and whether or not there are any concerns you have with the guidelines. Arleigh and I have talked, and we don’t have any particular amendments that we would recommend right now to these guidelines.
There is one thing I would like to point out: Number 3 talks about the proceedings in the legislative chamber and the last line talks about, “Proceedings of any standing or select committee may be recorded and broadcast by agreement of the House leaders.” In fact, what’s happening more frequently is that there are certain committees that move and pass motions to have their proceedings broadcast for certain particular reasons.
An example of that was the committee that did the disabilities act. The committee there wanted to ensure that people in the disabled community had the fullest ability to watch the committee proceedings, so those committee proceedings were broadcast to the public. Now we have an additional committee that is doing the Forestry Act that has also passed a motion to have its proceedings included on the webcast.
In our minds, it doesn’t make sense in each and every one of these cases to have to get agreement of the House leaders; in particular, for example, with the forestry committee. That proceeding can easily be accommodated on our webcast with an additional link that says, “committee hearings on such-and-such a bill” at no additional cost.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): Because the committee agreed to it, we went ahead and did it. Essentially, if it’s in 151, it’s broadcast anyway; it’s just a question of whether it’s broadcast live or not. Because we can do it now without pre-empting the House, it’s a different situation than it was in 1986.
Mr. Steve Clark: Just to follow up on that, that is the section that I’d like to revisit, section number 3. I was on the general government committee last week and I have to admit that the reason I asked the question was because of the fact that we were reviewing broadcast services this week. It seems to be, when you look at other legislative assemblies, they have the capability of providing streamed video on their committee meetings, and some of them provide audio for podcasts. That’s why I asked the question. If we can do a Skype presentation and have a live stream for a committee for one committee meeting, as a standing committee we should consider to amend 3 so that’s provided.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): —is 151 and that was done by design in 1986. But you’re quite right: We could explore the possibility of doing an audio stream, as you say, as some other jurisdictions do. I guess that’s something for this committee to decide: whether they would want committees to determine on a case-by-case basis whether or not they want to be streamed or whether they would want to just have it done as a matter of course.
Mr. Steve Clark: And certainly, when I look at other provinces, there’s a whole host and it appears that there are many smaller provinces that provide a lot better audio and video access to their proceedings than we do. Again, if it doesn’t cost very much—and obviously even in a committee room like this, an audio feed for a podcast wouldn’t be that outrageous. We have the technology right now to do that. Certainly, if we were to provide a live stream of this committee with simultaneous translation, then I think there would be some extra costs that we would have to do. Looking at BC, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, there are some things that are already out there that I believe we could accommodate that would give the citizens of Ontario a lot better access to our proceedings than what they have today.
Mr. Bob Delaney: In that vein, I was just going to suggest that, with only minor changes in the wording, we could change the default option to make it so that committees will be broadcast. For example, the last sentence, with only tiny changes, could read, “Proceedings of any standing or select committee shall be recorded and broadcast unless agreed to the contrary by the House leaders.”
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The only one that can be broadcast currently is the one in room 151. There’s a huge expense to refitting the committee rooms to include cameras and interpretation and everything that’s involved in broadcasting a committee hearing.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Just to recapture the conversation that has taken place thus far, so that I have a better understanding, we’re talking about one room which has the capacity to broadcast live proceedings on our website. In other committee rooms, there is capacity to broadcast audio only—
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): Currently, the committee that’s doing the forestry bill—web streaming that committee is not going to cost us anything because we’ve still got availability in the bandwidth.
Mr. Steve Clark: When I read what Mr. Delaney proposed, the word “live” didn’t come into his amendment. You can provide recorded and broadcast hearings or events live in committee room 151, or you could broadcast an audio feed that you would archive for other committees that would be provided in other rooms. For example, it would be pretty simple for us to record our proceedings today and at some other date present them and have them available on the Internet. I can’t foresee that that would cost us a ridiculous amount of money. I think we have the technology and the capability today to do that.
Certainly, if we were going to provide this room as a live video feed, yes, there would be some extra costs. But I think there are some things we can do today. We could move forward with the Amethyst Room being provided on a regular basis with some minimal costs. If you want to provide what those costs would be at another meeting of this committee, I’d be more than happy to listen.
