Statement made on 23 March 2011 by Senator Maria Chaput
Hon. Maria Chaput:
Honourable senators, I rise today in support of the Honourable Senator Mitchell's inquiry to highlight the importance of ensuring that the Senate has a strong presence online. Internet, this virtual world, is without a doubt the city of the future, and the Senate must take its full place.
The World Wide Web is the place to quickly, and often freely, access an incredible wealth of information. Young Canadians automatically turn to the Web to find information, whether it is to find the showtimes for movies playing at the cinema, find out about the ice conditions of the Rideau Canal here in Ottawa, buy a birthday gift for a friend, learn about the customs of faraway countries, access documents posted by a professor, or find out about the work of the Parliament of Canada.
No matter what type of information they are looking for, young Canadians turn to the Web first. I might add that Canada's two official languages are among the three main languages of the Web — a wonderful advantage for Canada.
Several months ago in this chamber, Senator Mitchell said:
. . . we cannot, in any way, shape or form, search the Debates of the Senate [online]. . . . In the 21st century, in the Senate of the Government of Canada, we cannot find someone's name in Debates of the Senate.
I agree that access to the Debates of the Senate on the Web, this great information highway, is difficult and limited. Anyone who wants to read the Debates of the Senate online to find out about a particular subject faces a massive uphill battle.
Although the Debates of the Senate are available online from the second session of the 35th Parliament onward, it is extremely difficult to find what one is looking for. Since there is no internal search engine to make the job easier, one must comb through each day of the Debates, a painstaking task.
The Debates of the Senate found in libraries have an index. Why not the Debates online?
The debates, journals and evidence of parliamentary committees in the other place are organized so as to facilitate, indeed encourage, online research. Why not adopt that model?
An internal search engine, on the website of the other place, allows people to search by keyword or browse the index by subject, person, document, constituency or organization.
Young people doing school work can quickly find the information they need by searching the website of the other place, which encourages them to come back again and explore the parliamentary debates even further. Why can the Senate not do the same? This would contribute to promoting the work of the Senate.
To reach out directly to Canadians, particularly young Canadians, the Senate should have a strong presence on the Web and show off the great work accomplished by the honourable senators and committees of this chamber. Online access to the Debates of the Senate must be made easier to allow Canadians to be better informed and, as a result, to better understand their Senate.
The Senate's presence on the Web should reflect what it is in reality: a vital and dynamic institution. Would it therefore not be useful to post on the Senate website all the Debates, to allow the public to one day access, online, the entire work of the Senate of Canada since 1867?
Of course, this is a great undertaking, but a necessary undertaking to make the Senate more visible and more accessible. I respectfully submit that we must take the initiative to ensure the Senate has a strong presence on the Web, a presence that reflects this great institution and the vital role it plays.
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