As more and more legislators
begin to access the Internet either through their own assembly or from
commercial providers it becomes easier to communicate with the public or with
fellow legislators. The following interviews were conducted completely over the
Internet between April 1 and May 1, 1995. All members were sent the same
questions and their answers were collated with only slight editorial changes to
avoid repetition and duplication. This interview focuses on the use of the
technology itself but future ones might relate to any issue of public policy.
David Schreck is the MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale in the British Columbia
Legislative Assembly. Lynn Verge is the MHA for Humber East in the Newfoundland
and Labrador House of Assembly. Brent Taylor is the MLA for Southwest Miramichi
in the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly. Reg Alcock is the federal Member of
Parliament for Winnipeg South. Werner Schmidt is the federal Member of
Parliament for Okanagan Centre.
Could you give us a bit of personal
background, including your experience with computers and when you began using
Brent Taylor: I began using computers in my work as a
researcher and speechwriter in late 1989. After finally acquiring a decent
computer system for my home in 1992, I began to use a 2400 baud modem to log
into the government's communications and press release service to download
information. I signed onto the Internet in March of 1994. Initially I
considered it a personal/recreational service, which I still do on my personal
account. A few months ago I received approval from the budget office to
establish my own office slip account with the local dial-up provider.
David Schreck: In 1964 I was into ham radio. When I went
to college I let that hobby drop, but all economics' majors were required to do
a non-credit course in fortran. I mistook the full course work for the next
day's assignment and never looked back. It has been my hobby ever since, going
back to bulletin boards which combine information technology and the old ham
radio interests through CompuServe about 8 years ago. I have been active on the
Internet since it became generally available through commercial servers 3 or 4
I am 48 years old. I have a Ph.D in
economics from the University of British Columbia. I managed CU&C Health
Services Society, the largest dental carrier in BC from 1979-1988 and was CEO
of the Vancouver Resources Board from 1975-77. I did economic consulting from
1988-91. I am currently on the Board of BC Hydro, Parliamentary Secretary to
the Minister of Employment and Investment, on Public Accounts and assorted
other committees both legislative and internal. I am a Vice-President of the BC
Reg Alcock: My education consists of a BA in
communications from Simon Fraser University and a Masters in Public
Administration from Harvard. Most of my work has been in Social Services until
the mid '80s when I started a small company.
As far as computers go, I am
entirely self taught. I began on an old Radio Shack trs80 in the early 1980s
which I used to track cases in an institution which I ran.
I was introduced to the Internet in
1986, when I taught at the University of Manitoba for one year.
Werner Schmidt: I am a graduate in Education and
Educational Administration from the University of Alberta. I was a teacher,
principal and superintendent of schools in the Edmonton area. Later I was
Director of Development at Okanagan College in Kelowna. I was a founding member
and served on the first executive council of the Reform Party before being
elected to the House of Commons in 1993.
I began using computers only quite
recently. They are useful in allowing me to better organize my work in terms of
notes, speeches, memoranda etc. Rather than writing notes and having them typed
by my staff, I can do the typing myself and free up their time for more
productive work. I can work as I travel which makes my flying time more
productive. That is fairly significant when one's riding is in British Columbia.
Our office began using the Internet
when I was asked if we would be willing to participate in the Internet pilot
project. Because of the Internet's ever-expanding nature, more and more
Canadians are using it. I felt it would be a useful tool for our office to have
in providing more ways for Canadians to contact us. In addition, it is proving
to be a valuable research tool for my staff in their daily work.
Lynn Verge: I was born and raised in Corner Brook and
earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a joint major in Economics and political
science from Memorial University in 1970 and graduated from Dalhousie
University with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1973.
After law school, I practised law
in Corner Brook until my election to the House of Assembly in 1979. I was
Minister of Education from 1979 to 1985 and Minister of Justice and Attorney
General from 1985 to 1989.
For the past five years, as an
Opposition Member, I served as critic responsible for justice, the
constitution, the status of women, and culture. I was elected leader of the
provincial Progressive Conservative Party in April 1995.