I think the whole issue is intent. The technology is available today. It was proven last week at general government that we could provide that service, and I think it is part of this committee’s mandate to discuss it. I think we should move forward.
Mr. Arleigh Holder: For the House, on an average day, it’s not a lot of bandwidth, but during special days, like budget presentations, it will peak. That’s when we get costs. I can’t give an exact figure, but it’s well within our budget.
Is it possible, from your perspective, based on what you know we have today, to report back to committee with some options as to where we can upgrade and the associated cost, so at least somebody has a report and they’ll never question it again?
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): I think Mr. Clark was saying that as long as it’s recorded and can be broadcast later on, at least the public can see it. It’s to make sure that all the committee rooms have the same capabilities.
Mr. Steve Clark: Yes. I think you can audio record committees fairly easily. Based on what we’ve seen today on the tour, I think if we were to provide a live stream of this room similar to what we have in 151, it’s going to cost us some money. I think we should know what that’s going to cost us, but certainly I’m not advocating for that expense. We know now—at least I know from last week in general government—that there is an opportunity for us to provide live-streamed hearings of committees in room 151.
I don’t know if there is any additional cost you would prefer to incur if that was going to happen on a regular basis. If there is, I think we should talk about it at committee. But I know, based on what I heard last week, that it certainly is very easy for us to accommodate, and I think we should do that.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Just taking up on the possibility Mr. Clark is asking us to explore; that is, for rooms other than 151 to record audio and then broadcast that recording on, I assume, the TV channel, which is going—
Mr. Steve Clark: We can provide it on the Internet as a podcast. Some Legislatures have a mobilecast that can go to your BlackBerry as well. There are a lot of different things that other jurisdictions right here in Canada are doing. I think that when they’re reviewing it, they should look at what’s happening in other provinces: the bandwidth that’s being incurred, the storage on the website for those archived items. I think it would be a pretty easy review from the Clerk’s and broadcast services’ departments to look at other jurisdictions. I have documents here from other provinces. I can provide them to the two of them, and we can get another report.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: There has to be an element of common sense, because we do have Hansard forever. The proceedings of the committee are recorded in written form, so in that situation, one can rely on that. If somebody really, really wants to hear what happened in the committee—if they really want it—they can read it in Hansard as well.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: Having the option of the audio recording certainly makes it easier for Ontarians who have disabilities. So if we could offer that service and it’s at a reasonable cost, I think it’s worth our time to explore that option.
Mr. Steve Clark: But I think, based on what they provide at the actual travelling committee, there still is that capability. All you would need is a phone line, and you’d be able to stream those as well.
One of the other things we’ll have to consider is being consistent with the French Language Services Act. Currently, when we broadcast from 151, it is broadcast in both languages. When we do a live web stream from 151, it can be done in both languages. So you have to be aware of that too: If you’re only providing the service in one language, you may run contrary to the French Language Services Act.
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): How long do you think it would take to review what other jurisdictions are doing, what’s available, and then come back to the committee so we have an idea of when this will come back here?
Mr. Steve Clark: The other issue we talked about in committee last week that I mentioned is certainly ongoing, and I know that you’ve looked at it a couple of years ago, is the issue of satellite broadcasting. I know that there are still some Legislatures that are on satellite. I just wondered if there were any comments that you had now, as opposed to what you found two years ago when the last review came to this committee.
The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): We’re still struggling. The issue for us is kind of twofold. The CRTC has not yet—if it ever will—considered the issue of broadcast of legislative proceedings in a manner much like they currently allow for C-SPAN or making a provision for mandatory carriage of the proceedings via satellite and/or cable. We continue, along with other jurisdictions, to monitor that, and to push for them to give some consideration to doing that. So far we haven’t had a lot of success.
You’ll recall that we moved to C band in order to incur less cost. Other jurisdictions are now doing that, as well, because they’re having trouble competing on the Ka band. So there’s greater carriage on C band.
