Studies Conducted by Committees
Authority to Conduct Studies: Orders of Reference and Instructions
With a few exceptions, studies conducted by committees are based on an order of reference259 or instruction from the House of Commons (and the Senate in the case of joint committees).260 The order of reference is the formal means by which the House mandates a committee to consider a matter or defines the scope of its proceedings. Committees receive orders of reference when they are established and may receive others from time to time. An order of reference may also be given to a subcommittee by its main committee or, occasionally, by the House.261
The Standing Orders provide orders of reference to standing committees that set out departmental and policy-area responsibilities.262 The Standing Orders also provide that a certain number of other matters must be referred to committees on a regular basis, namely, reports and other documents tabled in the House pursuant to statute,263 the estimates,264 Order in Council appointments for non-judicial positions or Officers of Parliament,265 and bills.266 In addition to the orders of reference mentioned in the Standing Orders, the House refers other matters to its committees as it deems appropriate.267
Depending on the type of business to be referred, the designation of the appropriate parliamentary committee to which the referral is made may be subject to a motion agreed to in the House (e.g., referral of a bill) or may simply be stipulated when the item is tabled in the House (e.g., referral of the main estimates, Order in Council appointments, documents).
Once a committee has begun a study, the House may also give it additional direction, known as “instructions”. They are sometimes mandatory, but are usually permissive. A mandatory instruction orders a committee to consider a specific matter or to conduct its study in a particular way.268 A permissive instruction gives the committee the power to do something that it could not otherwise do, but does not require it to exercise that power. Committees may request an instruction from the House by presenting a report to it.269
Committees are bound by their orders of reference or instructions and may not undertake studies or present recommendations to the House that exceed the limits established by the House.270
Types of Studies Conducted
Committees play a central role in the legislative process. On occasion, they can be the driving force behind new legislation when they are mandated to prepare a bill on a specific subject. Moreover, the vast majority of bills that are made into law in Canada are referred to committee for thorough review and possible improvement. Finally, a number of laws stipulate that committees must review them or their application once they have come into force.271
Committee Prepares and Brings in a Bill
A Minister may present a motion to establish a new committee or to mandate a standing, special or legislative committee to prepare a bill.272 Such a motion must be considered during Government Orders. If adopted, it becomes an order of reference to the committee. In its report, the committee must recommend the principles, scope and general provisions of the bill. The committee may also, if it deems it appropriate, make specific recommendations regarding the wording of the bill.273
Once the committee reports to the House, a Minister may move a motion to concur in the report. The concurrence in the committee report constitutes an order from the House to bring in a bill based on the recommendations of the committee.274
A committee has also considered a draft bill introduced in the House by the government and reported its observations and comments on it.275
Bills Referred to Committee Before or After Second Reading
Pursuant to the Standing Orders, all bills must be considered in committee. The referral of public bills to committee may take place after second reading or before second reading,276 and the committee in question may be a legislative, standing or special277 committee. Bills may also be referred to a Committee of the Whole after second reading.278 On rare occasions, the House has referred bills to joint committees.279 Private bills are referred to legislative committees.280
When a bill is referred to a committee, the bill itself constitutes the order of reference. Speaker Fraser has ruled on the meaning and scope of that order:
When a bill is referred to a standing or legislative committee of the House, that committee is only empowered to adopt, amend or negative the clauses found in that piece of legislation and to report the bill to the House with or without amendments.281
It may happen that the House provides additional instructions following this order of reference, such as, for instance, an instruction to divide the bill.282
The committee stage consists primarily of the clause-by-clause and, if necessary, line-by-line and word-by-word, consideration of the bill. It is at this point that committee members have the first opportunity to propose amendments to the bill.283
Committees that adopt amendments that are procedurally inadmissible risk having these amendments declared null and void by the Speaker of the House at report stage.284
Order of Consideration
The committee decides when and how it will consider each bill that is referred to it. It also decides when the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill will begin. Before proceeding with this consideration, the Chair of the committee usually calls clause 1 (or clause 2, if clause 1 contains the short title). This allows committee members to hold a general debate, hear witnesses and question them. Usually, in the case of a government bill, the committee first hears testimony from the Minister responsible for the legislation, or from the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary, often accompanied by the responsible public servants, then explains the provisions of the bill.285 In the case of a private Member’s bill, the Member who sponsored the bill will usually be the committee’s first witness. If they wish, the members of the committee then hear comments from groups or individuals interested in the bill. Some committees ask the Minister responsible (or the Parliamentary Secretary) or the Member sponsoring the legislation to come back and testify at the end of the committee’s hearings.
