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Much-discussed Senate ‘wise owls’ book getting a rewrite after less than a month

By Peter Mazereeuw      

'Minor changes' are being made to 'incorporate further input of Senators,' says a spokesperson for the Senate Internal Economy Committee chair.

The Senate's communications team is updating its story on the Chamber's founding for children, The Wise Owls, the cover of which is pictured. Illustration courtesy of the Senate of Canada
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The Senate’s new storybook for children, set in the land of wise owls and squabbling forest creatures, is getting a rewrite and second printing less than a month after initial publication, after feedback from Senators that the first edition appeared to fudge the facts about the Senate’s founding.

The Senate released four new free educational brochures for the public at the beginning of the month, including one aimed at young children, entitled The Wise Owls. That illustrated, full-colour brochure tells the tale of a House of Commons-style Council of Animals, which can’t quite manage to maintain order in the forest the animals call home. The other animals turn to a parliament—the proper name, by the way, for a group of the bird—of wise owls to supervise their affairs. More precisely, a shaggy bears tells the others, “I would feel better if the Owls kept an eye on the Council of Animals.”

The story was panned in the press for its rosy image of a Chamber beleaguered by scandals in recent years, including in a tongue-in-cheek retelling by CBC columnist Robyn Urback that highlighted the role of forest parasites—a not-so-subtle reference to the label affixed to members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery by Conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie (Annapolis Valley-Hants, N.S.) last month—in keeping tabs on the less-than-perfect owls.

While some Senators defended the book as being helpful in their efforts to educate children on their role, some MPs criticized the book. “The notion of sober second thought is not that the Council of Owls are wiser than the people who are elected…That’s not the right message, even for a children’s book,” Green Party Leader and MP Elizabeth May told CTV News.

Criticism from the Ottawa bubble aside, the pamphlet seems to have been popular, with requests from school teachers and Senators for copies to hand out to explain how the Senate works and its purpose. The Hill Times recently witnessed a parliamentary tour guide looking for copies for his charges in Centre Block. The brochures are normally available in the Senate foyer.

However, the Senate’s Internal Economy Subcommittee on Communications decided to rewrite the pamphlet in response to feedback from Senators, particularly concern about the storyline suggesting the Senate was created after the House of Commons, when in fact both Chambers were created at the same time, by the Constitution Act of 1867.

“Without giving too much away, the second edition of The Wise Owls does not involve dramatic changes. The layout of the brochure remains exactly the same, as does the essence of the story. There are some minor changes being made to incorporate further input of Senators, including to reflect the fact the Senate was created at the same time as the House of Commons,” wrote Jacqui Delaney, a spokesperson for Senate Internal Economy Committee chair Leo Housakos (Wellington, Que.) in a statement this week to The Hill Times.

The Communications Subcommittee, which oversees production of the pamphlets, has held off on distributing more copies of the first edition while work on the second is underway. The majority of the 3,500 first-edition copies had already been distributed when that decision was made, according to Ms. Delaney.

“We currently have several outstanding requests from MPs, Senators, teachers and others for copies of the Wise Owls. While there were still some copies of the first edition remaining, the decision was made by the subcommittee on communications to wait for the second edition of the brochure before filling those requests,” wrote Ms. Delaney.

Both editions of the brochure were produced by Senate communications staff within their existing budget. Ms. Delaney did not have an estimate of how many working hours were devoted to authoring the pamphlets. The first brochure was printed by an external company at a cost of $6,179.

The revised edition of The Wise Owls should be available in June, according to Ms. Delaney. It will be issued in print and online.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

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