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Committees: Examining Bills
and Issues in Depth

Committee work is an important part of the work of the Members. In committee, they study proposed legislation, and examine departmental spending plans. Committees may also initiate their own inquiries or study issues referred to them by the House. These issues relate to areas of public policy such as the environment, trade and health. Members can ask interested parties to submit briefs, and committees may travel across Canada or abroad to hear from individuals and groups with an interest in the subject under study. At the conclusion of a study, the committee presents a report to the House with its views and recommendations. Committee work can average four two-hour meetings a week per Member.

Selecting Committee Members

Total number of meetings 1,394
Total number of sitting hours 2,351 hours, 31 min.
Total number of witnesses 4,594
Total number of reports 231

The House of Commons has 24 standing committees, each consisting of 12 Members, as well as two standing joint committees. Over the past year, there has also been an increased use of legislative committees, which are established to examine bills in detail before or after second reading.

Many Members sit on more than one committee. Representation on committees is based on party standings in the House of Commons. To determine membership, the Whips of the four political parties submit lists of candidates to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This Committee submits a final list to the House of Commons for approval.

Most standing committees are chaired by members of the governing party. Each chair is assisted by a first Vice-Chair, who is a member of the Official Opposition, and a second Vice-Chair, who is a member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition. Exceptions to this rule include: the Standing Committees on Public Accounts; Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics; Status of Women; Government Operations and Estimates; as well as the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. Each of the latter committees is chaired by a member of the Official Opposition with the first and second Vice-Chairs, respectively, from the governing party and an opposition party other than the Official Opposition.

Committee Studies

In addition to studying legislation, committees investigate many subjects of concern to a modern democracy. Over the past year, House of Commons committees held a total of 1,394 meetings and produced 231 committee reports. A complete list of these reports is available on the Committees page of the Parliament of Canada Web site ( www.parl.gc.ca). The following partial list offers a glimpse of the range of subjects studied by committees:

  • Aboriginal rights
  • grain transportation
  • security certificates
  • the Kyoto Protocol
  • the situation in Darfur
  • Canada's manufacturing sector
  • museums
  • the Income Tax Act

Committees: Playing A Key Role

Committees enable Members to:

  • examine complex matters in detail-this can be done more effectively by a small group than by the entire House of Commons;
  • hear from experts on topics of national concern, and have this evidence placed on the public record; and
  • examine policies and programs, and increase expertise in specific areas.

A committee is not a final decision-making body. When it has finished considering a matter, it presents its findings and recommendations in a report to the House. Committees can influence policies and decision-making and their reports may include a request that the government respond to its recommendations within 120 days.

Focus on Committees

Committees have existed in some form in the British Parliament since the 1300s. Their earliest duty was to draw up legislation to carry out petitions approved by the Crown. By the mid-1500s, committees were a part of Parliamentary activities and could modify legislation. At one time, Members could not sit on a committee if they had spoken out against the matter being considered.

In Canada, the House of Commons follows basically the same rules for committees as had been used prior to Confederation. Canada has also introduced changes to the committee system, such as creating a committee structure that reflects the structure of public administration, and allowing standing committees to undertake studies of any matter relevant to the departments for which they are responsible.

Throughout this Report the work of committees past and present is featured in special "vignettes".

Standing Committees of the House
of Commons for the 39th 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 Development
  • Government Operations and Estimates
  • Health
  • Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
  • Industry, Science and Technology
  • International Trade
  • Justice and Human Rights
  • National Defence
  • Natural Resources
  • Official Languages
  • Procedure and House Affairs
  • Public Accounts
  • Public Safety and National Security
  • Status of Women
  • Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
  • Veterans Affairs

Standing Joint Committees

  • Library of Parliament
  • Scrutiny of Regulations

Types of Committees

Standing Committees
These are permanent committees that oversee the activities of government departments, and study proposed legislation and Estimates.

Special Committees
The House of Commons can appoint special committees to inquire into specific matters. They cease to exist after they have issued their final reports.

Legislative Committees
A legislative committee studies a bill referred to it by the House, and reports it back to the House with or without amendments. It ceases to exist once the bill has been reported to the House.

Joint Committees
A joint committee is made up of a proportionate number of members of both the House of Commons and the Senate. Each may be either a standing or a special committee.

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

Focus on Committees

Who's Who on a Committee

Committee members elect the Chair and Vice-Chairs of standing committees. The Chair is the presiding officer and spokesperson, and casts a vote only when there is a tie. The Chair's duties include maintaining order and decorum, and deciding on questions of order and procedure.

The committee clerk is a non-partisan and independent officer who serves all members of the committee equally without regard to party affiliation . As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be asked to advise on procedural questions. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee and is in frequent contact with members' staff.

Library of Parliament analysts are also important members of the committee team. They prepare background documents and draft reports for the committee.

Members of the Standing Committee on National Defence are briefed at Kandahar Airfield during a visit in late January 2007.

Photo: © House Of Commons

Standing Committee on National Defence

Members of the Standing Committee on National Defence are briefed at Kandahar Airfield during a visit in late January 2007. Left to right: Stephen Blaney, M.P., Cheryl Gallant, M.P., Dawn Black, M.P., Colonel Dave Millar of the Strategic Joint Staff; the Hon. Carolyn Bennett, M.P., the Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, M.P., the Hon. Joe McGuire, M.P., Claude Bachand, M.P., Rick Casson, M.P. and an unidentified member of Joint Task Force - Afghanistan.