The period of time devoted to the consideration of the bill is determined by the committee, but it can be circumscribed or restricted by various factors, such as the obligation to report the bill within a prescribed time pursuant to a special order of the House or to a time allocation motion, or due to limits the committee has placed upon itself by adopting motions to that effect.286 In the latter case, it may be a question of limiting the overall time the committee will spend on the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, the time allocated for debate on each clause and amendment, the time allocated for each intervention by members on the matters broached by the committee, or a combination of any of these.287
Normally, there is no requirement to give notice of amendments moved at committee stage.288 However, to ensure an orderly and comprehensive consideration of a bill, a committee may adopt a motion requiring that members submit their amendments to the committee clerk before the beginning of the clause-by-clause consideration to allow the legislative clerk to arrange the amendments in a package in the order in which they appear in the bill.289 Such a motion does not generally prevent the moving of amendments not previously submitted once clause-by-clause consideration has begun. When there is sufficient time, if the committee agrees, the package can be circulated in advance of the clause-by-clause consideration meeting, ensuring that all members of the committee may see the amendments that their colleagues wish to make to the bill.
When a committee studies a bill, the Standing Orders state that consideration of the preamble of the bill, if any, is postponed to the very end of the process, as is consideration of the first clause if it contains only the short title.290 The rest of the clauses will be considered one by one in the order in which they appear in the bill. Some clauses may be “stood”, which means that the committee has decided, for specific reasons, to postpone consideration of these clauses until later in the process.291 Clause-by-clause consideration of the bill is carried out in the following order:
- clauses allowed to stand (if any);
- clause 1 (short title, if any);
- preamble (if any); and
- title of the bill.
Amendments to the bill, if they are moved and deemed admissible by the Chair of the committee, are studied in the order of the lines of the bill they are to modify.292 They may be submitted in either official language and must be submitted in writing. The committee may consider only one amendment at a time. Although each amendment is normally debated and voted on by the committee,293 the Chair may rule that amendments are consequential to each other, and the committee’s decision on an amendment will be applied to any consequential amendments.294 Also, by unanimous consent, the committee may agree to apply the results of a vote on one amendment to others.295 The committee then votes on the clause, be it as amended or not. It then moves on to the next clause and to the amendments that have been moved to it until all of the clauses of the bill have been considered. Subamendments may also be moved to the amendments and may be debated.296 The committee may consider only one subamendment at a time and that subamendment cannot be amended in turn. When a subamendment is moved to an amendment, it is put to a vote first. Another subamendment may then be moved, or the committee may debate the main amendment and vote on it. Moreover, a committee may decide to group a certain number of clauses and vote on them together, such as those on which there are no amendments.297
During the clause-by-clause consideration of a government bill, officials from the departments concerned normally remain before a committee as witnesses in order to provide technical explanations of the effect of individual clauses of the bill and the technical implications of proposed amendments.298 If the committee so decides, they may also be asked to appear during clause-by-clause consideration of a private Member’s bill to provide insofar as possible the same type of technical expertise as in the case of government bills. For private Members’ bills, some committees find it useful to request the presence of the bill’s sponsor as an additional witness during clause-by-clause consideration.