Describe your present computer
hardware and software?
Reg Alcock: I have a six terminal network in my
Winnipeg office, a three terminal network in Ottawa and a stand-a-lone machine
at home. All are DOS based 486s. They range in speed from a single 25 to
several 66s. In addition, I am currently purchasing a 486 notebook and three
docking stations one for each location. I also have five 286 desktop machines
and two 286 notebooks which I use on a phone network. Most of the machines have
8 megs of RAM, a few have 16.
I have 5 modems - all of them
14.4s. The server has a gigabyte. My notebook will have 810megs, and the
terminals have 280 - 350 each. The home machine has one half gig. All are DOS
machines, although the notebook has OS2.
I work in my Winnipeg office, at
home and in my Ottawa office.
For word-processing I use MSWord.
All machines have the Microsoft office installed. In my legislative work I use,
Excel, Access, Powerpoint, Schedule, Mail, Netscape, Eudora e-Mail, Pubnet
(House of Commons Hansard), and Winfax.
Brent Taylor: I use a PC 486 computer running under DOS
and Windows. It has 8 megs of memory and a 240 meg hard disk. It is a stand
alone computer, not connected to a network. Most of my work is done using
Wordperfect for Windows.
David Schreck: I use three computers — a 486 at home, a
386 lap top in Victoria and a 386 in my constituency office. None of them are
on a network. My lap top has 1 meg of memory while the other two both have 8
megs. The lap top has 80 meg hard drive, my constituency office has 100 and at
home I have 420 meg of disk space. All three computers have 14,400 baud modems.
For word processing I use Word for Windows 6.0 both at home and at my constituency
office. I use Word for DOS on the lap top. In the course of my work I also have
occasion to use CorelDraw, Dbase and MS Publisher.
Lynn Verge: I have an HP Vectra 486/66. It has 12 meg
of memory and a 320 meg hard drive. It is on a network and I use Wordperfect
Werner Schmidt: I personally use a 486 SX33 notebook with
8 mb ram and a 200mb hard drive I use Windows with MS Word 6.0. My Hill office
staff uses two 486s, one a DX33 and one a SX25.Both have 8mb of ram.The DX has
a 540mb hard drive and the SX has a 340mb hard drive. The DX currently uses
Windows for Workgroups but will be going to Windows NT soon when my local
office network is set up. The SX also uses Windows for Workgroups. When my
local network is installed, my DX will be going to 16mb of ram. Both machines
have the full MS Office suite installed. The DX is hooked into the Hill-wide
network and has access to Pubnet, the on-line version of Hansard, as well as
My constituency office has a 286
laptop and a 386 desktop. The 386 is using Windows and MS Office. The laptop is
using Wordperfect 5.1. The constituency office will be hooked up with the Hill
via modem shortly.
How do you access the Internet?
Brent Taylor: I access the Internet through New
Brunswick- Telephone's NBNET service. This is a dialup service and I use a US
Robotics 14,400 modem. I can access the Internet from both my legislative
office and from home.
David Schreck: My legislative assistant has access to
Internet through the legislature but all my use is done through my own personal
accounts and paid for by me personally. I subscribe to four commercial
services: CompuServe, Cyberstore, Wimsey Information Services and Mindlink.
Each of them offers access to slightly different newsgroups.
Lynn Verge: I access the Internet through a commercial
provider. I use ProComm Plus for Windows 2.0 and a 14,400 modem. I work from
both home and my office.
Reg Alcock: Internet is provided and supported by the
House of Commons. I also have an Internet account provided by the University in
Werner Schmidt: Access to Internet is provided by the
House of Commons.
Do you have a home page. If so
what kind of information do you put on it.
David Schreck: I do not have a home page on the Internet
but my party has just put one up. It contains information about such things as
the BC Convention 1995; information on the Abbottsford provincial by-election,
a newsletter, The New Democrat.
The site also contains links to
other New Democratic Parties such as Manitoba and the federal NDP.
