An order of reference is an order of the House referring a particular matter to a committee for its consideration. Committees are provided with orders of reference when they are established and may receive additional orders from time to time, all of which expire at prorogation or dissolution.
Standing Orders 108(2) and (3) provide standing committees with permanent orders of reference by giving them departmental and policy-area responsibilities. In addition, the Standing Orders provide for the routine referral of a number of other matters to standing committees for consideration:
While the Standing Orders provide for these matters to be referred to committee, in most cases the House must specify by separate motion the committee to which each referral is made. With respect to documents, including Order in Council appointments, the committee to which they are referred is specified when the documents are tabled. In addition to the orders of reference contained in the Standing Orders, the House reserves the right to refer additional matters to its committees as it sees fit. Committees may also receive orders of reference that are derived from statutes previously passed by Parliament.
When a bill is referred to a committee, the bill itself constitutes the order of reference. When a special committee is established, the order of reference is contained in the motion establishing it. Joint committees receive their orders of reference from both Houses. Standing Order 108(4) sets out the House’s mandate for the two standing joint committees.
Committees are bound by their orders of reference and may not undertake studies or make recommendations to the House that go beyond the limits established by these orders. In particular, a committee studying a bill may report it with or without amendment but may not include any comments or recommendations in its report
The broad powers accorded by Standing Order 108(2) enable most standing committees to make recommendations to the House related to a bill that has been referred to them. Such recommendations must, however, be presented to the House in a report separate from the report on the bill.