Reports to the House and Deadlines for Reporting
Once a committee has concluded its consideration of the clauses of a bill, a motion proposing the bill’s adoption either as is or as amended is moved. The committee then adopts a motion ordering its Chair to report the bill to the House. If the committee has substantially amended the bill, it usually orders that the bill be reprinted for the use of the House at report stage.299
The committee must report the bill as a whole. It cannot report sections of the bill separately without having been instructed to do so by the House. The report must not contain any remarks nor recommendations whatsoever,300 other than the amendments the committee made to the bill.301 Committees that have the power and the mandate to do so may sometimes decide to present, in addition to the official report on the bill, administrative and procedural reports or substantive reports on matters related to the bill under consideration.302
In addition, there are no specific time periods provided in the Standing Orders for the consideration in committee of government bills or private bills. However, the House may, by way of a special order, set a deadline for the presentation of the report.303 In the case of public bills, the House may also invoke the Standing Orders provisions concerning time allocation.304
With regard to private Members’ bills, the Standing Orders provide that the committees to which they are referred have 60 sitting days from the date of the order of reference to: conclude their consideration of the bill and report the bill to the House, with or without amendments; present a report recommending not to proceed further with the bill;305 or present a report requesting a 30-sitting-day extension to conclude the consideration of the bill (only one such extension may be requested).306 In the latter two cases, the committee must also set out in its report the reasons for its recommendation or request. If the committee does not present its report within the 60-sitting-day period, the bill is automatically deemed to have been reported without amendment.307
Referral of the Subject Matter of a Bill to a Committee
In the House, the motion for second reading of a bill may be amended so that the bill is not given second reading, but rather that its subject matter is referred to a committee for consideration.308 The order for second reading of the bill is then discharged, the bill is withdrawn from the Order Paper, and a committee is mandated to study and investigate the subject matter of the bill. By proceeding in this manner, the House signals that it is not ready to legislate on the matter, but considers nonetheless that it should be the subject of consideration by one of its committees. The House may sometimes impose a deadline for the committee’s report.309 This type of study usually leads to the presentation of substantive reports.310
Recommittal of a Bill
In the House, the motion for third reading and adoption of a bill may be amended so that the bill in question is referred anew to committee for reconsideration or for the amendment of certain clauses for a specific reason.311 This can be an opportunity for the committee to add a new clause, or to reconsider clauses or previous amendments. Such a referral is not generally accompanied by mandatory instructions,312 with the exception of a time frame for the study and report of the bill. However, the committee must limit its reconsideration to the parts of the bill specified in the new order of reference, if any.
Consideration and Review of Existing Laws
A number of Canadian statutes contain provisions that require their review by a committee once they have come into effect. This review may cover all of the provisions of an act, only some of them, or their implementation. Depending on the legislation in question, such a review must normally be done by a committee of the House of Commons or of the Senate, or by a joint committee.313 It is up to the Houses of Parliament to choose the appropriate committee to carry out the review. It may be an existing committee, or it may be a special committee created for that purpose.
Certain acts require that the review be done continuously as soon as the act is given Royal Assent, or when the whole of the act or some of its parts come into force.314 Other legislation prescribes that this review must be conducted after a certain period of time following Royal Assent or the coming into force of the act, or at the latest at a specific time, or at set intervals.315
The legislation generally provides that the committees charged with such reviews must report their conclusions and recommendations to Parliament.316 Normally, no other instructions are set out in the legislation, with the exception of a time limit for the report. The legislation normally allows Parliament to extend that deadline or set another one. Committees that believe they will not be able to meet these deadlines may request an extension by presenting a report to that effect to the House, and the report must then be adopted by the House. They may also obtain this authorization directly through a special order of the House.317
In the case of legislation that requires continuous review, the House usually includes this task in the mandates of certain standing committees, which are set out in the Standing Orders.318 As for laws that require periodic review or review at a specific time, the House entrusts this work to the appropriate committee through an order of reference.319
Review for the Purpose of Affirming or Disallowing/Revoking Delegated Legislation Emanating from an Act of Parliament
Certain acts adopted by Parliament entrust committees of the House with a role in the review, affirmation or disallowance/revocation of delegated legislation made pursuant to Canadian laws. This delegated legislation may consist of regulations, decrees, various administrative rules and regulations which can be made by Ministers, departments, boards, commissions or other organizations.
