Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

Introduction   Starting   Clarifying   Bibliographies   Finding & Evaluating
Primary Sources   Special Topics   Citing Sources   Ask Your Librarian!   Detailed Table of Contents
5. Using Primary Source Material
Introduction Selected Primary Sources and their Finding Aids

Selected Primary Sources and their Finding Aids: What Was Said

What Was Written Personal Papers Recorded Images What Is Happening Now

Direct quotes of what politicians, government officials and others have said appear in several different sources depending on the place and context in which they were made, the type of comment, and the importance of the comments. Apart from the snippets reproduced in the news media and compilations of famous quotations, there are also other, more specialized resources that provide access to what was said in government and politics, whether in speeches, interviews, in Parliament, Cabinet, or in public hearings.

Back to the Top Speeches Interviews In Parliament In Cabinet Public Hearings
Quotations can be found in most primary sources. Care must be taken to copy quotations accurately and not to take them out of context. See Part 7: Citing Sources Used for guides that provide details on the proper ways to use quotes in a research paper.

Books that compile quotes by famous people are numerous. However, compilations of Canadian political quotations are much fewer. You may need to consult both.
Canadian Political Quotations:
The Broadview Book of Canadian Parliamentary Anecdotes. Edited by Marc Bosc. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1990. 344 p.
This compilation has a selection of incidents retold and reprinted from many sources.
The Oxford Book of Canadian Political Anecdotes. Edited by Jack McLeod and Cynthia M. Smith. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988. 273 p.
Presents quotes, jokes, and incidents told by and involving Canadian political leaders with a brief explanation of their context. Index of names and authors included.
Canadian Quotations:
Colombo’s All Time Great Canadian Quotations. Toronto: Stoddart, 1994. 272 p.

The Dictionary of Canadian Quotations & Phrases. Rev. & Enlarged ed. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979. 1063 p.

These compilations are organized by subject, so it is easy to pick out the quotes relating to Politics, Elections, Confederation, etc.
Political Quotations:
Dictionary of Political Quotations. By Lewis D. Eigen and Jonathan P. Siegel. London: Hale Ltd.,1994. 785 p.

Hillwatch Directory of Political Quotes.

The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations. Edited by Antony Jay. 3rd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford U. Press, 2007. 560 p.

These contain only a few Canadian quotes.
General Quotations:
Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations: The Most Notable Quotes from 1950 to the Present. Edited by James B. Simpson. 1st ed. rev. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. 657 p. 1988 edition searchable online along with "Bartlett's", "Columbia" and "Respectfully Quoted" at
Sources like Simpson's will generally include many political quotes, among other topics, but few Canadian ones. Search by name for quotations by or about a Canadian Head of State, government official or politician.
To find more books of collected quotations:
Common Library of Congress subject headings:
[Person/subject] -- quotations (e.g. Chretien, Jean, 1943- -- quotations)
Canada -- politics and government -- anecdotes
Quotations, Canadian
Politicians -- quotations
Political science --quotations, maxims, etc.
Back to the Top Quotations Interviews In Parliament In Cabinet Public Hearings

Speeches made by politicians and government leaders can be difficult to locate many years after the fact. For relatively current speeches always check the government or political web site with which the person is affiliated. Many speeches are provided there, but not usually for very long. Other sources include books compiling speeches by one person, or by many different speakers, web sites with selected speeches posted, a journal that reprints important speeches, government collections, archival collections, etc. The following are some examples of the kinds of collections and sources available for finding Canadian speeches on government and politics.

For the Budget Speech see Special Topics: Government Finance. For the Throne Speech see In Parliament.