Saskatchewan is one of the other jurisdictions that’s in almost the exact same situation we are with respect to satellite carriage. The Clerk there and I have spoken recently, and we’re going to try to bring it up again at the next meeting where all jurisdictions are present and try to get everybody on the same page with respect to pushing the CRTC on that issue.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have anything positive to report. I will say that the problem has been mitigated somewhat by the live web streaming. We don’t get as many complaints as we used to, because more people can access the proceedings on the Internet. It was further mitigated, I think, when we added the eight-day archiving component to the streaming, because people can now watch it whenever they want to watch it. But we are continuing to try and stay on top of that issue.
Mrs. Maria Van Bommel: I’m a bit with Mr. Clark on the whole satellite thing. I find it a bit ironic that at the farm I can get the BC Legislature but I can’t get the Ontario one. I know what’s going on in BC, or at least my husband knows what’s going on in BC.
When it comes to the webcast, unfortunately not all of rural Ontario has broadband, and certainly not high speed. So it becomes really difficult for most of rural Ontario to have access in the same way that others do. I find it a bit frustrating, as I say, that you can watch what BC is doing and you can’t see what Ontario’s doing.
Mr. Steve Clark: Mr. Chair, if I might—I want to agree. In a rural riding like mine where there are gaps in broadband access, it seems sensible for us to try to rally the other provinces together and have a made-in-Canada solution where perhaps we could all work together on providing access. Albeit it wouldn’t be live access, but it certainly would be better access than now.
Some people in my riding joke about even our own TVOntario access—if they ever get restless and are up at 3 o’clock in the morning, they can see us, but they can’t see us at 10:30 for question period or for anything else that we do.
So I do think that it would be a great thing if all the provinces did get together and try to work out something on the satellite issue. It would certainly bring down costs. But again, I can appreciate that unless we keep bringing it up and we try to rally it at the provincial level, we’re going to have the same discussion every year or couple of years. It’s frustrating.
Mr. Bob Delaney: A few years ago in my private member’s time, I had a resolution that called on the feds to have the CRTC make mandatory the broadcast of not merely the proceedings of the federal Parliament but also the proceedings of any province in which they choose to offer services, such that, for example, if you were a subscriber in Ontario, you would get the federal Parliament and you would also get the Ontario provincial Parliament. If you were in Saskatchewan, you would get the Saskatchewan Legislature etc. That obviously passed unanimously in the House.
It would be a good thing to put our federal members’ feet to the fire from all parties and have them do that as well, because I think that’s something that when people get cranked up about it, at least we can refer them to this and say, “So, watch it.”
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Okay. Madam Clerk, just to clarify, when we met two years ago, we had the CRTC issue in front of us, and certain directions were given. If we could get that particular report just brought up to today’s date and then a report on what we could do in the committee rooms in various phases and the pricing, and come back to committee. I’m in your hands, and I’m open to a suggestion as to what particular day you want to bring it back so I’ll make sure I schedule the meeting.
Mr. Steve Clark: I just wanted to add something, Mr. Chair. It would be nice if, when the Clerk brings it back, we do consider having a resolution out of this committee back to all federal MPs after their May 2 election, just indicating how serious this issue is—
And if the Clerk’s doing a report, I’d love her to do a report on what other jurisdictions are doing with iPad access, too. I’ve talked to her about it a couple of times. I want to make it clear that I’m not promoting the use of iPads or electronic devices during question period. I think members’ statements, like we’ve seen in the UK recently and in other jurisdictions—we should at least have a discussion about that use as well.
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Okay. Anything else from other members? Is everybody in agreement that that’s what we’ll do? We’ll get a report back from the Clerk’s office on what took place in 2008, what is the latest status, and then what we could do for broadcasting from the various committee rooms.
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The Clerk said she’ll give us an interim report before we adjourn, which is sometime before June 2, and then there will probably be a final report to the committee after the election.
Mr. Steve Clark: Can I ask one more question? Under standing order 108, I believe we also have a committee mandate to hear from the Ombudsman from time to time. I just wonder if, along the same discussion we had a week ago about hearing from broadcast services and the Clerk, it’s appropriate for us to do the same thing with the Ombudsman. The way I read the standing order was that we could do a similar review and discussion from his office on what’s up with him.
The Chair (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Yes. It was done when I took the chair, I remember, and it was done when Mr. Delaney was the chair. So we do go through it every so often. I would suggest that the subcommittee meet and look at that, and then come back to the committee.