GEORGETOWN ROYALTY, P.E.I. — Coming soon to a podcast near you — the proceedings of Canada's Senate chamber!
Liberal senators are looking at ways of podcasting the upper chamber, The Huffington Post Canada has learned. The Liberals say that they have approached the Conservatives about the idea, and there appears to be bipartisan support for their proposal.
Right now, only hearings of certain Senate committees are broadcast on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC). The Senate has looked at ways of introducing television in the chamber before, but nothing has ever materialized.
Now that it is facing a crisis of legitimacy brought on by an expense scandal that has already seen four senators turfed from their parties, some Liberal senators believe the institution needs to show the public that it has value.
Alberta Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell said podcasting can be an inexpensive way for the senators to show Canadians what they do.
Mitchell said he's been working on a proposal for nearly a year and it would cost the Senate somewhere between $120,000 and $150,000 to start. Television, on the other hand, would cost $2 million a year — and that's if CPAC agrees to carry another channel.
Jim Cowan, the Liberals' leader in the Senate, told HuffPost the Senate is a $90-million-plus enterprise, and senators have an obligation to ensure that Canadians know they are getting value for their money.
"We need to do a better job, in my view, in making Canadians aware of the good work that Senate and most senators do," Cowan said. "The unfortunate thing is that now people are totally preoccupied with the misdeeds of four individual senators and speculating that 'oh well, everybody else is doing the same thing' … and that’s not true."
The upper chamber needs to be more transparent, Cowan said. Currently, only an audio recording of the chamber is available to the media and parliamentarians. If a journalist wants a copy of the recording, the senator speaking at the time has the right to deny the release of the audio file. (This happened to HuffPost once when several senators accused Conservative senator Bert Brown, since retired, of disrupting a Senate sitting. Brown refused to sign off on the release of the audio.)
Cowan told HuffPost: "That’s a silly rule."
"Without changing our rules, without getting involved in the Constitution, we could make available video and audio of the proceedings of the Senate as a right," Cowan said. "If we are prepared to do it for committees, why wouldn't we do it for the Senate as a whole?"
Cowan also said the communications branch of the Senate, which must obtain the approval of senators involved in a file before releasing information, does an inadequate job of releasing information. He questioned why the upper chamber would not tell the public what specific expenses the Senate had asked Senator Pamela Wallin to repay when reporters asked.
"Why wouldn't we do that?" he said. "We are not breaking state secrets or breaching privacy. I just don’t understand why we are not more responsive as an institution to questions of fact.
"The quality of the response of the communications of the Senate is poor."
Cowan said the upper chamber also needs to do a better job of promoting the reports that Senate committees create.
"Most of these reports are not partisan reports; they are bipartisan work. It is quality work, and I think there is no reason why we shouldn’t putting more effort [into] communicating the work that we do," he said.
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