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Behind The Scenes: The House of Commons Administration

Supporting Members of Parliament

Members of Parliament represent the institution's most public face. Supporting them are the employees of the House of Commons Administration, who apply a wide range of skills to help Members do their job and to strengthen the House of Commons.

The House of Commons Administration is made up of six service areas: Procedural Services; the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel; Information Services; Parliamentary Precinct Services; Finance Services; and Human Resources and Corporate Planning Services. All service areas, which draw on some 1,737 full-time employees, are accountable to the Clerk of the House of Commons, who reports to the Speaker and serves as Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.

The Board of Internal Economy governs the House Administration. It is chaired by the Speaker and made up of Members from all recognized political parties. The Board is responsible for all matters of financial and administrative policy affecting the House of Commons.

Strategic Objectives

House of Commons, Board of Internal Economy

Standing from left to right: Mr. Joe Preston, M.P. (CPC); Hon. Lucienne Robillard, P.C., M.P. (Lib.); Hon. Jay Hill, P.C., M.P., Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip; Mr. James Moore, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics; Hon. Peter Van Loan, P.C., M.P., Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform; Libby Davies, M.P., House Leader of the New Democratic Party. Sitting from left to right: Mr. Michel Guimond, M.P., Whip of the Bloc Québécois; Hon. Peter Milliken, M.P., Speaker of the House of Commons and Chairman of the Board of Internal Economy; Ms. Audrey O'Brien, Clerk of the House of Commons; Hon. Karen Redman, P.C, M.P., Whip of the Official Opposition.

Photo: © House of Commons/
Chris Diotte

In the Strategic Outlook for the 39th Parliament, the House of Commons Administration presented four main objectives that reflect its vision, values and mandate. It also provided a framework for its activities in support of Members. The four objectives are as follows:

  1. Respond to the evolving role of Members and the institution
  2. Enhance ongoing services to Members and sustain the institution
  3. Promote understanding and support the advancement of legislative institutions
  4. Apply, in a Parliamentary context, the highest standards of public-sector governance

This section of the Report to Canadians describes the key achievements of the House Administration in relation to these objectives, and its major commitments for 2007-2008.

l. Responding to the Evolving Role of Members

Technology makes it possible for people to obtain information and services whenever and wherever they need them. The House Administration is providing speedier and easier access to information on the work of the House of Commons for Members and the public.

Improving Members' Access To Parliamentary Information

  • With the launch of the first phase of "Today in the House," Members, staff and the public have better access to online information about the daily activities of the House of Commons. From this central point, they can easily navigate the Parliament of Canada Web site and connect to information about House proceedings and publications, committee reports and Members. Upcoming enhancements will provide easier access to more information on Members, items of business under consideration and documents tabled in the House of Commons.
  • The Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament are committed to a common long-term vision and strategy for enhancing parliamentary information services. As part of this strategy, the partners have developed a governance structure reflecting their specific roles and responsibilities. This structure will be implemented over the coming year, enabling the partners to deliver information more effectively through joint programs and projects.
  • The House Administration introduced new processes to shorten the production time for publications and research tools:
    • Production time for Private Members' bills was reduced by 25 percent, and a common template was introduced for Private Members' bills and government bills.
    • Preliminary indexes for the House of Commons Debates are now available within three hours of publication, and detailed indexes within 24 hours. The consistency of the French and English indexes was also improved.
Special Committee Studying Bill 98 on Unemployment Insurance

Photo: © Library And
Archives Canada

Focus on Committees

Special Committee Studying Bill 98 on Unemployment Insurance - 1940

House of Commons committees have played a key role in shaping national programs and legislation. The House of Commons adopted the Unemployment Insurance Act on August 7, 1940, one month after the adoption of the constitutional amendment making it possible.

Ensuring a Flexible Technology Infrastructure

  • The House Administration provided Members with on-demand access to proceedings through the ParlVU service. During the initial phase of implementation, all televised Chamber and committee proceedings were made accessible. In the coming fiscal year, Members and the public will also receive on-demand audio access to all public committee events, and will benefit from an online request service for video content.
  • As part of its effort to develop a secure and high-performing technology environment, flexible enough to ensure continued services to Members, the House Administration completed underground connections and cabling to buildings, and the planning and design of technology services and infrastructure for future needs.

Involving Canadians in the Parliamentary Process

  • The Committees Web site was reviewed to identify ways to improve its structure and features. This site provides access to detailed information about the work of committees, including minutes, reports and contact information. Over the coming year, the site will be enhanced to make it more user-friendly. It will also offer better access to information on witnesses and committee members, and improved subscription features so that users can follow the work of committees more closely.
  • An e-consultation strategy and guidelines were developed to help committees plan their online public consultations, and select the approach that best meets their needs.

ll. Enhancing Ongoing Services to Members and Sustaining the Institution

Sustaining an institution involves ensuring that information, practices and facilities are maintained and improved. The House Administration has implemented enhanced management and planning practices, upgraded facilities and shared information to serve Members, employees and the public more effectively.

Focus on Committees

The Committees Web Site

The House of Commons Committees Web site offers a wealth of information about individual committees and the committee system in general. Committee names, membership and contact information are all available at the click of a mouse. The site offers links to committee reports, government responses and other documents. For general information, "Committees: Practical Guide" is a good starting point. More specific details on appearing as a witness or preparing a submission are also available. If you're interested in tuning in to committee proceedings, see the broadcast schedule for CPAC, or tune in to the ParlVU Webcasts.

