May 7, 1980 (32nd Parliament, 1st Session)


Douglas Glenn Fisher


Mr. Charles Fisher (Chairman, Hansard Centennial Committee):

Madam Speaker, hon. members of the Senate and the House of Commons, dear colleagues, the program calls for me, at this point, to introduce Madam Speaker, a lady who obviously needs no introduction. So perhaps I would do better to begin by introducing myself, a Hansard reporter who, as chairman of our centennial committee, has been given the agreeable task of co-ordinating these arrangements to celebrate our 100th birthday.
[ Translation]
We are honoured by your presence, Madam Speaker. It is indeed a good omen that our celebration, which got off to such a good start, will continue throughout the year, which will be a most active and interesting one.

I say that making these arrangements has been a pleasant task, and for good reason. The encouragement and assistance we have received from Your Honour, from Mr. Jerome while he was Speaker, from Mr. Fraser, while he was clerk of the House, from Dr. Koester and, more lately, from Mr. Pelletier, have exceeded all our expectations. We are especially grateful to Dr. Koester for good advice. I must also refer to the help given us by senior officials in the administration, by the Sergeant-at-Arms and by the protective staff. Our grateful thanks go out to them all.
Madam Speaker, a Hansard reporter has a place in the House of Commons but, by tradition, he has no voice there; he may not speak, not even if a Prime Minister were to ask him to do so. In the course of a working life he must listen to thousands of speeches and it would be surprising if, on occasion, he did not permit himself some private reflections on their quality. But though he has plenty of experience as a listener he has no opportunity to practice oratory, and my only excuse for this indulgence today is that it happens so rarely and that it will not happen again for a hundred years.
Today, as we contemplate this plaque, soon to be unveiled by you, Madam Speaker, we may be forgiven if we summon up remembrance of things past and think kindly of those generations whose efforts have gone into the recording, compilation and printing of Hansard over the past 100 years.
It was never an easy task, and it is not so today for reasons which even a casual visit to the House of Commons makes clear. There is always present, you see, an element of risk. Voices raised in contention are not always robust; quotations are not always from the sources alleged; sentences do not always, alas, contain verbs.
The splendid rotunda, in which the plaque before you is to be placed, reminds us of the theme which is at the very centre of this celebration; that is to say, continuity-the continuity of our institutions together with their ability to adapt to new circumstances, which is like water flowing over stone.
Hansard today is far removed, in some respects, from the Hansard of yesterday. Electronic engineering has made possible two remarkable changes, one of them central to good reporting, in two words, accurate hearing. That certainly beats the crystal ball, which I suspect our colleagues, long retired, consulted more often than they would admit. The other change is two-edged. The slow-moving ribbon of the tape machine can, in the end, outrun even the fleetest pen. It records, without emotion or hesitation, every word, every stammer, every unintended error.
A way must be sought, and found, to combine the literal accuracy of the machine with the truthfulness of informed human reporting by people who, for one reason or another, understand the work they are doing. This, I suggest, is the path which lies ahead during the next 100 years.
Madam Sauve, the bronze plaque which the House of Commons has caused to be placed in this hall is an expression of the regard felt here for Hansard as an institution. It is a most splendid tribute.
Upstairs, in the offices of the Debates branch just outside the Chamber, one can see another record of achievement- rows of bound volumes dating back to 1880 and occupying yard after yard of space on shelves which have lately been specially reinforced to bear their weight. I look at them from time to time, consider all the skill and effort they represent and think, perhaps presumptuously, of the line dedicated to Sir Christopher Wren: Si monumentum queris, circumspice.

Madam Speaker, we would be most honoured if you would say a few words while unveiling the long-awaited plaque.

Subtopic:   APPENDIX A
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