For instance, the Statutory Instruments Act mandates a parliamentary committee to review statutory instruments made after December 31, 1971.320 In concrete terms, this role is played by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. The Act states that this Committee may present a report to the Senate and the House of Commons containing a resolution to revoke all or a portion of a regulation, which is done when the Committee considers that it does not comply with the intent of the act pursuant to which it was enacted. The resolution contained in the report (not a motion for concurrence in the Committee report) is placed on the Notice Paper and is deemed to have been moved and adopted at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on the 15th sitting day following the presentation of the report, unless a Minister has in the meantime given notice of motion to the effect that the resolution not be adopted. In that case, the Minister’s motion is debated and a decision is made by the House.321
For its part, the User Fees Act obliges any regulatory organization that wishes to set or increase its user fees, or broaden or extend the period of their application, to table a proposal to that effect before each House of Parliament.322 When the proposal is tabled, it is deemed referred to the appropriate standing committee in one or the other House of Parliament,323 which may then review it.324 The Act provides that the committee in question may present a report setting out its recommendations as to the appropriate fees.325 This report must be presented within the 20 sitting days following the tabling of the proposal, failing which a report recommending the approval of the proposed user fees is deemed to have been presented by the committee at the end of the period.326 If the committee does present a report, the Act provides that the House of Parliament concerned may approve, reject or amend its recommendations.327
Subject Matter Studies
From time to time the House refers to its committees the consideration of specific matters for more in-depth study.328 These orders of reference may include an obligation to report and the imposition of time limits within which the committees must complete the study or report.
The standing committees may themselves initiate, without first obtaining the prior approval of the House, any study they feel it advisable to undertake,329 insofar as it falls within the mandate provided to them by the Standing Orders.330 The committees then undertake to define the nature and scope of the study, to determine how much time they will devote to it and whether or not they will report their observations and recommendations to the House. For some committees, these studies represent a significant part of their work and of the reports they present to the House.331
Moreover, on an almost daily basis, the House refers to its committees a large number of reports and documents that are tabled in the House of Commons.332 These are tabled by Ministers of the Crown or the Speaker of the House pursuant to the laws of Canada and pursuant to the Standing Orders. They are referred on a permanent basis to the relevant standing committees.333 These can be, for instance, the annual reports of departments and federal government organizations on access to information and privacy protection, reports on the implementation of a given law, or draft regulations or instructions from the Governor in Council.334 The committees are free to decide whether or not to examine these documents or to initiate a study based on the information they contain.
The main estimates are the government’s projected spending for a fiscal year broken down by department and program.335 The estimates are presented as a series of numbered budgetary items or “votes”, each of which indicates the amount of money required by the government for a program or activity. Normally, a single vote in the main estimates covers a total spending category, such as departmental operations or capital costs, and summarizes all the planned activity or program expenditures for the department or agency in that category. When additional funds are required or when the reallocation of already appropriated funds is necessary during a fiscal year, the government tables supplementary estimates.336
Reference to Committee and Timeline for Reporting
The Standing Orders provide for detailed consideration of the estimates by standing committees.337 When the estimates are tabled in the House, each standing committee receives an order of reference for those departmental and agency votes which relate to its mandate.338 The orders of reference are recorded in the Journals of the House of Commons.
