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It's just a matter of time until iPads are used in Parliament

Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Gordon Barnhart reads the 2010 throne speech from an iPad to open the fall session of the provincial legislature on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 in Regina, Sask.

Troy Fleece/ The Canadian Press/Troy Fleece/ The Canadian Press

" I just think they're wrong on this one," Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, commenting on a decision not to allow MPs to expense iPads.

Stockwell Day has been charmed by the iPad. He is convinced the taxpayer should pick up the tab for all 308 MPs who wish to use Apple's tablet computer.

Publicly funded iPads certainly could cause problems for the politicians, creating a perception they were wasting money on gadgetry. It would be up to the MPs to ensure that the electronic devices were not used primarily for movies, shopping or gaming. They should also remember the name Simeone de Cagno Abbrescia, the member of the Italian government who was caught earlier this month checking out scantily clad women at an escort website on his iPad while sitting in parliament.

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Nevertheless, the benefits are hard to overlook. Although not a replacement for a computer, the iPad could help MPs do their jobs better.

Members of Parliament are currently entitled to four wireless devices, for themselves and key staff, according to the manual of allowances and services.

Their current allowance includes funds for voice plans, a data plan, monthly fees, air time, long-distance charges and features such as voice mail, access fees and 911 services. They can use the budget for cellphones, pagers or personal digital assistants but, so far, not iPads or other tablet computers.

The government allows cabinet ministers and senior staff to expense iPads. However, last November, Parliament's Board of Internal Economy, chaired by Speaker Peter Milliken, decided that iPads should not be allowed as expenses covered by a members' office budget.

Mr. Day indicated this week he disagrees. He said using iPads saves money by reducing paper and printing costs, and replaces the need to carry paper briefing materials. "They need to look at it again from the point of view of efficiency and cost saving," Mr. Day said.

The British Parliament as well as Capitol Hill in Washington share his perspective.

New rules have been proposed for a one-year trial to allow peers in the House of Lords to use the iPad and other electronic devices at work in the chambers of Parliament. "This could have significant benefits for members, not least in reducing their reliance on paper copies of documents such as Order Paper, Hansard, texts of bills or explanatory notes, white papers or other government publications and reports by external bodies which are subject of debate," the House of Lords administration and works committee said in a recent report.

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The committee report also noted that a member in recent weeks had made a speech in the Chamber using his iPad. Members should be permitted to refer to electronic devices when addressing the Chamber, the committee recommended, while maintaining its support for the longstanding British tradition of prohibiting members from reading speeches.

Another advantage - those who use electronic devices in place of speaking notes could e-mail the text to Hansard, instead of handing over a copy on paper. "The editor of Hansard has confirmed that he would welcome this," stated the committee report.

On Capitol Hill, new rules were brought in to allow members to use electronic devices such as the iPad or BlackBerry on the floor of the House. The intent was to let legislators look up the text of a bill, check a fact or keep up on the news of the day, the New York Times reported. The Americans also recognized that, with IPad's bigger screen, legislators could abandon paper copies of bills or easily check the accuracy of something a colleague had just said.

Hotels, restaurants, hospitals, architecture firms and an ever-growing list of businesses are talking about the efficiencies and savings that have been achieved with an iPad. It's probably just a matter of time until the Board of Internal Economy acknowledges the benefits that Mr. Day has talked about, and allows MPs to have their iPads.

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