Canada Speaks. An Industry Canada Digital Collections project by the Prince Albert Public School System, created in 1996. Archived at the Library and Archives Canada.
This is a collection of speeches by Canadian Prime Ministers, in English and French, from John A. MacDonald to the present. The site also includes a picture and brief biographical sketch for each PM. Site not updated.
Canadian Speeches. Woodville, ON: Mars McGuiness, 1987 - . Monthly. Also available in full text on Canadian Business and Current Affairs, Canadian Newsdisc, etc.
Reprints entire speeches from important events, including may by politicians and government officials.
CBC Archives.
The web site of the Archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation includes several collections of radio and television clips on government and political topics. Items include clips from speeches, interviews, etc. Select "Politics and Economy" to see the collections available, search by keyword or use the Topic Index.
Programs that were broadcast on CPAC can be searched by keyword and ordered. Details on the CPAC web site under "Order Tapes". For example, most Supreme court proceedings are televised by CPAC. You can obtain a transcript or video copy.
Empire Club Addresses. Don Mills, ON: Empire Club Foundation, 1912 - . Annual. Available in print in most school and university libraries in Canada and online from 1998/99 on:
The Empire Club of Canada has been an important speakers forum since 1903. Speeches include many on political topics, and many given by prominent government officials and politicians.
TIP: Use the Index of Speeches available on the web site to find speeches on a specific topic, then click on the full text link or find the print issue in your library.
First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics. By Library and Archives Canada.
Select "Speeches" for links to speeches by topic, or click on "Profiles" and the PM's name to see a photograph, biographical sketch, and links to their speeches. (Speeches are being added to this site on an irregular basis.)
Great Canadian Speeches: From Sir John A. MacDonald to Adrienne Clarkson. Edited by Dennis Gruending. Calgary, AB: Fifth House, 2004. 312 p.
Ministers' Speeches.
The official federal government web site for each Department or Ministry usually has some of the Minister's speeches under the link to "Minister" or a similar heading. (Go to the Canada site to find the official web sites of federal departments.) Print copies for earlier years should be in research libraries. They may be entitled "Statements and Speeches", "Speaking Notes for the Honourable...", "Notes for an Address by the Honourable...", etc.

All federal government news releases are also accessible from the "Canada News Centre" section of the Canada site: where you can limit an advanced search to "news type": speeches/statements.

Finding Aid: Ministers' Speeches Index. By Library of Parliament. Ottawa: Library of Parliament, 1988 - . Updated monthly.

Political Party Platforms. (See description under What was Written)
Includes some political speeches quoted verbatim in newspapers and other sources.
Political Party Leaders' Speeches (Conventions, Leaders Debates, etc.).
Selected speeches by leaders of political parties are available on most political party web sites. (See List of Registered Political Parties on the Elections Canada web site for links.)

Political Party Conventions: Proceedings of these are occasionally published and can be found using library catalogues. Common Subject headings: Political conventions, and/or the name of the party. To obtain others, contact the political party Headquarters. (See List of Registered Political Parties on the Elections Canada web site for contact information.)

Leaders Debates: Transcripts of these debates may also be published and available through libraries. E.g. 1997 Leader's Debate with Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien, Hon. Jean Charest, Mr. Preston Manning, Ms Alexa McDonough, Mr. Gilles Duceppe. Ottawa: StenoTran Services Inc., 1997. 130 p. This is the verbatim transcript of the televised debate during the 1997 federal election campaign. Common subject heading: Campaign debates. Search also by leaders' names as Author, or using keywords: televised debate, transcript, etc. There may also be film footage of televised debates available (e.g. the Library and Archives Canada collections include some.) See Recorded Images for details. To obtain others: Contact the television station broadcasting the debates to purchase transcripts. CPAC should have complete, unedited coverage. See the CPAC website (listed above) for details on buying the tape.

Prime Ministers of Canada: Selected Speeches, 1867-2002. Edited by H. Raymond Samuels II. Ottawa: Agora Cosmopolitan, 2002. 482 p.
Words and Occasions: An Anthology of Speeches and Articles Selected from his Papers by Lester B. Pearson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970. 296 p.

To find more speeches by government officials and politicians:
Common Library of Congress subject heading: Speeches, addresses, etc., Canadian
Search also by the person's last name as AUTHOR.
Or do a keyword search combining a keyword for the topic or the person's name with keywords for speeches. Common keywords: Address, Remarks, Speech(es), Statement(s), Transcript.

Back to the Top Quotations Speeches In Parliament In Cabinet Public Hearings

Politicians and government officials are interviewed most often by the news media. See Finding Information: Current Events/News for tips on finding older and recent interviews. Some of the sources mentioned for speeches and film and video footage also include interviews. Other collections and sources for interview transcripts:

Newspaper and Newsmagazine Databases:
Full-text news databases such as CBCA (Canadian Business and Current Affairs), Canadian Newsdisc, etc. contain some television and radio transcripts from CBC, CTV and Global news programs and other shows. Exact coverage fluctuates. Check the title list for the database available to you.

