Lights, cam­era and Se­nate

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Marie-danielle smith

O T TAWA • When the Se­nate starts broad­cast­ing its pro­ceed­ings live on Mon­day evening for the first time, it will be, for se­na­tors, an ex­er­cise not only in pub­lic trans­parency but also in re­mem­ber­ing to take off their lan­yards for the cam­eras.

“The first time that some­body gets caught pick­ing their teeth, peo­ple are, you know, we fid­get, we’re hu­man be­ings, right?” said new in­de­pen­dent Sen. Paula Si­mons, a for­mer colum­nist for the Ed­mon­ton Jour­nal. “You sit there for a long time, and you do weird things, and you make strange faces, and I imag­ine that for a lot of peo­ple, my­self in­cluded, there are go­ing to be some em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments.”

In prepa­ra­tion for the his­toric change, the Se­nate’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions team sent around a doc­u­ment of “best prac­tices” for broad­cast be­fore film­ing test footage last month. And the last week of Fe­bru­ary, most se­na­tors and staff at­tended a se­ries of pre­sen­ta­tions that demon­strated “a bunch of faux pas.”

“For ex­am­ple, one sen­a­tor had just fin­ished a long speech and af­ter she fin­ished it, she sat down and then she kind of looked up to the sky, and kind of sighed, as if to say, ‘ thank God that’s over,’” said a se­nior Se­nate of­fi­cial.

Se­na­tors sit­ting near cau­cus lead­ers were cau­tioned they’d be on cam­era a lot. One sen­a­tor kept look­ing up at the lights in the ceil­ing as leader Sen. Larry Smith gave a speech next to him. “His eyes were kind of shoot­ing up into the top of his head,” said the of­fi­cial. Other se­na­tors were cau­tioned about not star­ing down at the page, with­out look­ing up, while they read their speeches.

Although eat­ing isn’t al­lowed in the cham­ber, some­times se­na­tors have been known to snack on candy. “Peo­ple will have a mint, or things like that. And it doesn’t look re­ally cool.” No one was ex­plic­itly told “don’t pick your nose.”

Screens in­side the cham­ber will al­low se­na­tors to watch what is be­ing tele­vised. And un­like in the House of Com­mons, where a cam­era stays tight on the MP who is speak­ing, op­er­a­tors have been pan­ning cam­eras in the Se­nate and cut­ting away to other se­na­tors’ re­ac­tions to speeches. A Se­nate staffer said there are con­cerns these “creative” re­ac­tion shots could be “used out of con­text on so­cial me­dia.”

Dur­ing a speech by a sen­a­tor who sat nearby, Si­mons said, “I could see my­self on the screen watch­ing him and I was so self-con­scious about, you know, was I twid­dling my hair? Was I look­ing at my phone? How much do I smile? Do I nod along?” Asked if peo­ple are get­ting new hair­cuts or any­thing ahead of Mon­day evening, she said, “I’m go­ing this af­ter­noon for a cut and colour, you betcha.”

Lib­eral Sen. Den­nis Daw­son has done this song and dance be­fore. When the Com­mons started broad­cast­ing for the first time in 1977, he was the first MP to give a speech on tele­vi­sion. “Par­don my French, but it pissed off a lot of MPS that were caught mis­be­hav­ing. But it had the ad­van­tage of point­ing out what was be­ing done and try­ing to cor­rect it.”

Con­ser­va­tive Sen. Don­ald Plett, who clar­i­fied that “I was never a sup­porter of this,” said he thinks the House of Com­mons has cre­ated ac­tors out of many MPS. In the Se­nate, “I would like to be­lieve that it will maybe im­prove be­hav­iour, and maybe it will,” he said. “But my fear is that it will do the op­po­site, it will make us more flam­boy­ant and it will make us put on shows for the cam­era.”

His Tory col­league Sen. Denise Bat­ters had been push­ing for the change for years, how­ever. “To me it’s just ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency,” she said, although it won’t change much in her daily rou­tine — “I al­ways pre­pare for the fact that I might be on tele­vi­sion.”

But for now, an­other Se­nate staffer told the Post, it would be great if se­na­tors could just please stop wear­ing their lan­yards, with their se­cu­rity passes, while on cam­era. “I’m kind of shocked by how many se­na­tors are still wear­ing the lan­yard,” the staffer said. “It looks like they’re all at a con­fer­ence.”

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