The business of supply is the process by which the government asks Parliament to appropriate (or authorize) the funds required to meet its financial obligations. The Crown transmits to the House of Commons the government’s projected annual expenditures, or “estimates”, for parliamentary scrutiny and approval. The House of Commons has sole authority to grant the “supplies” needed to satisfy the government’s demands.
If the government requires funds while Parliament is dissolved, it may obtain temporary spending authority by requesting that the Governor General issue a Special Warrant.
After the Speech from the Throne, the House routinely adopts a motion by the President of the Treasury Board that causes an order for the business of supply to be placed on the Order Paper for the remainder of the session. This establishes a continuing order of the day for the consideration of supply, enabling the government to call supply on any sitting day, within the framework laid out in the Standing Orders.
The business of supply can be divided into two phases: a general debate phase and a legislative phase.
The general debate phase consists of the consideration of motions sponsored by opposition Members. The debate takes place during the time reserved for government business on allotted days—days set aside for such debate, as required by the Standing Orders.
The legislative phase consists of the consideration of motions to:
In any calendar year, 22 days, designated as “allotted days”, are divided among three supply periods under Standing Order 81(10)(a) for consideration of the business of supply. On each of these days, debate on a motion put forward by an opposition party is given precedence over all other government business.
Any opposition motion is votable unless the sponsor of the motion designates it as non-votable.
Forty-eight hours’ written notice is required for opposition motions on allotted days.
On allotted days, the party of the opposition Member sponsoring the motion may be recognized more frequently on debate than otherwise might be warranted, given its relative numbers in the House.
Only one amendment and one subamendment are permitted to opposition motions considered on an allotted day. Amendments can be proposed only if the sponsor of the motion consents.
The Speaker will interrupt the debate on votable motions 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders and put every question necessary to dispose of the motion. A recorded division demanded on the last allotted day of a supply period may not be deferred to a later time.
The main estimates are made up of a series of “votes” or resolutions that summarize the amount of money requested for a federal department or agency in a particular expenditure category. They also contain statutory items, which are expenditures already authorized under separate legislation. Statutory items are included in the estimates for information purposes only.
The main estimates for an incoming fiscal year must be referred to the standing committees on or before March 1 of the expiring fiscal year, as required by Standing Order 81(4).
The estimates are presented by a Minister, normally the President of the Treasury Board, and are accompanied by a royal recommendation.
Should the amounts voted under the main estimates prove insufficient, or should new funding or a reallocation of funds between budgetary amounts already authorized be required during a fiscal year, the government may ask Parliament to approve additional expenditures set out in supplementary estimates. Supplementary estimates are automatically referred to committee when they are tabled in the House.
The government uses a budgetary device called a “dollar item” to reallocate funds within a particular set of estimates. Doing so does not involve the appropriation of new funds.
The government may introduce as many sets of supplementary estimates in a year as it deems necessary although usually only two or three are presented.
Interim supply is an advance on the funds requested in the main estimates to cover the needs of the public service from April, when the new fiscal year begins, until the appropriation act based on the main estimates of that year is passed in June. Interim supply is usually authorized by the House in March.
When a standing committee considers estimates, each budgetary item, or “vote”, is called, proposed and debated as a distinct motion.
A standing committee studying the estimates may:
Standing committees considering estimates may invite witnesses to appear, including the Minister, departmental or agency officials, and interested individuals or groups. The discussion on vote 1 in the main estimates (generally departmental administration or operations) is traditionally wide-ranging. Typically, questions on departmental policy are directed to the responsible Minister; questions of a more technical or administrative nature may be referred through the Minister to departmental officials.
A standing committee may report the estimates back to the House, although it is not obliged to do so. Main estimates are deemed to have been reported back to the House on May 31. Supplementary estimates are deemed to have been reported back to the House on the third sitting day before the last allotted day or the last sitting day in the supply period.
The Standing Orders provide for two exceptions to the May 31 reporting deadline for main estimates:
A motion to concur in a committee report on estimates may be considered on an allotted day only as part of the business of supply.
A standing committee may also report on the expenditure plans and priorities of the departments and agencies the main estimates of which are referred to it, provided it does so not later than the last sitting day in June.
The estimates must be concurred in by the House in order for the government to introduce the appropriation bill based on them. Motions to concur in estimates are proposed on the final allotted day of a supply period, once the proceedings on any opposition motion are completed.
A motion to concur in the main or supplementary estimates is a motion to concur in the estimates as reported or deemed reported by the standing committees. Should a committee reduce or reject a vote or votes in those estimates, the government may move that they be restored or reinstated.
Concurrence in the estimates or in interim supply is an order of the House to bring in an appropriation bill or bills giving effect to the spending authority (amounts and their destinations) that the House has approved. Once adopted, the legislation will authorize the government to withdraw funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is the government account that is replenished through the collection of taxes, tariffs and excises. This authorization is for amounts up to, but not exceeding, the amounts set out in the estimates for the purposes specified in individual budget items. Such an act gives authority for only a single year.
Once the appropriation bill has been read the third time, it is forwarded to the Senate for consideration.
Because the granting of supply is a prerogative of the House of Commons, supply bills are always returned to the House following adoption by the Senate and are taken by the Speaker of the House to the Senate Chamber to receive Royal Assent.
In the event of an emergency, a motion to concur in the estimates and the subsequent appropriation bill may be taken up under “Government Orders” (the time set aside for government business) rather than on days allotted for debate on opposition motions.