Some databases allow you to limit your search by "interview" as the article type. If not, limit your search of the person's name with "interview" as a subject heading or keyword.

Interviews on Tape
More common for local history projects, cassette tapes of political interviews exist in some library collections. E.g. Canadian Public Figures on Tape: Conversations with Canadians who have made Major Contributions to Canadian National Life. Interviewed by Richard M. Alway. Toronto: Institute for Studies in Education, 1972-73. 10 cassettes. This series includes interviews with Lester Pearson, John Diefenbaker, Rene Levesque, Joey Smallwood, Paul Martin, Judy LaMarsh and others.

To find these, search library catalogues using the Library of Congress sub-heading --interviews.
e.g. politicians--canada--interviews

Search also using the person's name as Author.
Common keywords: interviewed, conversation(s), sound recording.

For interviews on film or videotape see Recorded Images - Film and Video Footage.

Published Interview Transcripts
Certain interviews may be available as published transcripts. Eg. Deifenbaker [sic] hot seat. Toronto: CBC, 1964. 10 p. This is the transcript of an interview John Diefenbaker gave on the CBC-TV program "This hour has seven days" in Nov. 1964, on political corruption.

To find these, search library catalogues using the Library of Congress sub-heading --interviews.
e.g. politicians--canada--interviews
Search also using the person's name as Author.
Common keywords: interview or transcript.

Back to the Top Quotations Speeches Interviews In Cabinet Public Hearings
In Parliament (Speech from the Throne, Debates, Committees)
Debates Parliamentary Committees
Parliamentary sources include some of the most important primary material for understanding government and the policy issues it deals with, as well as to some extent, the influence of the opposition, news media, experts, and the public on these issues.

To get some background information for a basic understanding of how government works and the information produced in Parliament, see the dictionaries and glossaries listed under Definitions, in Part 2. and the reference works listed under General Facts About Canadian Government and Politics, in Part 2.
NOTE: For the Budget Speech, see Special Topics: Government Finance

Throne Speech, or Speech from the Throne.
Print: Published in the Senate and House of Commons Debates at the opening of each new session.
Internet: On the Parliamentary Internet Site, under "Chamber Business" . 1994 (35th Parliament) - .
(TIP: Look at the Senate or House of Commons Debates on the first sitting date of the first session for each Parliament, or use the Debates Index within each Parliament.)
The Speech from the Throne is prepared by Cabinet and read by the Governor General in the Senate Chamber at the opening of each session of Parliament. It is a general statement outlining the government's intentions for the upcoming session. The speech is reprinted in the House of Commons Debates followed by the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, or debate on the speech. Up to six days of debate on the Throne Speech are allotted in the House of Commons following the Speech from the Throne.
Back to In Parliament Parliamentary Committees In Cabinet Public Hearings Back to the Top
House of Commons Debates: Official Report (Hansard).
Print: 1875 to the present. Printed the following day or within 48 hours.
Internet: 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present. Updated daily.
Text available on the web site the following day.
Television and Internet: Live and taped current proceedings on the Cable Public Affairs Channel. See schedule and details on CPAC web site:
Webcam: Live coverage when in session.
The Debates (also called "Hansard") is the official, verbatim record of everything said in the House of Commons (speeches, statements, questions, comments, debates, etc.). The Debates are published every day when Parliament is in session, in French and English, and the text is also available on the Parliamentary website the next day. This is one of the best primary sources for information on public policy issues. This is where the opposition asks questions of the governing party on the important issues of the day and the party in power defends its policies and actions (Question Period). The Debates also include recorded votes by MPs, the Throne Speech, the Budget Speech and all the debates that accompany the introduction and passing of legislation.

Proposed legislation (bills) are introduced and printed at 1st reading, then debated at 2nd reading. This is when the principles and intent of the proposed bill are presented and arguments or opposition, if any, is raised. The debate at this stage can be very revealing. The bill may be sent to a parliamentary committee for further study (for the detailed committee discussions see the committee meeting "Evidence") after which it must pass a 3rd reading, before it is sent to the Senate where it goes through a similar process.
See What's Happening Now -- In Parliament for the current status of bills and the House of Commons agenda of upcoming meetings.

Printed Debates for each Wednesday include appendices listing all the current standing committees and sub-committees, standing joint committees and special committees with the names of their members; an alphabetical list of all House of Commons Members with their constituencies and political affiliation, and members of Cabinet in order of precedence. (On the Parliamentary web site this information is under "Committee Business".)

