The role of committees is to examine selected matters in greater depth than is possible in the House and to report any conclusions of those examinations, including recommendations, to the House. Committees undertake studies in four general areas: the estimates, legislation, Order in Council appointments, and subject matter studies. While it may be common for standing committees to conduct studies in all of these areas, special committees are normally established to conduct subject matter inquiries, and legislative committees are charged solely with the examination of legislation.
Most standing committees are empowered to study and report on any matter relating to the operations and policies of government departments assigned to them. These committee-initiated studies may be directed towards:
Certain standing committees, including standing joint committees, are accorded specific mandates to initiate studies in well-defined areas of responsibility as outlined in the Standing Orders.
When a committee receives an order of reference or decides to take up a particular study, the steering committee is usually charged with both establishing a work plan and coordinating the committee’s consideration of the variety of topics before it. An avenue often pursued by committees having a heavy workload is the delegation of one or several items of study to subcommittees. This allows the committee to share its work by drawing upon associate members of the committee for the membership of subcommittees.
Certain items of study, such as the main estimates and departmental annual reports, are required to be tabled in the House each year at a specific time and referred to committees. Other items, including supplementary estimates, Order in Council appointments, and legislation, are referred to committees only once they have been introduced in the House, or when the House so orders. The number of such items varies from year to year, depending on a wide variety of factors including the government’s legislative schedule and events outside Parliament.