The main estimates are the projections for government spending for the coming fiscal year, broken down by department and agency. The estimates are displayed as a series of budgetary items or “votes”, each of which indicates the amount of money required by the government for a program or function. Where the allocation of additional funds or the reallocation of already-appropriated funds is necessary during a fiscal year, the government may also table supplementary estimates.
Standing Orders 81(4), (5) and (6) provide for detailed consideration of main, supplementary and interim estimates by standing committees . Each committee has referred to it those departmental and agency votes that relate to its mandate. Allocated amounts for programs whose funding and funding levels are already prescribed by statute have already been approved by the passage of the appropriate legislation and are not referred to committee for consideration but are provided for information purposes only.
The estimates for a given fiscal year must be tabled in the House and referred to standing committees no later than April 16 of that fiscal year, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4). Each committee must report the votes back no later than June 10 of that fiscal year. If a committee has not reported the votes back by that date, it is deemed to have done so, whether it has actually considered them or not.
No later than May 8, the Leader of the Opposition, after consultation with the other opposition parties’ leaders, may give notice of a motion to refer the votes in the main estimates of two named departments or agencies to Committees of the Whole. These votes are then deemed withdrawn from the committees to which they were referred. The Committee of the Whole must deal with these votes by June 10 and may consider them for a period of up to four hours each.
The Leader of the Opposition may, no later than the third sitting day prior to June 10, ask to extend the reporting deadline respecting committee consideration of the main estimates of a named department or agency as provided for in Standing Order 81(4)(b). A committee studying the main estimates of that department or agency must report, or will be deemed to have reported, no later than the earlier of either 10 sitting days after June 10, or the sitting day prior to the final allotted day in that supply period.
While considering the votes in the main estimates, committees are also empowered, under Standing Order 81(7), to consider expenditure plans and priorities in future years for the departments and agencies within their mandates. Standing Order 81(8) states that the deadline for reporting on departmental plans and priorities is the final sitting day in June.
Votes in supplementary estimates are referred, when tabled in the House and in accordance with Standing Order 81(5), to the appropriate standing committees. The deadline for the votes to be reported is no later than the third sitting day before the earlier of either the final sitting day or the final allotted day in the current supply period. As with the votes in the main estimates, if a committee has not reported within the prescribed time, it is deemed to have done so.
As of September 18, 2017, and for the duration of the Fourty-Second Parliament, votes in interim estimates are referred, when tabled in the House and in accordance with Standing Order 81(6), to the appropriate standing committees. The deadline for the votes to be reported is no later than the third sitting day before the earlier of either the final sitting day or the final allotted day in the supply period ending no later than March 26. As with the votes in the main or supplementary estimates, if a committee has not reported within the prescribed time, it is deemed to have done so.
Committees usually begin their consideration of the estimates by hearing from the appropriate Minister or Parliamentary Secretary, accompanied by senior departmental officials. When the committee has completed its consideration of the estimates, each item is put to a vote separately, beginning with Vote 1, which covers general departmental administration or operations. A vote can be agreed to (the budget item is approved), reduced by a specific amount or negatived (the budget item is not approved).
Restrictions exist on the power of a committee to amend the estimates:
A committee is under no obligation to report the estimates to the House; however, in the case of main estimates, committees that do not report are deemed to have done so on June 10. In the case of supplementary estimates, they are deemed to have done so on the third sitting day before the last allotted day or the last sitting day in the supply period. Finally, in the case of interim estimates, they are deemed to have done so on the third sitting day before the earlier of the last allotted day or the last sitting day in the supply period ending no later than March 26.
Where a committee chooses to report the estimates, the report must correspond, in both form and substance, to the estimates as they were referred to the committee. The report should indicate whether the votes in the estimates have been agreed to, reduced or negatived.