Procedural Framework for Committee Activities
Committee Procedure and Its Sources
Committee procedure includes all of the rules and practices governing the proceedings of parliamentary committees. The primary sources are: the Constitution and Acts of Parliament; orders of reference and instructions of the House, and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons; rulings by the Speaker of the House and committee Chairs; and finally, practice.
Constitution and Acts of Parliament
The Constitution does not make specific reference to House of Commons committees, but it does contain a number of provisions that provide a basis for or have a bearing on committee proceedings. One section of the Constitution Act, 1867 authorizes the Parliament of Canada to define the privileges, immunities and powers it exercises.557 Those privileges give the House the power to conduct inquiries, to summon witnesses to appear and to order the production of documents. The House delegates those powers to the parliamentary committees it creates. The Constitution also states that any resolution or bill for the appropriation of public revenue must first be recommended by the Crown.558 This requirement has a significant impact on the form of motions likely to be admissible in committees. Finally, the Constitution Act, 1982 establishes the obligations of Parliament and, by extension, parliamentary committees regarding bilingualism.559 The Act specifically states that everyone has the right to use English or French in any debates and other proceedings of Parliament.
The Parliament of Canada Act is central to the power of committees to obtain pertinent and truthful testimony. The opening provisions of the Act form the legal basis for immunity from prosecution for comments made in the context of a parliamentary committee, the power of committees to administer oaths and receive solemn declarations, and the punishment that may be imposed on witnesses for perjury. The Act also states that the persons authorized to administer oaths and receive solemn declarations include Chairs of parliamentary committees and the Speaker of the House;560 the Speaker may delegate that power to committee clerks. Finally, the Act contains a provision that prohibits Senators and Members from receiving compensation in relation to any matter before a committee of the House.561
Other statutes enacted by Parliament establish certain roles for parliamentary committees pertaining to the consideration of acts, or parts of acts, or the approval or rejection of regulations made under acts.562
Orders of Reference and Instructions of the House and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Orders of reference and instructions issued by the House to parliamentary committees provide a framework for their proceedings. Orders of reference can be adopted for a specific purpose, in which case they are recorded in the Journals, or consolidated in the Standing Orders.
The Standing Orders are the most important body of written rules governing committee proceedings. Chapter XIII of the Standing Orders deals specifically with committees. It covers the powers, mandates and membership of committees, quorum, the methods of designating Chairs and Vice-Chairs, staff and budgets.563 However, the provisions of Chapter XIII are not the only ones that pertain to committees. Many other chapters of the Standing Orders contain provisions that directly or indirectly affect committee proceedings. For example, Chapter X, Financial Procedures, deals with the referral of the estimates to standing committees.564
The Standing Orders also state that standing, special and legislative committees must comply with the Standing Orders of the House of Commons so far as may be applicable.565 In areas where the Standing Orders do not apply or cannot be applied, committees are free to define and adopt rules governing their proceedings. Such rules may be adopted to deal with situations of a temporary nature.566 They may also govern specific aspects of a committee’s proceedings in a given parliamentary session, in which case they are referred to as routine motions.567
Rulings by the Speaker of the House and Committee Chairs
The Speaker of the House is regularly asked to rule on the procedural admissibility of matters before the House. Rulings from the Speaker constitute precedents for future Speakers of the House. The matter before the House may pertain to the proceedings of one or more committees. If the Speaker rules on a matter of that nature, the committees affected will be required to comply with any provisos in the ruling.568 This rarely happens in practice since the Speaker is reluctant to intervene in a committee’s internal affairs unless the committee has previously reported on the matter to the House.569
As with the Speaker of the House, the Chair of a committee may be asked to rule on the procedural admissibility of a matter before the committee. Such rulings, which are sources of procedure, provide guidance in similar situations that may be encountered by the committee in the future. However, unlike rulings by the Speaker of the House, rulings by the Chair can be overturned by the committee and do not constitute precedents for future Chairs of the committee or the Chairs of other parliamentary committees.
Committee practice is the body of unwritten rules governing committee proceedings. It consists of procedures that have developed over time and are viewed as standard operating practice.570 For example, while there is no Standing Order to that effect, the normal practice is to have government Members sit to the right of a committee Chair and opposition Members sit to the left.
In the absence of written rules, a committee can refer to practice when the members are uncertain as to how to proceed on a particular issue. Practice may also be used as a factor to be taken into consideration by a committee Chair who is required to make a ruling. The starting point in these circumstances is to examine how the committee proceeded in the past. If the analysis must be carried further, the committee can then examine the practice of other committees of the House and the practice of the House itself, if it can be applied to the committee’s proceedings.
During their proceedings, committees follow established practice. By decision of the majority of their members, they can, however, deviate from or adapt practice depending on their needs.571 If a situation guided by practice arises frequently and becomes a source of concern and interest for the members of a committee, the committee can decide to adopt a written rule to deal with the situation, which would have to be observed.
Masters of Their Procedures and Proceedings: a Freedom with Boundaries
The idea that committees are “masters of their proceedings” is frequently invoked in committee debates or the House.572 The concept refers to the freedom committees normally have to organize their work as they see fit and the option they have of defining, on their own, certain rules of procedure that facilitate their proceedings.
These freedoms are not, however, total or absolute.573 First, it is useful to bear in mind that committees are creatures of the House.574 This means that they have no independent existence and are not permitted to take action unless they have been authorized or empowered to do so by the House.
The freedom committees have is, in fact, a freedom limited on two levels. First, committees are free to organize their proceedings as they see fit provided that their studies and the motions and reports they adopt comply with the orders of reference and instructions issued by the House. Second, committees may adopt procedural rules to govern their proceedings, but only to the extent the House does not prescribe anything specific. At all times, directives from procedural sources higher than parliamentary committees (the Constitution, statutes, orders of reference and instructions of the House, Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and rulings by the Speaker) take precedence over any rules a committee may adopt.575
Committees and Questions of Procedure and Privilege
Disorder and Misconduct
Disorder and misconduct in a committee may arise as a result of the failure to abide by the rules and practices of a committee or to respect the authority of the Chair. Disorder and misconduct also include the use of unparliamentary language, failure to yield the floor or persistent interruption of the proceedings in any manner.576 However, neither committees nor their Chairs have the authority to censure an act of disorder or misconduct. If a committee desires that specific sanctions be taken against those disrupting the proceedings, it must report the situation to the House. The House may then take such measures as it deems appropriate.
In the event of disorder, the Chair may suspend the meeting until order can be restored577 or, if the situation is considered to be so serious as to prevent the committee from continuing with its work, the meeting may be adjourned.578 In addition, the Chair may, at his or her discretion, interrupt a member whose observations and questions are repetitive or are unrelated to the matter before the committee. If the member in question persists in making repetitive or off-topic comments, the Chair can give the floor to another member. If the member refuses to yield the floor and continues talking, the Chair may suspend or adjourn the meeting.579
Decisions of the Chair and Appeals
One of the primary responsibilities of a committee Chair is to determine the procedural admissibility of matters raised in committee and whether the committee business is conducted in accordance with proper procedure. The Chair makes such decisions on his or her own initiative or following a point of order raised by a Member.
Decisions by the Chair are not debatable. They can, however, be appealed to the committee.580 To appeal a decision by a Chair, a member must inform the committee of his or her intent immediately after the decision is announced. The Chair then asks the committee the following question: “Shall the decision of the Chair be sustained?”
