If you cross paths with a black cat in Alberta’s Parliament Building, consider yourself lucky.
When Hansard was rescued at just a few days old, she required round-the-clock care in Speaker Nathan Cooper’s office, but these days, the more independent five-month-old cat doesn’t come to work with him every day.
Still, being out of the office most of the time doesn’t stop Hansard from getting an important job done. She helps Cooper teach Albertans about the history and function of the legislature.
Early one December morning, before Cooper was to don his speaker robe and triangular hat to oversee the legislature, he sat down at Postmedia to gather a few facts and help his cat sit still for some photos.
Cooper said the cat has given a big boost to his public engagement efforts, including getting people thinking about the work of the legislature and how democracy works in the county.
Thanks to her, he said, thousands more people know that there is a detailed transcript of everything said daily in the assembly by elected members representing every corner of the province — known as the Hansard.
“It makes me super happy because we’ve tried lots of different ways to get people involved… and of all the efforts, Hansard the cat is the winner without a doubt,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hansard the cat made impartial progress, drawing the attention of opposition NDP MLA Janis Irwin, whose cat Oregano is arguably Alberta’s most notorious elected legislator. In a recent tweet, Irwin posed for a photo with Hansard and Cooper and said she had finally met Alberta’s Legislative Cat.
The pet led to the creation of a Twitter account, written from the cat’s perspectivecommitted to “using my cuteness to help keep the Alberta UCP and NDP civilized.”
Cooper said he had no idea who was behind it, but he gave the account kudos. Postmedia contacted the account via direct message, but the mysterious tweeter did not strike at the time of writing.
Speaking in the Speakers Suite, an apartment now used primarily as a meeting and reception space, Cooper emphasized how important it is to him to help everyone, especially new Canadians, feel connected to Alberta’s democratic institutions. He also said part of his role, as head of the legislature, is to build trust.
“My jam, if you will, is around these educational pieces,” Cooper said.
The Speaker’s cat sometimes visits Cooper’s office, which on a normal weekday is packed with staffers and a few small cat toys to rummage around. The cat, while there, can jump onto Cooper’s desk or wander into the giant walk-in bank vault that was once used to store payday money before checks or automatic transfers existed.
In 2022, that vault is a coffee room with a photocopier, where Hansard can shelter under the assembly’s mace, a ceremonial gilded staff symbolizing the Crown’s authority in Alberta, and an object the assembly cannot do without.
If you take a public tour of the 109-year-old building, you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of the mace, which is often on display in a glass case, than the face of Hansard the cat, who’s not allowed to roam the halls.
The best way to see the speaker’s pet is to follow Cooper’s social media accounts, like on TwitterFacebook and Instagram, where he posts photos of Hansard, always with the intention of teaching followers a thing or two about the legislature.