The BC Legislature also has a home
page. It contains information since the start of the present session on March
22, 1995. It includes the Speech from the Throne, the 1995 Budget, a message from
the Speaker, a list of all members of the Assembly, Bills, Votes and
Proceedings, Orders of the Day, Notices of Committee meetings, even an
electronic version of Hansard since March 22.
Lynn Verge: My home page address was created by Chris
Crocker, a political science major at Memorial University and who was a member
of the Verge campaign technical support team. This was prepared as part of my
Lynn Verge Leadership Campaign for the Progressive Conservative Leadership
Convention held on April 30, 1995. The home page includes my resume, campaign
literature and newsletters.
Reg Alcock: Yes, I have a home page. It contains
information on current issues such as my biography, my voting record, current
issue surveys. You can also access interesting Canadian information through my
home page, including Canadiana, Open Government, and the Department of Justice.
Werner Schmidt: Not as yet, but the Reform Party has one
where biographical information can be obtained on Reform MPs. The party is
providing space to its constituency associations for their own home pages and
there may be an opportunity for MPs to take advantage of this as there are no
plans afoot at the House of Commons to provide home page space for MPs, however
the House has its own home page .
Brent Taylor: I mainly use the Internet for e-mail
correspondence and not as a bulletin board for information. I am also on a
listserver which brings me a number of "read and trash" messages.
Do you answer e-mail yourself or
is this done by someone in your office.
Brent Taylor: I check and answer all e-mail myself which
at the moment probably takes no more than an hour a week.
David Schreck: I answer all e-mail myself. I generally
spend between 15 and 30 minutes on e-mail correspondence per day and perhaps
another hour or so on usenet.bc.general.
Lynn Verge: At the moment I have someone who answers
Reg Alcock: Currently, I read all my own e-mail. The
day is fast approaching where the volume will grow to the point where staff
will have to take over.
Werner Schmidt: My staff handles most of the inquires,
however, if it is from a constituent they will pass it on to me in written form
for my reply.
Approximately how many letters
do you receive in an average day or week by e-mail. Of these how many are from
other members of the legislature and how many from constituents, how many from
Brent Taylor: I receive very little correspondence from
fellow legislators or from constituents. Most of it seems to be requests for
information from students, journalists, researchers etc.
David Schreck: I get an average of 1 or 2 messages from
other legislators each day. I have only had about a dozen of my own
constituents use e-mail to me but as a result of my presence on bc.general
newsgroup. I tend to get e-mail from all over the province.
Lynn Verge: We receive an average of about 10 letters
a day and it takes about one hour to answer them. So far, I have not received
any correspondence from other MHAs or Members from other assemblies. All
correspondence has come from constituents.
Reg Alcock: My home page receives 50 to 60 e-mail
messages per day. I spend 30 to 45 minutes at the start of each day reading and
replying to the e-mail.
The majority of e-mail comes from
constituents (I have a large university in my area, so many of my constituents
are familiar with and have access to the net).
Werner Schmidt: Most of the mail flowing into the office
is not from constituents. I get less than 3 per week from constituents, but I
have not been on the Internet for long, so we have to wait and see. A lot of
other e-mail comes from other sources and is usually given a quick response by
members of my staff.
Are you satisfied with the way
your Legislature is making use of the potential of the Internet?
Brent Taylor: I have been advocating a much more
involved Legislature but have really seen nothing yet. New Brunswick is
supposed to be a leader in the field of information technologies and data
transmission, but it certainly does not show in the Legislature. Order papers,
journals, Hansard, status of bills reports - all should be available now, but
there is no hint of these being available on-line any time soon. Very few
Members currently sitting have any interest in even finding out more about the
I have been very impressed with the
recent development of the Thomas system in the United States, and am pleased to
report that our Legislative Assembly has just gone onto the government's Web
Page. Much more work has to be done, but it is a start.
David Schreck: I am delighted with our new home page. I
have not found anything better anywhere. I have complemented all those involved
in three speeches in the Legislature. I am lobbying to add on-line access
without charge to the consolidated statutes of British Columbia.
Lynn Verge: To date, there is no official use of the
Internet by the Legislature. The recent start-up of an Infonet (Freenet) here
in St. John's should make the general public more involved with the Internet.