This question cannot be debated or amended and it is put to a vote immediately. If a majority of members vote in the affirmative, the Chair’s decision is sustained.581 If a majority of members vote in the negative, the Chair’s decision is overturned.582 In the event of an equality of voices, the Chair’s decision is sustained.583 The overturning of a ruling is not considered a matter of confidence in the Chair.
Points of Order
A point of order can be raised at any time during a meeting where a member is of the opinion that a Standing Order or a committee rule has been breached, or the member believes that usual practice has not been followed. The proceedings under way are temporarily suspended while the point of order is addressed. Every point of order must be considered by the Chair, who determines whether or not the point of order has merit. Generally, the Chair makes an immediate decision on a point of order. However, where the point of order requires greater reflection or more extensive research, the Chair can take the matter under advisement and render a decision at a later time.584 A member may not move a motion on a point of order.
Questions of Privilege in Committee
The Chair of a committee does not have the power to rule on questions of privilege;585 only the Speaker has that power. If a member wishes to raise a question of privilege during a committee meeting, or an incident arises in connection with the committee’s proceedings that may constitute a breach of privilege, the committee Chair allows the member to explain the situation. The Chair then determines whether the question raised in fact relates to parliamentary privilege. If the Chair determines that the question does relate to parliamentary privilege, the committee may then consider presenting a report on the question to the House. The report should:
- clearly describe the situation;
- summarize the facts;
- provide the names of the people involved, if applicable;
- state that there may be a breach of privilege; and
- ask the House to take such measures as it deems appropriate.586
Ordinarily, presentation of a report to the House is a prerequisite for any question of privilege arising from the proceedings of a committee.587
Rules of Debate and the Decision-making Process
Rules of Debate
Every standing, legislative and special committee observes the Standing Orders of the House of Commons so far as they may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the election of a Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.588
This means that, in principle, the number of times a member may speak in committee and the length of his or her speeches is not subject to any limit. The member can thus take the floor as often and for as long as he or she wishes, provided the Chair has duly given the member the floor.589
The freedom the Standing Orders give committees regarding the number of times a person may speak and the length of speeches does not prevent a committee from adopting its own rules if it judges that such rules would be useful. The vast majority of committees adopt rules on the questioning of witnesses, specifying the order in which members will pose questions and about the length of the questioning. As well, committees sometimes adopt rules to limit the number of times a person may speak or the length of speeches for specific studies or debates.590
A motion is needed to submit a proposal to a committee and obtain a decision on it. A motion is moved by a member to have the committee do something, order its Chair and staff to ensure that something is done (an order) or express an opinion on a matter (a resolution). Where the motion is debatable, moving of the motion triggers a period of debate. If no member wishes to speak to the motion, the debate ends. The Chair then calls for a vote on the motion. A decision is made; the motion is either carried or defeated.
Parliamentary Secretaries appointed to sit on committees by the Chief Government Whip cannot participate fully in the decision-making process as they cannot vote or move any motion.591
The Standing Orders do not require that notice be given before moving a motion in committee. However, to avoid situations where the members of a committee are forced to consider issues without warning, committees usually deem it appropriate to adopt rules on notice for substantive motions. Such notices are normally 24 or 48 hours.592
According to standard practice, 48 hours’ notice means that two nights must elapse before the motion can be presented in committee, rather than 48 actual hours.593 Twenty-four hours’ notice corresponds to one night. If 48 hours’ notice is given on a Tuesday, a committee can act on the motion on the following Thursday. Notices of motions issued by a Member who is no longer a member of a committee become moot.
Notice may be given orally during a meeting,594 or sent electronically to the clerk of the committee in accordance with the committee’s routine motion.595 Notices of motions received by the clerk are distributed to committee members in both official languages.
Notices of motions normally remain confidential until they are moved during a meeting, although the sponsoring member may choose to make it public prior to doing so.
A member of a committee may move a motion at any time in the normal course of a meeting,596 provided that:
- the notice period, if any, has been respected;
- the motion is not a substantive motion or a subsidiary motion where such a motion is already being debated (a committee is required to deal with such motions one at a time);
- the member has the floor to move the motion and is not doing so on a point of order; and
- moving the motion does not violate any rule the committee may have adopted in respect of the period in which motions can be moved.597
A motion moved in committee does not require a seconder.598
If either the debate or the meeting is adjourned without the committee taking a decision, the committee may resume the debate at any time afterwards at another meeting.599
A committee cannot make a decision or vote unless there is quorum.600 When debate on a motion ends or when a non-debatable motion is moved, the Chair reads the motion and asks the committee members if they agree.601
In contrast to the procedure in the House, where Members are summoned by the division bells, there is no provision for summoning absent committee members to a vote.602
Decisions can be:
- made unanimously;
- made “on division”;
- voted on with a show of hands; or
- made by recorded vote (at the request of a committee member).
Members who do not want a motion to be carried unanimously but also do not want a vote by show of hands or a recorded vote can indicate their wishes by simply saying “on division” after the Chair calls for a vote by the members.603 However, if there is obvious disagreement among the members, the committee Chair calls for a vote by show of hands. The number of members voting for or against the motion is recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings of the meeting.604
If a member requests a recorded vote,605 the clerk reads out the names of the committee members, except for that of the Chair, in alphabetical order (by political affiliation). Each member wishing to vote replies “yea” or “nay”. The results of the vote are announced by the clerk, and the Chair declares the motion carried or defeated, as the case may be. The names of the members who voted for and against the motion are listed in the Minutes of Proceedings.606
As in the House, there is no rule requiring a member to vote. A member may abstain from voting. Such abstentions are of an unofficial status and are not recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings.607
As with the Speaker of the House, the Chair of a committee votes only in the case of an equality of voices (that is, a tie).608 The Chair is not bound to give reasons for his or her vote and is free to vote either way. However, when bills are being studied, the Chairs of legislative or standing committees normally vote in such a way as to maintain the status quo or to keep the matter open for further discussion, just as the Speaker would do in similar circumstances in the House.609
As in the House, a committee’s decision, once made, stands.610 Therefore, unless unanimous consent is given, a committee may reconsider an earlier decision only once a member has given notice of the intention to rescind a resolution or discharge an order, as the case may be.611 If the original resolution or order is rescinded or discharged, the way is then clear to make a decision on the same question.
Use of Unanimous Consent
Committee decisions are usually made by a majority of the members present. However, with the agreement of all committee members present, a committee may reach a decision without following all the steps of the decision-making process.612
Unanimous consent has been used to: depart from, vary or abridge temporarily a committee rule; move a motion in respect of which notice was given by another committee member;613 and retake a vote on a matter that has already been put to a vote.614
The Standing Orders require unanimous consent of the members present to:
- withdraw a motion that has already been moved;615 and
- continue meeting when the division bells are ringing for a recorded division in the House.616
When a committee proceeds by unanimous consent, the fact is noted in the Minutes of Proceedings.
Motions in Committee
Format and Admissibility
Generally, the rules governing the admissibility of motions in the House of Commons apply in the same manner to parliamentary committees.617 For example, a motion should not contain offensive or unparliamentary language. Motions should not contain any objectionable or irregular wording, and they should be neither argumentative nor in the style of a speech. It is customary for motions to be expressed in the affirmative.
As in the House, the use of a preamble in a motion in committee is not recommended. A committee has the means to explain the motions it adopts in the body of the report it presents to the House, if such explanation is needed.
