Dispatches from a Senate Parliamentary Reporter on the West Coast

Written by Heidi Archer

A few years ago, as I was finishing up work after captioning an NHL game, the thought occurred to me: My back hurts.  Also: But I am SO GOOD at my job!  And then: Is this my late 30s?  Consistent back pain, but you have an established career that you love AND are great at?

Over my years as a stenographer, I have worked as a court reporter, provided realtime and CART in a legal setting, CART in educational spaces, and captioning – everything from local newscasts to NHL and NBA games and multiple Olympic Games.  I have worked with incredible folks all along the way, each one of them contributing to my skills and who I am as a person today.

Last September, I had the privilege of joining the Senate of Canada as a parliamentary reporter –  an opportunity I had had once before at the beginning of my career.

I turned down that opportunity at the time, because I was a Western Canadian at heart.  I did not want to move to Ottawa, as appealing as the political work was to me:  My life was not there.

But I never lost my interest in political work over the years, and I took many jobs in political settings: captioning municipal meetings, provincial legislatures and the House of Commons, as well as providing court reporting services in response to RFPs and other provincial government spaces.

As we all experienced, COVID arrived and changed life as we know it. I felt the greatest change in my captioning work. After a brief slowdown as lockdowns worldwide took effect, my workload increased – dramatically. Zoom meetings became a daily part of my life as a captioner as well. I was now providing captions for an even wider variety of meetings and educational settings, across more spaces and in more places.

One day I saw a Senate job posting – the same job had I turned down all those years ago, but this time it was a remote position!  It was fate, I thought.

I quickly applied, wrote an exam, had an interview, and waited until my start date came around. I began work with the Senate in September 2022 – and let me tell you, it is my dream job. Captioning and court reporting can be a lonely gig at times, but I feel so privileged and energized to be part of such an incredible team. I am consistently impressed by everyone I work with – interpreters, fellow steno reporters (in French AND English), scopists, editors, senators, clerks, pages, managers, the IT department  – I mean everyone!

Each sitting day is different, but generally there are committee meetings every sitting day plus a Chamber sitting a minimum of three days a week, so some days are incredibly busy and long. Every meeting and Chamber sitting is captioned live and scoped and edited and translated, ready for posting the next day. There is a hard-working team of folks who produce this amount of work every day, in both official languages, in adherence with the Senate’s style and requirements. Not to mention the prep work required to ensure my live caption output is at a standard of at least 98% accuracy.  I love every minute of it.

One reason I love it is because I am so proud to contribute to the democratic process from the small village of Daajing Giids, Haida Gwaii, B.C.  I never thought I would be able to participate in Ottawa from my life here out on the West Coast. More than that, being able to perform my job remotely for the Senate enables me to continue to provide care to my partner, who has a disability (part of the reason we live in Haida Gwaii).  Remote work not only supports my needs, but my family’s overall wellbeing, all while allowing me to be involved in my local community.

Folks are very curious about what I do for work, and I am delighted to tell them that I work for the Senate of Canada –  and they always want to know more about how I do that and what the Senate’s work involves. I love being able to point them to specific work that committees have done and are doing and sharing the website where they can view livestreams and find out more about the Senate.

Canada’s capital can seem far away from the West Coast, and I am proud to see a federal government institution based in Ottawa offering remote work positions so people like me from small, remote places can remain in their local communities while serving the public by providing accessibility to democracy. I am also thrilled to be employed by an institution that deeply values accessibility, an issue that affects not only my partner’s day-to-day life, but disabled folks all across Canada.

To learn more about the Senate of Canada, check out their website: https://sencanada.ca/en/about/senate-explained/

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