In a ceremony at Charlottetownʼs Province House, launching a book on the architectural heritage of Maritime provincial legislatures, the Hon. Kathleen Casey, Speaker of the PEI Legislative Assembly, remarked:

“2011 marks the 160th anniversary of the implementation of responsible government in Prince Edward Island. In addition, this year marks the 163rd consecutive year that the PEI Assembly has been meeting at Province House. These are important milestones and should not be taken lightly or for granted.”

In this spirit, the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Library, the Public Archives and Records Office, the PEI Government Services Library, and the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island partnered on a proposal for a landmark project to digitize historic records and publications of our province’s Legislative Assembly. We believe the printed record of the Legislative Assembly -- and its forebears, the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council -- is fundamental to the sustainability of our Island democracy.

2011 was a doubly-auspicious year to begin such an undertaking, since it marked another important anniversary not referenced in the above passage: fifteen years of the PEI Legislative Assembly’s online record.

screenshot for website circa 1996.

In 1996, the Assembly implemented Hansard and immediately placed this essential piece of the democratic record on the Assembly’s (then quite new) Web site. Since that great beginning and continuing to this day, the Assembly has achieved remarkable success in making much of the documentation of its ongoing work available online. It is evident, however, that the legislative process and the democratic environment sustaining it also thrive on precedent, tradition, and careful reference to relevant passages from the historical record: to prepare for the future, legislators and citizens must often look to the past.

The project proponents can say this with particular confidence, since we field between us many hundreds of inquiries annually for information in historic Assembly documents not available online: these inquiries come from an incredibly diverse constituency, ranging from legislators and civil servants, through scholars and students of all ages, to businesspeople and other interested citizens. There is a clear need, therefore, for the commendable work done in making contemporary legislative documentation available (and searchable) online to be complemented by similar attention to older material, predating the digital documents of the late 1990s and early 2000s.