Furthermore, motions moved in committee must not go beyond the committee’s mandate618 or infringe upon the prerogative of the Crown relating to the appropriation of public revenues.619 A motion that is the same in substance as one already decided in the same session is inadmissible; however, a member may move a motion which, although similar, is sufficiently different as to constitute a new question.620
Types of Motions
There are three main types of motions moved in committee: substantive motions, subsidiary motions and privileged motions. The three types of motions and the links between them are illustrated in Figure 20.4, “Types of Motions in Committee”.
A substantive motion is a separate, self-contained motion. It does not arise from another motion. Generally, a substantive motion is debatable and amendable. If carried, a substantive motion becomes a resolution or order of the committee. Many committees require notice for this type of motion. Some allow substantive motions to be moved without notice if they arise from a study or debate then before the committee.
A subsidiary motion is used to advance a question before the committee, for example, to allow a report to be adopted. Subsidiary motions do not normally require notice, but they are debatable and amendable.
A privileged motion is a motion dependent on another motion already before the committee. There are two types of privileged motions: motions to amend (amendments) and superseding motions.
An amendment621 is moved in order to amend a motion before the committee. The objective may be to make the motion more acceptable to the committee or to put forward new wording for the main motion. A motion to amend does not require notice. Once the amendment has been moved and deemed admissible, the Chair submits it to the committee. Debate on the main motion is suspended, and the amendment is debated until it has been decided. Debate on the main motion then resumes, whether or not it has been amended. As with a main motion, a motion to amend can itself be amended. A subamendment is a proposed amendment to an amendment. In most cases, there is no limit on the number of amendments that may be moved; however, only one amendment and one subamendment may be considered by a committee at one time.
A superseding motion is a motion moved for the purpose of replacing the motion then under consideration. There are two types of superseding motions: dilatory motions and, in the House, the previous question.
A dilatory motion is a motion designed to dispose of the original question before the committee, either for the time being or permanently.622 Dilatory motions do not require notice, nor can they be amended or debated. They are therefore put to a vote immediately.
If a dilatory motion is accompanied by a condition, it becomes a substantive motion. It is then subject to the rules on the admissibility of such motions.623 It also becomes debatable and amendable.
The main dilatory motions admissible in committee include:
- “That the Committee do now adjourn”:
If the motion is carried, the committee adjourns immediately to the call of the Chair.624 If the motion is defeated, the committee meeting continues.
- “That the debate be now adjourned”:
A member who moves “That the debate be now adjourned” wishes to temporarily suspend debate under way on a motion or study. If the motion is carried, debate on the motion or study ceases and the committee moves on to other business.625
- “That the Committee proceed to [another order of business]”:
This motion results in the matter then under consideration by the committee being replaced by the order of business proposed in the motion. If the motion is carried, the committee immediately proceeds to the “order” referred to in the motion.626
Motion for the Previous Question
The motion “That this question be now put” is known as the previous question. In committee, motions for the previous question are inadmissible.627
Organization and Conduct of Business
Before a committee can begin to consider its work at the beginning of a parliamentary session, it must be properly constituted; that is, its members must be appointed and a Chair designated. Where the Chair has not been appointed by the House or named by the Speaker, the election of the Chair takes place at a committee’s first meeting, which is called the “organization meeting”.628
Legislative committees must meet to begin their work within two sitting days of the naming of the Chair and the appointment by the House of their membership or the referral of a bill to the committee.629
As they begin their work, committees often find it useful to adopt a series of motions to deal with items of day-to-day business, called “routine motions”. Since each committee is free to organize its work as it sees fit, there is no official list of routine motions which every committee must adopt. Routine motions may vary from one session of Parliament to another.630 Their provisions may be influenced by the relative proportion of the recognized parties in the House. Following is a list of the principal routine motions. In many instances, a committee will adapt these motions in order to suit its own particular circumstances. The examples shown in the boxes are for purposes of illustration only.
In order to carry out their work, committees seek the assistance of analysts from the Library of Parliament. The analysts are usually specialists in the subject area of the committee to which they are assigned and, as such, they are resource persons for the Chair and committee members, providing them with briefing notes and other material on the subjects being examined.
That the Committee retain, as needed and at the discretion of the Chair, the services of one or more analysts from the Library of Parliament to assist it in its work.631
Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure
Committees that can and choose to have a subcommittee on agenda and procedure, or “steering committee”, adopt a routine motion establishing the subcommittee and specifying its composition.
That the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be established and composed of the Chair, the two Vice-Chairs, and two members of the government party.632
Meeting Without a Quorum
Committees may authorize the Chair to hold meetings for the sole purpose of hearing evidence when a quorum is not present.633 As a general rule, committees stipulate in a routine motion that a minimum number of members must be present in order for the committee to hear witnesses.634
That the Chair be authorized to hold meetings and to receive and publish evidence when a quorum is not present, provided that at least three members are present, including a member of the opposition.635
Time for Opening Remarks and Questioning of Witnesses
Committees normally set limits on the time each witness is given to make an opening statement. They also establish the length of time that will be devoted to questioning by committee members and how that time will be divided among the members of the various parties represented on the committee. As well, some committees adopt special rules for the questioning of Ministers.
That witnesses be given 10 minutes to make their opening statement; and that during the questioning of witnesses the time allocated to each questioner be as follows: for the first round of questioning, seven minutes to a representative of the party in the following order: Party A, Party B, Party C, Party A; for the second round of questioning, five minutes to a representative of the party in the following order: Party B, Party A, Party B, Party A; followed by Party C, three minutes.636
The public has the right to communicate with a parliamentary committee in either official language, as stipulated in the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Official Languages Act.637 However, members sitting on a committee are entitled to receive documents in the official language of their choice. Committees usually adopt a routine motion to ensure that all documents distributed to committee members will be in both official languages. When a committee receives a document in one official language, the clerk of the committee has it translated into the other official language before it is distributed to committee members. Some committees specify in the motion that witnesses are to be advised of this rule.638 Committees also prescribe that only the clerk of the committee is authorized to distribute documents to committee members.
That only the clerk of the Committee be authorized to distribute documents to the members of the Committee and only when the documents are available in both official languages.639
Committee members may occasionally choose to continue their deliberations during meal times. Consequently, the majority of committees adopt a routine motion authorizing the clerk of the committee to order meals and charge them to the committee’s budget.
That the clerk of the Committee be authorized to make the necessary arrangements to provide working meals for the Committee and its subcommittees.640
Travel, Accommodation and Living Expenses of Witnesses
Many witnesses incur expenses in travelling to appear before committees, whether they attend meetings held in the Parliamentary Precinct or in other parts of Canada. As no reimbursement of witness expenses can be made from committee funds without committee approval, it is necessary that a motion be adopted setting out the conditions under which witness expenses are to be reimbursed. The Board of Internal Economy has established guidelines for acceptable levels of reimbursement, but it is up to each committee to decide in which cases it will agree to reimburse witnesses.641
That, if requested, reasonable travel, accommodation and living expenses be reimbursed to witnesses not exceeding two representatives per organization; and that, in exceptional circumstances, payment for more representatives be made at the discretion of the Chair.642
Access to In Camera Meetings
In camera meetings are normally closed to everyone except members, committee staff and invited witnesses.643 However, committees may wish to interpret the in camera rule more narrowly or more broadly and adopt a motion providing for specific inclusions (such as a member of each committee member’s staff) or exclusions.644
That, unless otherwise ordered, each Committee member be allowed to have one staff member present from their office or from their party at in camera meetings.645
Transcripts of In Camera Meetings
While no public transcript (Evidence) is produced of what is said in camera, committees generally decide to have a transcript produced for the private consultation of the members and staff of the committee. The transcript is retained by the clerk of the committee. In camera transcripts are normally included in committees’ archives.646 Committees may also make special provisions for the disposition of in camera transcripts on a case-by-case basis.647
That one copy of the transcript of each in camera meeting be kept in the Committee Clerk’s office for consultation by members of the Committee.648
Notice of Motion
Committees often require members to give notice before moving a motion. When imposing a notice requirement, committees must determine what types of motions will require notice, how notice is to be given (be it orally or in writing), to whom it must be submitted (usually, the committee clerk) and by what time of day the notice must be submitted in order to allow for the motion to be distributed to members the same day. They must also determine how members will be informed of such notices, as committees, unlike the House, do not have a Notice Paper.