Finding aids for House of Commons Debates:
Index to Debates or Hansard Index.
Print: 1875 to the present.
Internet: 1994 (35th Parliament) to the present. Select "Chamber Business" then "House of Commons -- Chamber Business Home" for the current session. Then "Search and Browse the Debates by Subject". (Select previous Parliaments and sessions for access to their indexes.) Updated daily when Parliament is in session.

Printed and Internet versions of the Index are very similar up until the 38th Parliament: An alphabetical list of topics and speakers. Select the letter range to browse for the first letter of your topic, speaker's name or title of an Act. If you find entries that are not links, they are cross-references; redo the search using the suggested word(s). The numbers given are page numbers, issue sitting numbers, and time check numbers from Hansard. Clicking on them will take you to the correct passages in the pages of the text.

NOTE: You may have to scroll quite a bit or use your Browser's FIND button to get to the exact paragraph. Read through all the relevant entries and note any clues given for finding additional information on the topic (e.g. if referred to committee, bill number, etc.).

New Search and browse features starting with the 39th Parliament allows you to enter the root form of your search word or browse the index within certain dates.

Debates of the Senate: Official Report (Hansard).
Print: 1868 to the present.
Internet: Feb. 1996 (35th Parliament, 2nd session) to the present.
Like the House of Commons Debates, the Senate Debates are published in French and English each day the Senate is in session and are available on the Parliamentary web site the following day.

Bills are debated in Senate after passing three readings in the House of Commons. This is a last chance to reconsider contentious bills, but debate at this stage is not usually as involved as it is at 2nd reading in the House of Commons.

The first Thursday of each month printed debates contain lists of Senators, standing, special and joint committees with their members, and an appendix called "Progress of Legislation" which shows where government, Members' and Senators' public bills stand in the process of becoming law. (This information for the current session is available on the Parliamentary web site under "Chamber Business" and "Committee Business".)
Finding Aids for Senate Debates:
Index to Senate Debates:
Print: 1871 - . Printed at the end of each session.
Microfiche: 1991 (34th Parliament) to the present.
Internet: No index: Use the Table of Contents for each daily issue which links to the text of the debates. (Use also the FIND button on your Internet browser to do a keyword search within the text.)
see What's Happening Now -- In Parliament to find the current status of bills in the Senate and the Senate agenda for upcoming meetings.
Back to In Parliament Debates In Cabinet Public Hearings Back to the Top
Parliamentary Committees:
A major part of the work done by Members of the House of Commons and Senators is to examine public policy issues, proposed legislation and government policies and programs. Committees are struck by Parliament to study all major government issues.
Standing committees are set up on almost a permanent basis, on the same lines as government departments. They study issues referred to them and can initiate studies.
Special committees are appointed for special, temporary purposes, generally to investigate an issue before the government prepares legislation on it.
Senate Committees can undertake major studies of social or economic issues that are not part of the government's immediate legislative agenda. These committees allow for more time for thorough research and can be less partisan than House of Commons committees.
Joint Committees contain members of both the House and the Senate.
Legislative Committees are created to study a bill after 2nd reading when required. They may only report the bill with suggested amendments, if any.
Committee of the Whole (House of Commons) is all members sitting as a committee. It studies appropriation bills and other matters referred to it.
Sub-Committees are usually struck by Standing Committees which can establish them to study a particular issue.

The following sources provide more background information on Committees:

Committees Section of Compendium. By Table Research Branch, House of Commons.
This chapter of the Compendium of Procedure explains all aspects of committees and links to more detailed articles on the site where available.

Committees: Practical Guide. 8th ed. Ottawa: Procedural Services, House of Commons Canada, March 2006. 12 p.
Intended for Members of Parliament and the public, this guide provides detailed information on House of Commons committees, background, how they function, etc.

Listing of committees:
Print: House of Commons and Senate Journals, each Wednesday edition of House Debates, and 1st Thursday of each month's Senate Debates.
Internet: Parliamentary Internet Select "Committee Business".
Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence of Parliamentary Committees:
print: - 1994.
Microfiche: 1994-1998. Internet: 1994 to the present. Select "Committee Business" then see the frame on the left side of the screen for links to "Committee List"; select a committee, then "Minutes of Proceedings" or "Evidence and Index".
NOTE: From Sept. 1998 on these are only available in electronic form on the Parliamentary Internet site.
Committee meetings are often where the most detailed discussions of proposed legislation (bills) are found. (After preliminary discussion in the House of Commons (see Debates, above) many bills are referred to committees for more detailed examination.

