Most standing committees are empowered to study and report on any matter relating to the operations and policies of government departments assigned to them. Standing Order 108(2) stipulates that committee-initiated studies may be directed towards:
In some cases the House may strike a special committee or, with the Senate, a special joint committee, to inquire into a particular subject matter. In such cases, the order of reference to the committee is usually included in the order that establishes the committee, although the House may refer additional matters to it at a later date.
The manner in which a subject matter study is conducted varies widely, depending on the topic and the approach selected by the committee. Typically, a committee will begin with a background briefing provided by the committee research staff or departmental officials. The committee will then invite testimony and briefs from interested parties. During the evidence-gathering phase, the committee may travel to broaden the range of witnesses heard and to visit sites and facilities relevant to the study.
Following the gathering of evidence, the committee will provide drafting instructions to the staff assigned to prepare the report. Once the draft report has been circulated to members, the committee will meet to consider it and propose any alterations necessary to accurately reflect the committee’s views. Committees often consider draft reports at in camera meetings, but reports can also be considered in public meetings. Once the committee has agreed to the final version of the report, it is presented to the House. Committee reports must first be presented to the House before they can be released to the media and the public.
When a report is presented to the House, a standing or special committee may request that the government table a comprehensive response to it within 120 days. A request for a government response survives the prorogation of a session but dies with the dissolution of Parliament. The Standing Orders do not provide for any sanction should the government fail to comply with the requirement to present a response.
Any Member of the House can move a motion for the House to concur in a committee report during Routine Proceedings, after giving 48 hours’ notice. Recommendations in committee reports are drafted in the form of motions so that if the report is concurred in, the recommendations become clear orders or resolutions of the House. Committee recommendations cannot exceed the authority of House and, most importantly, committees can only recommend that the government “consider the advisability” of spending funds or introducing legislation.