That 48 hours’ notice be required for any substantive motion to be considered by the Committee, unless the substantive motion relates directly to business then under consideration; that the notice of motion be filed with the Clerk of the Committee and distributed to members in both official languages; and that motions received by [time] be distributed to members on the same day.649
In addition to the routine motions listed above, there is a wide range of motions related to procedure and administration that committees may adopt from time to time.650
Determination of Studies and Preparation of Work Schedules and Lists of Witnesses
In determining what studies a committee will undertake, its choice may be dictated by an order of reference from the House or, if it is in a position to initiate studies, the interests of its members. A committee may ask its subcommittee on agenda and procedure to make recommendations regarding the studies to be carried out.651 Committees often study a number of questions at the same time.652 Careful planning is required to ensure that their work is done efficiently and that any deadlines set by the House are met.
Committees may sometimes hold meetings not for the purpose of preparing recommendations for the House but simply in order to stay informed about an important topic within their mandate.653
After deciding on the studies to be undertaken, a committee should agree on a work plan for conducting the studies as efficiently as possible. The work plan may include a work schedule, a calendar of meetings and a list of witnesses.
Witness selection may be carried out in a number of different ways. Generally, witnesses are proposed by individual committee members. The committee may also invite potential witnesses to indicate their interest in appearing. The selection is often delegated to the subcommittee on agenda and procedure, subject to ratification by the main committee.654 In addition, groups and individuals who are aware of a forthcoming study by a committee may give notice of their interest in appearing. It is the committee’s prerogative to determine which witnesses it will hear, although the House may order a witness to appear before a committee.655 Practical considerations, such as the length of time allocated for a study, may limit the number of witnesses the committee will be able to accommodate.
Figure 20.5, “Usual Order of Business for Committee Study Leading to a Substantive Report”, illustrates the process that is followed in the case of a study leading to the presentation of a substantive report to the House. This is the usual order of business; however, each committee decides how much time it will spend on each step, while respecting any deadlines set by the House. A committee may decide to skip one or more steps. In some cases, it may choose to abandon a study before completing it by not holding further meetings.
When a committee undertakes a study, it may choose first to receive a briefing on the various aspects of the question to be explored. The briefing, which may be provided by the committee’s analysts, public servants or consultants, is sometimes held in camera.656 In some cases, the committee’s analysts provide members with a briefing note instead of a briefing session. In the case of a study of a government bill, officials from the sponsoring department generally prepare a briefing book on the issues associated with the legislative measure.
Gathering Evidence and Soliciting Opinions
Committees may obtain the opinions of people well versed in or directly concerned with the issues before them. The consultation may be as narrow as a relatively small group of technical experts or as broad as the committee deems appropriate. Committees have the power “to send for persons, papers and records”657 which they use to gather information.658
A committee may inform members of the public of its activities and solicit their views. To that end, it may issue news releases and post information on its website. It may also send materials to interested groups by regular or electronic mail, place advertisements in newspapers, and post announcements on the CPAC network or the House of Commons website.659
In recent years, committees have used other methods of hearing witnesses, such as panels,660 round-table discussions,661 “town hall meetings”,662 electronic polls and videoconferences.663 In addition, new communication technologies have helped committees diversify the means they use to inform the public of their activities and receive their views on specific subjects.664 For example, the Subcommittee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities held an electronic consultation in 2002–03, spread over two sessions of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament.665 Just before the dissolution of the Thirty-Eighth Parliament, in October and November 2005, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade also conducted an online consultation.666 Similarly, the Standing Committee on Finance, in recent years, has conducted significant portions of its annual pre-budget consultations online.667
The information committees gather for their studies is known as evidence. It may be collected in a variety of ways, including hearing from witnesses, receiving briefs (written opinions), requesting the production of papers, organizing round-table discussions and visiting locations.
The House recommends that its committees advise witnesses of their rights and duties and of the penalties to which they are liable if they refuse to respond to committees’ requests.668
Witnesses appearing before committees are usually asked to make a brief opening statement summarizing their views, or the views of the organization they represent, on the subject of the committee’s inquiry.669 Following this opening statement, there is a period for questioning.670 On occasion, the Chair may participate in the questioning of witnesses.671
Witnesses appearing before a committee may be assisted by counsel, but they must first seek the committee’s permission. Counsel, when permitted, is restricted to an advisory role and may neither ask questions nor reply on the witness’s behalf. Counsel is not noted in the Minutes of Proceedings as a witness, but rather as a participant present.672
There are no specific rules governing the nature of questions which may be put to witnesses appearing before committees, beyond the general requirement of relevance to the issue before the committee.673 Witnesses must answer all questions which the committee puts to them.674 A witness may object to a question asked by an individual committee member. However, if the committee agrees that the question be put to the witness, the witness is obliged to reply. On the other hand, members have been urged to display the “appropriate courtesy and fairness” when questioning witnesses.675 The actions of a witness who refuses to answer questions may be reported to the House.676
Particular attention is paid to the questioning of public servants.677 The obligation of a witness to answer all questions put by the committee must be balanced against the role that public servants play in providing confidential advice to their Ministers. The role of the public servant has traditionally been viewed in relation to the implementation and administration of government policy, rather than the determination of what that policy should be. Consequently, public servants have been excused from commenting on the policy decisions made by the government.678 In addition, committees ordinarily accept the reasons that a public servant gives for declining to answer a specific question or series of questions which may involve the giving of a legal opinion, may be perceived as a conflict with the witness’s responsibility to the Minister, may be outside of their own area of responsibility, or may affect business transactions.679
Moreover, the proclamation in December 2006 of the Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability had an impact on the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. This legislation, which amended the Financial Administration Act, specifies the persons designated as accounting officers for departments and prescribes the matters for which they are accountable to the Committee. This led the Committee to establish a protocol in March 2007 that describes and explains the ground rules for the appearance of Ministers and senior officials before the Committee.680
Witnesses appearing before committees enjoy the same freedom of speech and protection from arrest and molestation as do Members of Parliament.681 At the committee’s discretion, witnesses may be allowed to testify in camera when dealing with confidential matters of state or sensitive commercial or personal information.682 Under special circumstances, witnesses have been permitted to appear anonymously or under a pseudonym.683
Tampering with a witness or in any way attempting to deter a witness from giving evidence may constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege. Similarly, any interference with or threats against witnesses who have already testified may be treated as a breach of privilege by the House.684
In light of the protection afforded to witnesses by Parliament, witnesses are expected to exercise judgment and restraint in presenting their views to committees. Where they persist in making comments which a committee deems inappropriate, their testimony has been expunged from the record.685
Swearing-in of Witnesses
Any witness appearing before a committee may be required to take an oath or make a solemn affirmation (see Figure 20.6, “Swearing-in of Witnesses”).686 As a general rule, committees, which have full discretion in this matter, seldom require witnesses to be sworn in.687 A witness who refuses to be sworn in might be charged with contempt of the House.688 Likewise, refusal to answer questions or failure to reply truthfully may give rise to a charge of contempt of the House, whether the witness has been sworn in or not.689
Oath (sworn on a religious text)
Briefs and Other Papers
A document submitted to a committee becomes the property of the committee and forms part of the committee’s records.690 A brief is any document presenting the position of an individual, group, organization or government department with respect to a particular issue.
