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New site aims to open up House debates

A new website launched this week makes it easier to find out what elected officials are saying about issues like supertankers, cuts at Parks Canada, or changes to the Environmental Assessment Act.

EnviroHansard is a collection of all House of Commons debates and discussions related to the environment. Staff and volunteers at the Ecojustice clinic at the University of Ottawa have been working on the site for about a year, according to clinic director and Ecojustice lawyer Will Amos.

Initially, he says, the content was produced internally for the benefit of Ecojustice lawyers by volunteer law students who would pore over Hansard records and pull out the relevant information. Recognizing that it was useful, but not user friendly, the clinic decided to refine the site. It now allows users to search by topic, content or MP, browse debates, and read topic summaries of key points in any given debate or discussion.

"We decided we liked it, we wanted to do it well consistently, and once we did that there was no reason not to share it with the world," said Amos.

Amos said it is intended to be a resource for journalists, lawyers, elected representatives, and all of civil society. The clinic intends to track usage, and hopes to secure funding in the future to expand the site.

"We're doing our part to burst the bubble that is Parliament Hill," said Amos. "If more people can more easily get involved in the debates they care about . . . then Parliament becomes a much friendlier place."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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