This should provide some motivation for the Legislature to get more involved.
Reg Alcock: The House of Commons is only beginning its
use of the Internet - so it is a bit early to judge.
Werner Schmidt: More could be done with Internet, but the
in-house service provider is limiting our ability to be more active, i.e. we
can't put up our own Web page.
How would you respond to critics
who cite the potential dangers with this technology including false and
mischievous messages or posting information that cannot be distributed by other
Brent Taylor: I see a lot of false and mischievous
information in our daily newspapers, House speeches, television news, and other
sources regularly. The Internet cannot guarantee truth any more than can some
As for "banned"
information, I feel that free speech and freedom to communicate outweigh the
dangers to society, if there are any. I have grave concerns about one area, the
ability to exchange, create, disseminate or otherwise promote criminally
obscene or perverse material.
Maybe these issues could be solved
by preventing anonymous posting or mailing. Perhaps some of these
"anon" services like the one at PENET should be shut down, forcing
people to at least have valid e-mail addressed issued by their provider.
David Schreck: It is no worse than dealing with the news
media! There is a dark side of the web but it is like the dark side of life. It
is a constant struggle to set and enforce community norms. In the meantime, a
technology that will have a greater impact than the invention of the printing
press should not have its growth retarded because of a few perverts.
Lynn Verge: As with any service, responsibility rests
with both the provider of the information and the consumer. There are currently
provisions in various Canadian statutes meant to deal with these issues. Of
course, practical problems lie with the enforcement of the existing laws when
dealing with a technology that crosses international boundaries, that can reach
into almost any home, and that can be accessed by anyone who knows how to find
Reg Alcock: I simply do not accept that access to
information is a danger. There is a need for better co-ordination of
international law in areas of hate literature and violence. However, I do not
feel that personal information is at much risk. If the bank can keep my money
safe from electronic theft then I suspect that we can find ways to ensure
Werner Schmidt: Strategies have emerged on the Internet
itself to adapt to mischief but one must always be careful. Fraud is a crime
and can be prosecuted. Telephone fraud exists but we have learned to deal with
it, so we can deal with fraud in the Internet as well. Generators of illegal
material, if in Canada, can be prosecuted. Otherwise, international agreements
must be reached.
One must always assume, for now at
least, that anything put on the Internet, even private e-mail, might be read by
someone else and hence, is public.
Can you give me some names of
the newsgroups to which you subscribe and which you find useful in your work?
Brent Taylor: I look at (lurk but rarely post). Among
those I read are:
can.atlantic.general. Others involving party politics in the United States,
David Schreck: Currently I am the only MLA in BC who goes
onto usenet.bc.general identified as an MLA (government no less) and is willing
to debate anyone on anything. That also results in some e-mail on various
private matters similar to doing other constituency work. In addition to
bc.general I follow the newsgroups dealing with telecommunications technology.
I belong to about twenty other groups including: Usenet.van.general (Discussion
of Vancouver Regional Issues) Local.Announce.Important (Births, Deaths,
Marriages, etc) NewsBytes.Government (Government purchases and programs).
Lynn Verge: Some of the newsgroups which I find useful
include: nf.general and sj.general (these are groups which contain postings
from around the province and the capital city St. John's) stemnet.general (This
is the central newsgroup in the network established to link teachers in this
province. At least one teacher in nearly every school in the province has
access to this network. They exchange ideas regarding the school system and
about other topics related to education).
can.politics (By monitoring this
newsgroup, people can get a sense of how people in different parts of the
country feel about a given topic. It is especially useful for a Newfoundland
politician to gauge public opinion elsewhere in Canada about issues affecting
Newfoundland, such as foreign overfishing off our coast.)
Reg Alcock: I am a member of several networks for
example: Harvard University strategic computing group Carleton University,
public policy group Bosnet - a group monitoring events in the former
Yugoslavia. I also follow a few of the newsgroups related to Canadian politics.
Werner Schmidt: I sometimes access the following:
bc.general bc. Politics can.general can. politics