The main estimates for the fiscal year are required to be tabled in the House and referred to standing committees by no later than March 1 of each year.339 The Standing Orders do not oblige committees to consider the main estimates. When a committee chooses to study and report on the main estimates, however, it must report them no later than May 31 of the fiscal year to which they apply. If a committee has not reported the main estimates by that date, it is deemed to have done so, whether it has actually considered them or not.340
The Leader of the Opposition may, not later than the third sitting day prior to May 31, give notice of motion to extend the reporting deadline respecting committee consideration of the main estimates of a named department or agency.341 The motion is deemed adopted when the House considers items under “Motions” during Routine Proceedings on the last sitting day before May 31. A committee studying the main estimates of the department or agency affected by the extension must report, or will be deemed to have reported, no later than the ordinary hour of daily adjournment either 10 sitting days after the adoption of the extension motion or on the sitting day prior to the final allotted day in that supply period.342
The Standing Orders further provide that the Leader of the Opposition may, not later than May 1, in consultation with the leaders of the other opposition parties, give notice of a motion to refer consideration of the main estimates of no more than two named departments or agencies to a Committee of the Whole. The motion is deemed to be adopted on the expiry of the 48-hour notice period. When the motion is adopted, the estimates in question are deemed withdrawn from the standing committees to which they had initially been referred when the main estimates were tabled.343 This applies even if the committees had already begun their consideration of the estimates in question.344
While considering the main estimates, committees are also empowered to consider expenditure plans and priorities in future years for the departments and agencies.345 The plans and priorities are set out in reports published each year after the main estimates are tabled. They are tabled in the House of Commons by the President of the Treasury Board, on behalf of the Ministers responsible for the departments and agencies concerned.346 The reports on plans and priorities, which are deemed referred to the appropriate standing committees upon tabling, essentially set out the future objectives of the department or agency and its plan for achieving them. The Standing Orders provide that if a standing committee wishes to present a report dealing with those plans and priorities, it must do so no later than the final sitting day in June.347
In their analysis of the estimates, committees may also refer to departmental performance reports, which are published in November each year and tabled in the House by the President of the Treasury Board.348 These reports set out the objectives for a specific department or agency and the progress made on achieving those objectives.
A committee to which supplementary estimates are referred may decide whether or not to consider them. The Standing Orders provide that, if the committee decides to consider the estimates and report on them, the report must be presented not later than the third sitting day before either the final sitting day or the final allotted day in that supply period. As with the main estimates, if a committee has not reported within the prescribed time, it is deemed to have reported.349
Consideration in Committee
When a standing committee examines estimates, it is free to arrange its own proceedings. Ordinarily, committees find it convenient to examine the votes assigned to them in groups, which will usually consist of a number of votes under one heading in the estimates, and occasionally, both simultaneously.350 Committees generally begin their examination of the estimates by hearing from the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the activities and programs dealt with in the votes, who is usually accompanied by senior departmental officials.351 The questions and discussions at these meetings are generally wide-ranging, although the rule of relevance does apply. If committees hold more than one meeting on the estimates, the senior departmental officials normally attend the subsequent meetings. Committees are free to invite the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary to appear again if they judge it necessary.
When the committee has completed its consideration of a vote or group of votes, the committee Chair puts the question on each one separately, in the order in which the votes appear in the estimates. For each vote, the Chair puts the question: “Shall Vote [number] carry?”352
Each motion may be debated and amended. Amendments may be presented to reduce the amount of a vote.353 An amendment may not increase the amount of a vote because this would infringe upon the financial prerogative of the Crown.354 An amendment may also not reduce the amount of a vote to zero, as the proper course is to vote against the motion “Shall Vote [number] carry?” An amendment that does not relate to the vote under consideration or that attaches a condition or an expression of opinion is also not admissible. It is not permitted to attempt to change the way in which funds are allocated by transferring money from one vote to another,355 or to change the purpose of a grant or the conditions on which it is made. In addition, the amounts allocated in one dollar items356 and statutory items357 may not be amended by the committee. Once committees have dealt with amendments to a vote, they concur in it, whether or not it has been reduced, or they defeat the motion to concur in the vote.
