The election of a committee Chair is the first order of business for a committee. Pursuant to the Standing Orders, a standing committee must meet to elect a Chair within 10 sitting days of the adoption of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs’ report establishing committee membership, which occurs at the beginning of a session and, if necessary, during the course of a session.
The Standing Orders state that, with four exceptions, each standing committee elects a Chair who must be a government Member and a Vice-Chair who is a member of the Official Opposition. The second Vice-Chair must be a Member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition party.
The exceptions to this rule involve the Standing Committee on Public Accounts; the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics; the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates; and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the Chair for each of which is a member of the Official Opposition, the first Vice-Chair of which is a government member, and the second Vice-Chair of which must be a member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition. In addition, the House Joint Chair of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations is a member of the Official Opposition.
The election of the Chair is presided over by the clerk of the committee. Where there is more than one candidate for the office of Chair or Vice-Chair, the election proceeds by secret ballot.
Only a regular member of the committee may be proposed for the position of Chair, but the member need not be present at the meeting. When a committee Chair is elected in absentia, the clerk immediately proceeds to the election of an Acting Chair, who presides over the remainder of the meeting.
Since the committee is not properly constituted until the Chair has been elected, the clerk who presides over the election has no authority to hear points of order or to entertain any motion except that for the election of a Chair. In the event of a tie, the clerk does not have a casting vote. If no Chair is elected, no other business can be transacted. The process continues until a Chair is elected or the members disperse. A new meeting for the election of a Chair must then be convened by the Clerk of the House, with the election of a Chair remaining the first order of business.
In the event of the resignation or removal of the Chair from the committee, a new Chair must be elected before the committee can take up other business. Where the Chair announces his or her resignation at a committee meeting, the committee proceeds immediately to the election of a new Chair.
The clerk of the committee also presides over the election of the Vice-Chairs. In cases where more than one candidate is nominated for either of the two Vice-Chair positions, the election is conducted by secret ballot.
Pursuant to Standing Order 112, the Speaker appoints the Chairs of legislative committees from the Panel of Chairs. The Panel of Chairs is established at the beginning of each session and is composed of up to 12 members named by the Speaker, in proportion to the party standings in the House. The Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole, the Assistant Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole are also part of the Panel.
Unlike the practice with respect to standing and special committees, the Chair of a legislative committee may be a member of any of the parties in the House. When a temporary replacement for the Chair is necessary at a given meeting, the Chair will designate a committee member to act in that capacity for the meeting, pursuant to Standing Order 113(4).
In standing joint committees, two Joint Chairs are elected, one from the House and one from the Senate. The election of each Joint Chair is presided over by the joint clerk from the respective House. The Joint Chairs of special joint committees are elected following the procedure used in standing joint committees.
The practice with respect to the election of Vice-Chairs is variable in joint committees; they may choose not to have any Vice-Chairs, to elect only one, or to elect two, who may be from either the House or the Senate.
In standing joint committees, when the House Joint Chair is a member of the government party, the committee usually chooses a member of the Official Opposition in the House as Vice-Chair. The opposite also holds true. Special joint committees rarely elect Vice-Chairs.
Chairs of special committees, when they are not named in the order of reference establishing the committee, are elected in the same manner as Chairs of standing committees. The election of the Chair is the first order of business at the initial meeting of the committee convened by its clerk.
In establishing subcommittees, the main committee may either designate a Chair in the initial order of reference or allow the members of the subcommittee to elect the Chair themselves. Given the small size of their membership and their limited mandates, subcommittees do not usually find it necessary to elect Vice-Chairs.