The official record of committee meetings is called "Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence". (Until 1994 these were published together.)
"Proceedings" are prepared for each meeting by the Clerk, they briefly record the details of the meeting, decisions taken by the committee, members present, etc. (corresponds to Journals of the House).
"Evidence" is the transcript of what was said at the meeting, or the public proceedings; it can include information produced by witnesses, experts, lobbyists and others providing testimony to the committee (corresponds to the Debates).
Finding Aids:
Print: An index is included at the end of each printed issue and cumulated at the end of the session or at the end of the committee's work. Index also includes List of Witnesses.
Internet: On the parliamentary site select "Committee Business" then "Committees Home" for a new search page as of the 39th Parliament for House of Commons and Joint committees.
NOTE: Evidence is not always provided. Committees can choose to hold private ("in camera") meetings, and testimony may not be reproduced. Some large briefs and reports provided by witnesses may be published separately.
If a committee has carried out an inquiry, it will present a detailed report usually published as part of an issue of the Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence. For some important inquiries the report is published separately with a special cover. (See "Committee Reports" under What Was Written")
NOTE: Provincial and Municipal equivalents:
Debates in the provincial Legislatures go through a similar process with only one House. They are also printed and some are available on the Internet. The equivalent municipal Council meeting minutes are also available in print either at a large public or municipal library or can be consulted at City Hall or town offices. For provincial and municipal committee information see a Reference Librarian at the main local public, provincial, or municipal library. In small communities, you may be referred to the Clerk at the town office. Check the official provincial and municipal Internet sites for current information. More is being made available every year. See also Special Topics: Provincial/Territorial and Local Government & Politics
Back to In Parliament Quotations Speeches Interviews Public Hearings Back to the Top
In Cabinet:

Cabinet is a commitee of Ministers chosen by the Prime Minister. It is the highest level of the federal government. Cabinet determines public policy and controls the priority of issues dealt with in Parliament. Important policy and program changes that don't require legislation are decided here and called "Cabinet Decisions" or "Cabinet Conclusions" or "Record of Decision". These are not made available to the public for 30 years after the fact.

Cabinet Conclusions. Library and Archives Canada. 1944-1974. Updated annually with a 30-year delay.

Cabinet Conclusions are notes summarizing the discussions that took place at the meetings of the federal Cabinet. As such they shed light on the thinking and decision-making processes of the Cabinet Ministers and Prime Minister. This ArchiviaNet research tool provides access to the digitized images of these documents. You can search by keyword or by date and limit your search to digital images only, agendas only or attendance only.
TIP: To make sure you are searching with the appropriate keywords, check the agendas for the time period of the event you are studying, then search by the keywords used. The introduction and help files are worth reading.

Back to the Top Quotations Speeches Interviews In Parliament In Cabinet
Public Hearings:
Public hearings may be held by Royal Commissions, Task Forces, and Committees. What was said at the hearings may be transcribed and made public as part of the reports, separately, or not at all. Usually the reports of these bodies just summarize what was said at the hearings.
Finding hearing transcripts:
If you know public hearings were held, look for the hearing transcripts by using the search tools described in Part 4: Finding Government Information, in particular library catalogues (common keywords: transcripts, hearings) and Canadian Research Index. Some of the major Royal Commissions public hearings are available on microfilm with their own index. Large research libraries in Canada should have these. If no mention is made of the hearings being included in any reports, web sites, CD-ROM, or other format, contact the body that conducted the hearings (or the researchers involved) to determine if the transcripts are available.

(Hearings held by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, for example are available on CD-ROM. See Special Topics: Aboriginal Peoples for details.)

What Was Written Personal Papers Recorded Images What Is Happening Now
Introduction Selected Primary Sources and their Finding Aids
Back to the Top
Introduction   Starting   Clarifying   Bibliographies   Finding & Evaluating
Primary Sources   Special Topics   Citing Sources   Ask Your Librarian!   Detailed Table of Contents

Created and maintained by Anita Cannon, Librarian
R. P. Bell Library   Mount Allison University   Mount Allison Centre for Canadian Studies
Last Updated: January 4, 2008