Federal departments and agencies are required to submit documents to committees in both official languages. Everyone else, including Members of the House of Commons, may submit written material in either official language.
On occasion, a committee will consider a document to be of sufficient importance that it will agree to treat it either as an “appendix” or an “exhibit”. An appendix is a document which the committee has ordered to be appended to the published Evidence of a particular meeting.691 An exhibit is any document or item classified as such by the committee which, at the end of a session, becomes part of the committee’s archives. Exhibits are not published but are kept by the clerk for consultation by committee members.692 When a committee decides to designate a document as an appendix or exhibit, the appropriate entry is made in the committee’s Minutes of Proceedings.
Deliberations for the Production of a Report
Once a committee has heard all the witnesses and reviewed the documents submitted in the course of a study, it normally turns its attention to drafting the report that will be presented to the House. Deliberations on a draft report usually proceed in camera,693 although the committee may decide to hold its proceedings in public.694 If a report is short, it can be amended and adopted immediately. If the report is a lengthy substantive one, the committee normally gives drafting instructions to committee staff. The draft report is then considered and possibly amended by the members in one or more meetings.695
Adoption of a Draft Report by a Committee
Once a majority of the members has agreed on a final version of a report, the committee adopts motions necessary to approve the report and order the Chair to present it to the House.696 For longer substantive reports, these motions may include:
- adoption of the draft report, with or without amendments;
- adoption of the title of the report;697
- a request for a government response, if applicable (in the case of standing or special committees);
- authorization for the committee Chair and staff to correct typographical and stylistic errors in the report as needed;
- a deadline for submission of any supplementary or dissenting opinions, as well as the format and languages in which they must be submitted;
- the number of copies to be printed, if applicable;
- instruction to the committee Chair to present the report to the House; and
- instruction to the clerk of the committee to publish a news release or arrange a press conference, if the committee wishes, after the report is presented to the House.
Appending Dissenting or Supplementary Opinions or Recommendations to a Report
While a report reflects the opinion of the committee, the Standing Orders give any committee member698 belonging to a recognized party the right to append a dissenting or supplementary opinion or additional recommendations to a report, after the signature of the committee Chair.699
Presentation to the House
Committee reports are presented during Routine Proceedings, when the Speaker calls “Presenting Reports from Committees”.700 Reports are ordinarily presented by the Chair, on instruction from the committee.701 In the absence of the Chair, a report may be presented by another member of the committee.702
The Member presenting the report may offer a brief explanation of its subject matter.703 Where a report has supplementary or dissenting opinions appended to it, a committee member from the Official Opposition may offer a succinct explanation thereof.704 The Standing Orders do not permit any other Member to comment on the report at this time. However, the House may, by unanimous consent, authorize another Member to give an opinion on the report itself or on a supplementary or dissenting opinion.705
The House sometimes makes provision for the presentation of committee reports during adjournment periods by allowing them to be filed with the Clerk of the House. This has been done both for specific reports and as a general provision for any committee reports completed during an adjournment period.706
Committee reports must be presented to the House before they are made public. Even when a report is concurred in at a public meeting, the report itself is considered confidential until it has actually been presented to the House. In addition, any disclosure of the contents of a report prior to presentation, either by committee members or any other individual, may be judged to be a breach of privilege.707 Speakers have ruled that questions of privilege concerning leaked reports will not be considered unless a specific charge is made against an individual, organization or group, and that the charge must be levelled not only against those outside the House who have made the material public, but must also identify the source of the leak within the House itself.708
It is not in order for Members to allude to committee proceedings or evidence in the House until the committee has presented its report to the House.709
It has happened that errors have been discovered in reports following their presentation to the House. In such instances, committees may decide to seek to have the report corrected.710
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 calendar days.711 The committee may request the response either to the whole report or to one or more parts.712 The request is recorded in the Journals immediately after the entry regarding the presentation of the report. A request for a partial response does not prevent the government from responding to the entire report. Speakers have consistently refused to define “comprehensive” in this context, maintaining that the nature of the response must be left to the discretion of the government.713 When the House is sitting, the response may be tabled by a Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary during Routine Proceedings under “Tabling of Documents” or filed with the Clerk.714 When the House is adjourned, the response may be filed with the Clerk, or the Minister may wait until the House resumes sitting to table it.715 The Standing Orders do not provide for any sanction should the government fail to comply with the requirement to present a response.716
Concurrence in a Report by the House
Recommendations in committee reports are normally drafted in the form of motions so that, if the reports are concurred in, the recommendations become clear orders or resolutions of the House.717
A Member who wishes to move a motion for concurrence in a committee report must give 48 hours’ notice of the motion.718 The Member can then move the motion under the rubric “Motions” during Routine Proceedings. The motion can be debated for up to three hours.719 In the case of a report for which a government response has been requested, no motion for concurrence in the report may be moved until the comprehensive response has been tabled or the 120-day period has expired, whichever comes first.720
When a motion to concur in a report is before the House, it is the concurrence in the report as a whole which the House is considering. No amendment may be presented to the text of the report.721 An amendment to a motion for concurrence, however, may be proposed to refer the report back to the committee for re-examination, with or without instruction.722
A motion to concur in a report on the estimates can be debated only on an allotted day under the Business of Supply.723 The Standing Orders also provide a special procedure for reports containing a resolution to revoke a regulation made by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations.724 Reports containing a recommendation not to proceed with a private Member’s bill and reports requesting an extension to consider a private Member’s bill are also subject to specific concurrence procedures.725 Reports on the membership of legislative committees and some reports concerning votable items of Private Members’ Business are deemed adopted upon presentation to the House.726
Where a bill has been reported back from committee, it is subject to the rules and practices governing the legislative process, rather than those relating to committee reports in general.
Types of Meetings and Activities
Committees conduct their deliberations and make decisions within the framework of meetings. In order to accommodate the wide variety of subjects that they may be called upon to examine, committees have a range of meeting formats from which to choose. They sometimes engage in other types of activities in addition to regular meetings.
Committee meetings are ordinarily open to the public and the media. Simultaneous interpretation services are offered to committee members, witnesses and members of the public.
In Camera Meetings
On occasion, a committee may decide to hold an in camera meeting to deal with administrative matters, to consider a draft report or to receive a briefing. Subcommittees on Agenda and Procedure usually meet in camera.727 Committees also meet in camera to deal with documents or matters requiring confidentiality, such as national security.728 Depending on the needs, a committee may conduct one part of a meeting in public and the other part in camera.
Any member may move a motion to go from sitting in public to sitting in camera (and vice versa). The motion is decided immediately without debate or amendment.729 In practice, committees often change from one to the other at the suggestion of the Chair, with the implied consent of the members.