When this work is completed, the committee adopts a motion instructing the committee Chair to report the votes to the House.358 The report states that the committee has considered certain votes and is reporting them to the House. If the committee has reduced any of the votes, the report sets out the reductions made.359 The Speaker of the House has ruled that reports on the estimates may not contain substantive recommendations.360 Any such recommendations must be made in a report presented separately under the powers and mandate assigned to the committee by the Standing Orders.361
Initiatives Since 2000
In recent years, a number of committees have presented reports to the House dealing with the need for a more stringent review of the estimates.362 Initiatives were acted on during these years, including the creation in 2002 of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
That Committee was assigned a mandate that includes the review of the process for considering the estimates and supply, and the review of the format and content of estimates documents produced by the government.363 The Standing Orders also empower the Committee to amend certain votes that have been referred to other standing committees, in coordination with those committees.364 The votes in question relate to central departments and agencies, the use of new information and communication technologies by the government and operational items across all departments and agencies.
The Standing Orders provide for committees to play a role in considering two types of appointments: Order in Council appointments by the Governor in Council to non-judicial offices, and appointments of Officers of Parliament.
Order in Council Appointments
The Standing Orders require that the government table in the House certified copies of all Order in Council appointments to non-judicial posts, not later than five sitting days after they have been published in the Canada Gazette.365 Appointments are effective on the day they are announced by the government, not on the date the Orders in Council are published or tabled in the House. The Standing Orders provide that the certified copies be automatically referred to the standing committee specified at the time of tabling, normally the committee charged with overseeing the organization to which the individual has been appointed.366 These references are recorded in the Journals of the House of Commons.
A Minister may also table a certificate of nomination to a non-judicial post in the House.367 A certificate is used when an appointment is proposed. Unlike an appointment that is duly made and published in the Canada Gazette, tabling of a certificate in the House is voluntary. Such notices are also referred to the standing committees specified at the time of tabling.
In the case of both an appointment and a proposed appointment, the standing committees to which they are referred have 30 sitting days following the day of tabling in the House in which to take up the order of reference.368 During that period, the committee may call the appointee or nominee to appear before it, for a period not to exceed 10 sitting days.369 The Standing Orders provide that the committee has 10 sitting days from the sitting day on which the person in question appears before the committee to complete its examination of the appointee or nominee.370 At the end of the earlier of that period or of the 30-sitting-day period, the committee has no further authority to meet under the order of reference.
A committee that has received such an order of reference may instruct the clerk to request that the Minister’s office provide the curriculum vitae of the appointee or nominee.371
The committees in question have a number of options:
- to do nothing;372
- to examine and inquire, which may include calling individuals,373 for example, the appointee or nominee, or individuals who have held the office in the past, or individuals who may be able to inform the committee about the requirements of the office; and
- to report to the House.374
If the committee decides to call the appointee or nominee to appear, it is limited by the Standing Orders to examining the individual’s qualifications and competence to perform the duties of the office sought.375 Questioning by members of the committee may be interrupted by the Chair, if they attempt to deal with matters considered irrelevant to the committee’s inquiry. Among the areas usually considered to be outside the scope of the committee’s study are the political affiliation of the appointee or nominee, his or her contributions to political parties, and the nature of the nomination process itself.376 Any question may be permitted if it can be shown that it relates directly to the appointee’s or nominee’s ability to perform the duties of the office.
If the committee decides to present a report to the House, the report will ordinarily state that the committee has reviewed the appointment or nomination. It will then state whether or not the committee finds the person qualified and competent to perform the duties of the office.377
When a committee examines and inquires into an appointment or nomination pursuant to an order of reference by the House, it has no power to revoke the appointment or nomination.378 The Speaker of the House has ruled that Order in Council appointments are the prerogative of the Crown. In 2005, the Speaker ruled:
While the government can be guided by recommendations of a standing committee on the appointment or nomination of an individual, the Speaker cannot compel the government to abide by the committee’s recommendation nor by the House’s decision on these matters.379
Officers of Parliament
The Standing Orders provide that where the government intends to appoint an Officer of Parliament,380 the Clerk of the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Librarian or the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the name of the proposed appointee shall be deemed referred to the appropriate standing committee for consideration.381 A large majority of these persons are appointed by the Governor in Council after a favourable resolution is adopted by the House of Commons and, in most cases, the Senate.
