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Committees: Examining Bills and Issues in Depth

Standing Committees of the House of Commons for the 38th Parliament

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

Agriculture and Agri-Food

Canadian Heritage

Citizenship and Immigration

Environment and Sustainable Development

Finance

Fisheries and Oceans

Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Government Operations and Estimates

Health

Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities

Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology

Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

National Defence and Veterans Affairs

Official Languages

Procedure and House Affairs

Public Accounts

Status of Women

Transport

Standing Joint Committees

Library of Parliament

Scrutiny of Regulations

Committee Statistics 2005-2006

Total number of meetings: 941

Total number of sitting hours: 1,597

Total number of witnesses: 3,585

Total number of reports: 159

House of Commons committees study issues and bills in depth

House of Commons committees study issues and bills in depth, often calling on the expertise of witnesses from the public and private sectors.

Photo: © C. Diotte

Committee work makes up an important part of Members' activities. In committee, they study and amend bills, and examine departmental spending plans. Committees may also initiate their own inquiries and explore issues referred by the House relating to areas of public policy including defence, health and finance. Members may call on interested parties to submit briefs, and they may have to travel across Canada or abroad to hear from individuals and groups who have an interest in the subject under study. For example, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, as part of its study of the Canadian feature film industry, travelled to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal and Halifax to hold hearings and conduct site visits. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs travelled to several countries in order to examine electoral reform. At the conclusion of a study, the committee presents a report to the House with its views and recommendations. Committee work can involve, on average, four meetings or eight hours a week of sittings per Member.

Committees offer Canadians a close-up look at the work of Members and the role of Parliament, and provide an opportunity for public input. The Parliament of Canada Web site features committee schedules and contact information. ParlVU, a live Webcast service, carries televised House of Commons committee meetings and the audio from all other House of Commons committee meetings that are open to the public.

Determining Committee Membership

The House of Commons has over 20 standing committees made up of about 12 members each. Representation on the committees is based on the party standings in the House of Commons.

Many Members sit on more than one committee. To determine membership, party whips submit lists of candidates to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (the whips are Members who inform other Members in the same party of House business and ensure their attendance in the Chamber and in committee). This Committee submits a final list to the House of Commons for approval.

Committees are usually chaired by members of the governing party. They are supported by a first vice-chair, who is a member of the Official Opposition party, and a second vice-chair, who is a member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition. However, in the 38th Parliament, members of the Official Opposition chaired the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, and the standing committees on Public Accounts; Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics; and Government Operations and Estimates. In the case of the House committees, the first and second vice-chairs were, respectively, members of the governing party and an opposition party other than the Official Opposition.

Subjects Under Study

In addition to studying legislation, committees investigate many subjects of concern to a modern democracy. Their findings are published in reports. Over the past year, House of Commons committees held a total of 941 meetings and produced 159 reports. A full list is available on the Committees' page of the Parliament of Canada Web site, but the following subjects offer a glimpse of the range of issues examined:

  • improving the security of government information technology systems
  • Internet pharmacies
  • liberalizing Canada's air policy and aviation industry
  • Northern cod
  • reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions
  • the impact of the Internet, service providers and new technology on child pornography
  • updating citizenship laws
  • U.S. water diversion activities

Committee Connections

The House is increasing its use of technology to help committees communicate with the public, and vice versa. For example, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade used Internet technology to conduct an e-consultation on the Government of Canada's International Policy Statement.

The Committees page on the Parliament of Canada Web site offers details on committee meetings, reports, membership, and information for and about witnesses. The site registered approximately 3.4 million visits between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006.

Types of Committees

Standing Committees
These are permanent committees that oversee the activities of government departments, study legislation and estimates, and carry out procedural and administrative responsibilities related to Parliament.

Special Committees
The House of Commons can appoint special committees to inquire into specific matters. They cease to exist after they have issued a final report or reached their deadline, or once a session has ended.

Legislative Committees
A legislative committee examines and inquires into bills referred to it by the House, and reports the bills back to the House with or without amendments.

Joint Committees
Joint committees are composed of Senators and Members of the House of Commons.

Subcommittees
Standing committees may delegate any or all of their powers to a subcommittee, except the power to report directly to the House of Commons.