Committees regularly decide by way of a motion whether transcripts of in camera proceedings are to be kept.730 Minutes of in camera meetings are publicly available, but certain information usually found in the minutes of public committee meetings is not included.731 On occasion, committees decide to make in camera proceedings public and vice versa.732
Neither the public nor the media is permitted at in camera meetings, and there is no broadcasting of the proceedings.733 Usually, only the committee members, the committee staff and invited witnesses, if any, attend in camera meetings. Members of the House who are not members of the committee normally withdraw when the committee is meeting in camera. However, the committee may allow them to remain in the meeting room, just as it may allow any other individual to remain.734 Divulging any part of the proceedings of an in camera committee meeting has been ruled by the Speaker to constitute a prima facie matter of privilege.735 However, if a committee does not report a divulgation of in camera proceedings, a Speaker has ruled that there are no procedural grounds on which to intervene.736
Committees sometimes choose to meet informally with parliamentarians and government officials from other countries who are visiting Canada.737 As an informal meeting is not, strictly speaking, a committee meeting, it may take place in a much more relaxed atmosphere. Members are not bound by the ordinary rules and practices that govern committee meetings. The proceedings are neither recorded nor transcribed,738 nor is the committee entitled to any of the privileges associated with parliamentary proceedings or to exercise any of the powers which the House has conferred upon it. No minutes of the meeting are produced. Informal meetings may be held in a committee room, or in another room that provides a more appropriate setting.
Meetings or Activities Outside the Parliamentary Precinct
From time to time, committees travel for the purpose of gathering evidence, attending a conference739 or visiting sites related to a study.740 In order to hold such meetings or activities outside the Parliamentary Precinct, even if the travel involved is within the National Capital Region, a committee must obtain the necessary travel funds and the permission of the House to travel.741 The House may grant a committee permission to travel by adopting a motion to that effect or by concurring in a committee report recommending that such permission be given.742
Committees empowered to hold hearings elsewhere in Canada do so in the same manner as on Parliament Hill. The committee retains all of the powers accorded it by the Standing Orders or special orders, and committee members and witnesses are protected by parliamentary privilege.
When travelling outside of Canada, committees usually have the opportunity to consult with groups and individuals and to tour facilities.743 Outside the country, committees do not hold formal hearings.744 The powers which the House delegates to committees are not in effect when a committee is outside of Canada, nor are committee proceedings protected by parliamentary privilege.
During regular meetings in the Parliamentary Precinct, committees usually meet in specially equipped committee rooms provided by the House of Commons or, in the case of some joint committees, the Senate.745 Committees may also use other rooms in the Parliament Buildings for informal meetings and other activities.
As Figure 20.7, “Committee Room Configuration”, illustrates, meeting rooms are usually arranged in an open-rectangle configuration. The Chair sits at one end, flanked by the clerk and the analysts from the Library of Parliament. Government members are at the Chair’s right, while opposition members sit on the left. Witnesses, if any, sit at the end of the rectangle opposite the Chair. Committee members’ staff sit behind the members on either side of the room, and there is seating for the public and the media at the rear of the room, behind the witnesses. Figure 20.8, “Committee Room”, shows a photograph of a committee room in the Parliamentary Precinct.
When travelling, committees usually meet in conference facilities that are capable of providing the typical configuration of a room within the Parliamentary Precinct.
Scheduling, Convening and Conduct of Meetings
Times of Meetings and Room Allocation
When the House is sitting, most committee meetings are held from Monday to Thursday. The scheduled length of a meeting is ordinarily two hours, but a committee may meet for a longer or shorter period, as it sees fit.746
As the number of meeting rooms available to the House of Commons is limited, committees follow a system of priority access based on rotating blocks of time approved by the Whips of the recognized parties.747 Standing committees are divided into four groups; each group is assigned one block of time, which consists of two periods per week. These periods are:
- Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.;
- Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.;
- Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; and
- Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Normally, each group of standing committees is given a new block of time in September and January. Special committees are given priority during periods other than those allocated to standing committees, including after 5:30 p.m., and on Mondays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and Fridays from 8:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Subcommittees may meet during the time normally reserved for their main committee if it is not meeting, or may meet at other times. Standing joint committees usually meet outside these blocks of time.
For committees which do not have priority in a given time period, access to meeting rooms is on a first-come, first-served basis, after those entitled to meet at that time. Committee room access practices notwithstanding, the Standing Orders provide that, when the House is sitting, committees considering legislation or estimates have priority over all other committees.748 Moreover, standing committees are prohibited from sitting at the same time as a legislative committee studying a bill which emanates from or principally affects the department or agency for which they are responsible.749
Convening a Meeting
By the Chair
Committee meetings are convened by the Chair750 acting either on a decision made by the committee751 or on the Chair’s own authority.752 Meetings of joint committees are usually convened by one of the Joint Chairs.753 Only the Chair of a committee may convene a meeting; Vice-Chairs have no such power. However, the House may instruct a committee to meet at a specific time.754
At the Request of Four Committee Members
The Standing Orders provide that four members of a standing committee may make a request in writing that the committee meet.755 The request is forwarded to the clerk of the committee. It specifies the reasons why the meeting should be held.756 A meeting must be held within five calendar days to consider the written request. The Chair may agree to consider the request at a regular meeting of the committee,757 or call a special meeting for that purpose, particularly during an adjournment of the House.758 Forty-eight hours’ notice of such a meeting must nevertheless be given to the members.759
In considering the request, the committee decides whether or not it wishes to take up the requested subject matter. While it is considering the matter, the usual rules of debate apply. As such, there is no obligation on the committee to conclude debate.760 If it decides to consider the matter, it may do so as and when it wishes. In addition, the committee may consider other matters at that particular meeting as it sees fit.761 A committee meeting convened in response to a request by four members may be held in public or in camera.
Cancelling a Meeting
Circumstances sometimes arise which make it necessary to cancel a committee meeting, after a notice convening the meeting has been published. Where a committee has agreed to adjourn to the call of the Chair, the Chair instructs the clerk to send an amendment to the notice to members informing them of the cancellation. As no mechanism exists to cancel a meeting convened by order of the committee, the Chair usually consults with members of the committee of the various parties before instructing the clerk to send the cancellation notice.762 In the case of joint committees, the committee may decide whether a single Joint Chair may convene or cancel meetings or whether both Joint Chairs must act together.763
Conduct of Meetings
Quorum and Call to Order / “Reduced Quorum”
In order to exercise the powers granted to it by the House, the Standing Orders require a committee to have a quorum at its meetings.764 In the case of standing, legislative and special committees, a majority of the members constitute a quorum.765 A Parliamentary Secretary named as a non-voting committee member and the Chair of a legislative committee are not counted for the purpose of establishing a quorum.766
Only regular members of a committee or properly designated substitutes are counted as part of the quorum. As a courtesy, most committees do not begin their meetings until at least one Member of the opposition is in attendance, even if a quorum is present.
The quorum for standing joint and special joint committees is not set out in the Standing Orders. Standing joint committees propose a quorum by means of a report presented to and concurred in by both Houses.767 The quorum for a special joint committee is usually set out in the order of reference which establishes it. It is generally the case that the quorum of joint committees requires the presence of members from both Houses.768 In the case of joint meetings of standing committees, each committee must achieve its own quorum in order to meet.