As in the case of the procedure for appointments by Order in Council and certificates of nomination, a committee that receives an order of reference in relation to the proposed appointment of an Officer of Parliament has no obligation to consider the matter. If the committee chooses to do so, the Standing Orders provide that it has 30 calendar days following the tabling in the House of the document concerning the proposed appointment in which to do so. The options available to the committee are essentially the same: to examine and inquire, which may include calling the proposed appointee to appear before it, and the possibility of presenting a report.
The Standing Orders do not impose an obligation on the government to provide the proposed appointee’s curriculum vitae, but the appointee’s biographical notes are usually tabled in the House when the proposed appointment is referred to committee.382 In addition, the Standing Orders do not impose specific limits on the scope of the examination when a proposed candidate appears before the committee or on the number of sitting days that may be devoted to the appearance. Apart from the general provision for the 30-day requirement, there is no provision that the committee’s examination must be completed within 10 sitting days after the proposed appointee appears, as is the case for appointments by Order in Council or certificate of nomination.
Ordinarily, the reports presented pursuant to this type of order of reference state that the committee has examined the proposed appointment and indicate whether or not it recommends that the House approve the appointment.383 On occasion, some committees have presented more detailed reports,384 while some standing committees have referred to their powers and mandates under the Standing Orders in presenting additional reports setting out observations on the appointment review process.385
The Standing Orders provide that not later than the expiry of the 30-day period, a notice of motion to ratify the appointment shall be put under Routine Proceedings on the Order Paper, whether or not the committee to which it was referred has examined the matter or reported on it. When the motion is moved, it must be decided without debate or amendment. The House then decides whether or not it accepts the proposed appointment.386
Failure of the Government to Respond to Petitions or Written Questions
The Standing Orders provide that petitions tabled in the House by Members must be transmitted immediately to the government. The government must then table a response in the House within 45 calendar days.387 In the same way, when a Member places a written question on the Order Paper for a Minister of the Crown, the Member may request that the government respond within 45 calendar days.388
In both cases, if the government does not respond within the time limit, its failure to do so is deemed referred to the appropriate standing committee.389 It is not the subject matter of the petition or question that is referred, but simply the government’s failure to respond. The referral occurs on the day the time limit expires; this is noted in the Journals. If the referral involves a written question, the question is officially “designated” on the Order Paper until a response is provided; this allows the Member to place another question on the Order Paper.
The committee remains seized with the order of reference even if the response to the petition or written question is tabled within the days immediately following expiry of the time limit. However, a Member who has a designated question on the Order Paper may, when “Questions on the Order Paper” is called during Routine Proceedings, indicate the intention of raising the matter during the Adjournment Proceedings. In that event, the order of reference to the committee is immediately discharged.390
The Standing Orders require the Chair of a committee that receives an order of reference involving a petition or written question to convene a meeting of the committee within five sitting days of the referral to consider the matter. The Chair may also place the matter on the agenda of a previously scheduled meeting, as long as this meeting takes place within the five-day limit. The meeting does not have to be dedicated solely to the referral; committees regularly add this type of order of reference to other items already on the agenda. As a matter of courtesy, the committee clerk informs the office of the Member sponsoring the petition or written question of the date of the meeting where the matter is to be discussed.391
Committees have free rein in terms of their own proceedings and in dealing with and disposing of such an order of reference. Among the possible options are the following:
- do nothing and/or deem the matter closed;392
- defer consideration of the matter to a later meeting;393
- examine and inquire into the matter, possibly calling witnesses394 (for example, the sponsoring Member, Ministers or officials responsible either for the department or agency targeted by the petition or question or for the coordination of government responses, and so on). Occasionally a committee will mandate its Chair to write a letter to the individuals and institutions responsible requesting explanations or voicing the committee’s dissatisfaction.395 Committees may also decide to adopt a resolution on the matter; and396
- report to the House.397