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Legislative Committees

Legislative committees are established to undertake the consideration of legislation. A legislative committee may be created to study a particular bill referred to it, or one may be appointed to prepare and bring in a bill. A legislative committee ceases to exist once it has reported to the House of Commons.

Legislative committees are created according to a strict timetable established by the rules of the House of Commons. A legislative committee is required to be struck once second reading debate begins on a bill that has been identified as being intended for a legislative committee’s consideration, or once debate begins on a motion to refer a bill to a legislative committee.

Within five sitting days of the start of such a debate, the Procedure and House Affairs Committee must meet, as required by the Standing Orders, to establish a membership list of up to 15 members to serve on the committee. The committee’s report, which must be presented in the House no later than the following Thursday, is deemed adopted upon presentation.

Panel of Chairs

The Chair of a legislative committee is not elected by members of the committee but appointed by the Speaker of the House to emphasize that the role of the Chair is that of a neutral arbitrator of the proceedings. The Speaker may appoint as Chair one of the other officers of the House (i.e., the Deputy Speaker, the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, or the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole) or other Members of the House who have been named to the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees. The Panel of Chairs is established at the beginning of each session and is composed of up to 12 members selected by the Speaker in proportion to the relative strength of parties in the House of Commons.

Role of the Chair

Chairs of legislative committees have a role similar to that of Chairs of Standing Committees. Chairs are responsible for ensuring the orderly conduct of the business of the committee and careful attention to the clause-by-clause study of the bill. Like the Speaker, they preside without participating in the debate on substantive issues in order to preserve their impartiality. Some legislative committee Chairs have cited this principle of impartiality as grounds for abstaining from votes in the House of Commons on the bill being studied by the committee they are presiding over.

If the Chair cannot attend a meeting or wishes to be replaced for part of a meeting, an Acting Chair may be designated by the Chair from the membership of the committee. Unlike standing committees, legislative committees do not elect Vice-Chairs.

Legislative committee Chairs are not considered members of their committees and are not counted as part of the quorum. The Chair votes only when there is an equality of voices. As in standing committees, all decisions of the Chair may be appealed to the Committee.

Powers of Legislative Committees

Unlike the case for standing committees, the only mandate of a legislative committee is to study the bill referred to it, and to report it to the House with or without amendment. The committee cannot examine any issue beyond the provisions of the bill and is not empowered to present a report containing substantive recommendations related to it.

Legislative committees have most of the same powers as standing committees including the power to hear from expert witnesses. However, since the main objective of legislative committees is the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, they tend to limit witnesses to officials from government departments, agencies and crown corporations, and to other persons that the committee deems competent to appear on technical matters.

The Board of Internal Economy may accord spending authority to a legislative committee, and a legislative committee may hire expert, professional, technical and clerical staff as required. If a legislative committee seeks additional powers (for example, the power to travel within Canada or abroad), that authority must be granted by the House of Commons.

Meetings

The first meeting of a legislative committee must take place within two days of the naming of the Chair and the adoption of the motion referring the bill to committee. The first meeting is an organization meeting at which various routine motions may be adopted and other committee business discussed.

Meetings of legislative committees take precedence over meetings of standing committees on bills that emanate from, or affect departments under the mandate of, standing committees.

The audio feed of meetings is broadcast live over the Internet and, if the committee wishes to televise them, these meetings are also broadcast over the Internet, on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), and on the internal House of Commons channels. The verbatim evidence of meetings as well as the minutes are also published on the Committee website.

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