When a quorum is not present at the time set for the meeting to begin, the committee Chair may delay starting the meeting to allow for other members to arrive.769 Meetings under way may be adjourned if quorum is lost during the sitting.770
However, the Standing Orders do allow standing, special and legislative committees to authorize the Chair to hold meetings in order to receive evidence when a quorum is not present.771 Committees normally specify in a routine motion the number of members they wish to be present in order for meetings to be held. This is referred to as a “reduced quorum”.772 The motion often contains additional conditions.773
When only a reduced quorum is present, no motions may be moved and no votes may be held. Committees do, however, retain the power to publish the Evidence received at meetings held with a reduced quorum.774
At joint meetings, the reduced quorum for each committee must be present in order for witnesses to be heard. If it is not, the meeting may take place, but it is not considered to be a joint meeting since one of the committees is without a quorum.
Committees frequently suspend their meetings for various reasons, with the intention to resume later in the day.775 Suspensions may last a few seconds, several hours, or span even more than one day,776 depending on the circumstances, and a meeting may be suspended more than once. The committee Chair must clearly announce the suspension, so that recording ceases until the meeting resumes. Meetings are suspended, for example, to change from public to in camera mode, or the reverse;777 to enable witnesses to be seated or to hear witnesses by video conference;778 to put an end to disorder;779 to resolve a problem with the simultaneous interpretation system; or to move from one item on the agenda to the next.780
Pursuant to the Standing Orders, the Chair of a standing, special, legislative or joint committee is required to suspend the meeting when the bells are sounded to call in the Members to a recorded division in the House, unless there is unanimous consent of the members of the committee to continue to sit.781
Committees most often adjourn to the call of the Chair; that is, the decision as to the exact time of the next meeting is left to the discretion of the Chair.782 This is done even when the committee has adopted a work plan that lays out a detailed schedule of meetings. In this way, the Chair is given the flexibility to respond effectively to changing events and to the availability of potential witnesses. Committees may also adjourn to a specific time,783 as they usually do when the next meeting is scheduled for the immediate future, for example, the next day or later the same day. Committees, on occasion, may adjourn without making any provision for a future meeting, that is, to adjourn sine die (indefinitely).784
A committee meeting may be adjourned by the adoption of a motion to that effect.785 However, most meetings are adjourned more informally, when the Chair receives the implied consent of members to adjourn.786 The committee Chair cannot adjourn the meeting without the consent of a majority of the members, unless the Chair decides that a case of disorder or misconduct is so serious as to prevent the committee from continuing its work.787
Funding of Activities
While meeting in rooms made available to them within the Parliamentary Precinct, committee members may deliberate without incurring direct expenses. The costs of many services required for their meetings to function well are generally assumed by various House of Commons services. However, nearly all committees incur expenses, for example, in reimbursing the travel costs of witnesses who appear before them. The Standing Orders provide that the Board of Internal Economy may grant parliamentary committees limited interim spending authority.788
Key Authorities in the Financial Management of Committees
Board of Internal Economy
The Board of Internal Economy is responsible under the Parliament of Canada Act for all financial and administrative matters respecting the House of Commons and its Members.789
The Board approves the financial policies which apply to parliamentary committees. It also determines the budget envelope for committee activities within the main estimates voted annually by Parliament. The Board itself reviews the budget requests of legislative and special committees, but delegates to the Liaison Committee the responsibility of allocating available funds for standing and standing joint committees and managing their funding.790
Liaison Committee and Subcommittee on Committee Budgets
The Liaison Committee is established under the Standing Orders and returns from session to session, although it is not a standing committee as such. It is composed of all the Chairs of standing committees and Members who are Joint Chairs of standing joint committees.791
The Liaison Committee reviews budget requests from standing and standing joint committees. It allocates and manages committee funds from the Board of Internal Economy.792
The Liaison Committee is also empowered under the Standing Orders to present reports to the House793 and to strike subcommittees made up of members and associate members of the Liaison Committee.794 Seven members constitute a quorum.795 The Standing Orders further provide that the Whip, or the Whip’s designate, of any recognized party not having a member on the Liaison Committee may take part in its proceedings but may not vote, move a motion or be counted as part of any quorum.796
At the beginning of each session, the Clerk of the House convenes an organization meeting of the Liaison Committee to elect a Chair and a Vice-Chair. The meeting is convened within five sitting days of the meeting of the last standing committee to elect its Chair, but no later than the 20th sitting day after the House concurs in the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs listing the members of standing committees and Members representing the House on standing joint committees.797 The Chairs of all standing committees, and the Members who have already been elected Joint Chairs of standing joint committees, are called to this meeting.798
At this initial meeting, the Liaison Committee usually strikes its Subcommittee on Committee Budgets, responsible for the detailed review of budget requests from standing and standing joint committees, the allocation of funding, the review of budget provisions and the preparation of any additional budget requests. Decisions made by the Subcommittee within the mandate given to it by the Liaison Committee do not have to be approved individually by the latter in order to take effect.
The Subcommittee is usually composed of members drawn from the government party and the Official Opposition in a ratio that varies from session to session and normally includes the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Liaison Committee. The Chair generally holds the same office within the Subcommittee.799
As a rule, both the Liaison Committee and its Subcommittee on Committee Budgets meet in camera.
Obtaining Funding for Committees
As necessary, standing committees obtain funding by presenting their budget requests to the Liaison Committee, whereas legislative and special committees and subcommittees established by order of the House present them to the Board of Internal Economy. Subcommittees created by standing committees present their budget requests to their main committee for approval before they are presented to the Liaison Committee.800 In the case of standing joint and special joint committees, budget requests are presented for approval to the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, and the appropriate House of Commons bodies.801
Committees fund their activities through various types of budgets. Standing and standing joint committees are given operational budgets to cover routine committee expenses and those related to major projects pending budgetary approval. Legislative and special committees receive interim funding for the same types of expenditures. Project budgets submitted by standing and standing joint committees are used to pay costs related to particular studies they intend to conduct. Travel budgets are submitted when a standing or standing joint committee intends to travel outside the Parliamentary Precinct. Service contract budgets are submitted for the hiring of experts and professional, technical and administrative staff. Legislative and special committees submit budgets over and above their interim funding, if required.802
All expenditures covered by these budgets are subject to financial policies that regulate the type of expenditure eligible and the extent of coverage.803 Moreover, although it can be interrupted by prorogation or dissolution,804 the committee financial cycle is related to that of a fiscal year. It begins on April 1 each year, and ends on the following March 31; however, the activities of committees often span more than one fiscal year.
Operational Budget or Interim Funding
At the beginning of a fiscal year, standing and standing joint committees are allocated an operational budget. Subcommittees may be given an operational budget on request to the clerk of the Liaison Committee. These amounts are reset at their initial levels on November 1 of each year.
Once duly organized, legislative and special committees are granted interim funding in order to begin their work without delay. Interim funding is used until a budget, if necessary, is approved for them. The approved budget will include the amount of the interim funding.805
Budget for Project-related Activities or Travel
When a standing or standing joint committee wishes to undertake a study that will require expenditures in excess of its operational budget, it must prepare a project budget to seek the necessary funds. Figure 20.9, “Approval Process for Project and Travel Budgets for Standing Committees”, summarizes the process that is followed.
If a standing or standing joint committee wishes to travel outside the Parliamentary Precinct, it must submit a travel budget. Figure 20.9 illustrates the process followed in such a case. If the committee decides to alter its initial itinerary as approved by the Liaison Committee and the House, it submits a revised budget and the process is repeated from the beginning.
Service Contract Budget
All budget requests for the hiring of experts and professional, technical and administrative staff must be submitted to the Liaison Committee or its Subcommittee on Committee Budgets. Committee contracts involving professional fees exceeding limits set by the Board of Internal Economy in total must be submitted to the Board of Internal Economy for prior approval.
Legislative and Special Committee Budgets
Legislative and special committees submit a budget to the Board of Internal Economy in the following cases:
- The projected cost of completing their work will exceed their interim funding.
- They have to travel outside the Parliamentary Precinct to do their work.
- They decide to retain the services of one or more outside experts.
As Figure 20.10, “Approval Process for Special and Legislative Committee Budgets Presented in Addition to Interim Funding”, illustrates, the approval process for these budgets is very similar to that followed by standing and standing joint committees, with a few exceptions.
Additional Funding and Unused Funds
If a parliamentary committee requires funding in addition to its approved budgets, it submits a request to the Board of Internal Economy or the Liaison Committee. Committees are not authorized to incur expenses in excess of their budgets.806
For standing committees, study or travel funds that are not used are usually returned to the Liaison Committee 60 calendar days after completion of the study or travel in question. Should the budget envelope allocated to some standing committees be exhausted, the Liaison Committee may reapportion allocated funds from committee to committee as required.
Parliamentary committees are subject to financial policies that include accountability and expenditure audit mechanisms. The Liaison Committee presents reports to the House periodically throughout the year on each committee’s activities and expenditures.807 At the end of the fiscal year, the Board of Internal Economy lists the expenditures of each parliamentary committee in an annual financial report presented to the House of Commons.808
Reporting of Activities and Deliberations
The Committees Website
The House of Commons Committees website is the main source of information on the work of committees.809 It contains almost everything committees publish, in English and in French, as well as administrative and procedural information, including the list of committee memberships. It is also possible to watch and listen to committee meetings on the site.
Notice of Meeting
A committee meeting is announced by means of a notice of meeting issued by the clerk, at the request of the Chair. The notice is sent by email to all committee members and the appropriate administrative services as soon as it is posted on the Committees website. The notice generally indicates the following:810
- the purpose of the meeting;
- the scheduled start and end time;
- the meeting number;
- whether the meeting, or parts of it, will be public or in camera;
- whether the meeting will be televised;
- the names of any witnesses invited to appear; and
- whether any witnesses will be appearing by video conference.
Notices of meetings are frequently amended. An amended notice is posted on the website and sent by email to the same individuals and services that received the initial notice.811
If the meeting has to be cancelled, a notice of cancellation is posted on the website. Committee members and the appropriate administrative services are informed immediately by email.
Minutes of Proceedings
The committee clerk prepares the Minutes of Proceedings for each committee meeting, and signs the original to attest to their accuracy and authenticity. The clerk retains the originals of all Minutes of Proceedings and archives them with other committee documents at the end of each session. The Minutes of Proceedings usually provide the following information:812
- the meeting number;813
- the date, start time and location;
- the name of each member who presided during the meeting;
- whether the meeting was televised;
- whether the meeting, or part thereof, was held in camera;
- the authority under which the committee met;
- the names of those present, whether they attended the entire meeting or only a part of it; this includes committee members or their substitutes, other Members of the House of Commons, Senators, Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries, witnesses, Library of Parliament analysts, and so on;
- matters addressed by the committee during the meeting (hearing of witnesses, motions, votes, consideration of a draft report, and so on);
- the time of any suspension and resumption of the meeting;
- the time of adjournment;814 and
- the name of the committee clerk.
The Minutes of Proceedings may also contain the text of rulings made by the committee Chair on any procedural matter.815
The Evidence is the transcript of the proceedings of a committee. An unedited and untranslated version of the Evidence, also known as the “blues”, is usually available on the Committees website, when accessed from the internal Parliamentary network, 24 to 48 hours after a meeting. The official version is publicly available on the website several days later.816 Transcripts of in camera committee meetings are not published. A confidential electronic record of the in camera transcript is produced in the floor language. It is provided to the committee clerk for the exclusive use of committee members and staff.
Committees can make use of news releases to inform the public and the media about their work. Such releases announce, for example, the launch of a study, the holding of a news conference, or the publication of a report.817
The instruction to the committee clerk to prepare and distribute the press release may result from the adoption of a motion by the committee,818 or may be issued by the committee Chair with the implied consent of the committee. The clerk subsequently forwards the news release to the Press Gallery Secretariat, which arranges distribution to members of the press. The release is also made available on the specific committee’s website.
Reports presented to the House and, where applicable, the government’s responses to these reports are available on the Committees website. Larger reports are usually also printed. A limited number of printed copies are prepared for presentation in the House.819
Committees hold press conferences from time to time to inform the public about their work, particularly after the presentation of a report to the House. When a committee wishes to hold a press conference, it adopts a motion to that effect, usually after adopting the report.820
Broadcasting of Committee Proceedings
The public proceedings of committees are available live and on an archival basis through the Committees website. Users have access to the audio of all public meetings recorded using House of Commons broadcasting facilities.822
Pursuant to the Standing Orders, committees may televise their hearings using facilities provided by the House and those used by members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The video recording and broadcasting of committee proceedings are governed by guidelines approved by the House.823 These guidelines state that only House of Commons Mulitmedia Services or members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery have the right to broadcast the proceedings. When a committee wishes to have its meetings outside the Parliamentary Precinct broadcast on radio or television, it must seek special permission from the House.824
The decision to televise a committee meeting may take the form of a committee motion to that effect,825 or may be made by the Chair with the implied consent of the members.
When televised, committee meetings are broadcast live via the webcasting service, as well as on the internal House television network available within the Parliamentary Precinct. Some meetings are televised live or recorded for subsequent broadcast on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).
The guidelines for the broadcasting of committee meetings by the electronic media set out the following principles, among others:
- Video recording or broadcasting will be done from the commencement of the meeting and will end only at a “natural break” in or at the end of the proceedings. Recording shall be suspended during suspensions in the committee proceedings. (The media will be free to use the videotape in whole or in part.)
- Video recording must respect the spirit of an “electronic Hansard”, and will be subject to the same general guidelines, rules and policies as applied to the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House itself. Generally, this means that only the individual recognized by the Chair is to be filmed. Close-up shots (of people or documents) and reaction shots, among others, are not permitted.
- Video recording of committee meetings is subject to the express condition that the party so recording retain the original tape(s) for a period of 35 days, and upon receipt of a request in writing from the Speaker of the House of Commons, deliver forthwith the original tape(s) of any committee meeting videotaped pursuant to these rules.
- The cameras must be in fixed positions while the committee is in session. Cameras will not be allowed to move around the room while the committee is in session. (Free roving cameras would continue for photo opportunities before the meeting starts, or after it has been adjourned.)
- No more than three cameras will be permitted in a committee room at one time. Because of space limitations, some rooms will be designated for a maximum of two cameras. The electronic media will have to enter into reciprocal or pooling arrangements among themselves.
- Cameras and other equipment must be set up and dismantled as quickly as possible to minimize the disruption to previous or subsequent meetings in the same room.
- The existing room light and committee sound system are to be used.
- Camera operators will be required to be members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
- A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery wishing to video-record a committee meeting must provide the clerk of the committee with reasonable notice in all circumstances prior to the meeting (such reasonableness to be determined by the committee itself). Where the notice for the meeting is either issued or amended during the 24-hour period prior to the meeting, the clerk must be notified at least two hours in advance of the meeting.
- The electronic media will not be permitted to film those committee meetings that are being filmed by the House of Commons Broadcasting Service, as they will continue to have access to the feed from the House.826