To get to the Committees site, go to the Parliament of Canada Web site (, click on "Committee Business" and then on "House of Commons: Committees Home."

Sustaining the Institution and Improving Services

  • Based on consultations with Members and a review of program activities, the House Administration refined its Members' Orientation Program to better meet their needs. This program provides information and services to Members in the period surrounding a general election or by-election. Working with the Library of Parliament, the Administration also offered seminars to Members and their staff on procedural subjects, governance and financial reporting. Training sessions continue to be offered throughout the Parliament.
  • To support Members and to prepare newly-elected representatives for committee work, the House Administration and the Library of Parliament held briefing sessions on their services to committees. A session was also offered to committee chairs on such subjects as managing a committee meeting and organizing the work of a committee.
  • A number of measures were taken to facilitate the financial management of committee activities. They included a redistribution of the funding envelope to allow for greater flexibility, provision of more information for witnesses on obtaining expense reimbursements, a review of practices for contracting expert services, and a new template for reporting on committee travel. An updated version of the Financial Management and Policy Guide for Committees was also launched. These reporting tools will continue to be refined in the next fiscal year.
  • The House Administration introduced a new governance structure to streamline decision-making, and better coordinate and monitor the production of committee reports. The standard number of printed copies of committee reports was reduced from 550 to 350 to lower costs and environmental impacts, and to promote the use of the Committees Web site. Future activities will include examining the roles of all partners involved in report production and fine-tuning of the existing process.

Renovating the Parliament Buildings

  • The House Administration positioned itself to meet the key objectives of the updated Long-Term Vision and Plan (LTVP) for the Parliamentary Precinct and Implementation Strategy. The plan sets out a program of major new construction and renovation work for the next two decades to preserve the Parliament buildings and grounds in order to prepare them for future needs, while minimizing the impact on parliamentary operations and services.
  • In partnership with Public Works and Government Services Canada, the House Administration continued the planning, design and installation of facilities, infrastructure and information technologies to support the creation of interim accommodations. This planning will allow for the relocation of members of Parliament, their staff and parliamentary functions from the West Block.
  • Construction of interim accommodation at 131 Queen is nearly complete. The planning and design work for La Promenade Building, and the major rehabilitation of the Wellington and the Bank of Montreal buildings continue. These facilities will provide office space for Members and temporary committee rooms during renovations of the West Block. The renovation work at La Promenade Building is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2007.
  • The planning for the major rehabilitation of the West Block continues. Plans for masonry repairs to the West Block towers were completed, and the Southeast tower restoration will take place in 2007-2008.

Improving Information Technology Services

  • The House Administration assessed voice recognition technologies to provide real-time closed captioning in French during Question Period. This service will be offered in 2008-2009. Real-time closed captioning of these proceedings is currently provided in English, with sign-language interpretation in French. Consultations were held with the hearing-impaired community.
  • The House Administration is implementing a Data Quality Management Program to improve the quality of financial and human resources data, and is proceeding with the upgrading of the the Human Resources Management System (HRMS). These measures will enable the Administration to improve services to Members and employees.
  • The House Administration renewed its Web publishing policy and standards to reflect its ongoing commitment to provide information services that can be accessed by persons with special needs.
  • The House Administration upgraded services for wireless and constituency communications to support the Members' requirement for access to information from remote locations.

Refining the Business Continuity and Resumption Plan for the House of Commons

  • Through its Business Continuity and Resumption Plan, the House of Commons has developed the capability to relocate in the event of an emergency and to continue its activities. Management plans were developed to ensure that the critical business of the Chamber and committees can continue, and an analysis was conducted to identify critical service needs of other areas of activity. Emphasis was placed on ensuring that special equipment or resources are readily available in alternate locations. Management plans will be completed in 2007-2008.

Focus on Committees

Inside a Committee Meeting

Most committee meetings take place during preset timeframes. Notices are posted on the Web site indicating the purpose, location and time of the meeting, the agenda, and any witnesses invited to appear. Meetings are usually held in one of the designated committee rooms located throughout the Parliamentary buildings. These rooms are outfitted with facilities for recording the proceedings and for simultaneous interpretation.

In a typical committee room, the tables are arranged in a large rectangle with the committee Chair, the committee clerk and research staff at one end. Government committee members sit to the Chair's right, and opposition members to his or her left. Witnesses sit at the far end opposite the Chair.

Usually, witnesses make introductory statements followed by a question-and-answer period. Committees may also hold round-table discussions to exchange ideas with witnesses, or "town hall" meetings in which members of the public can express their views without making a formal presentation. Transcripts and minutes of meetings are posted on the Internet.

lll. Promoting Understanding and Supporting the Advancement of Legislative Institutions

The House of Commons is committed to helping Canadians, Parliamentarians and international representatives learn more about our parliamentary system. The Administration supports this commitment by producing print and online materials, and providing opportunities for people to come together to discuss parliamentary issues.

Providing Learning Opportunities

  • The Afghan National Assembly shares certain characteristics with our Parliament: it works in two official languages and includes an upper house and a lower house. These parallels make the Canadian Parliament the ideal place to share its parliamentary knowledge with Afghan officials. In June 2006, the Parliament of Canada hosted 13 senior administrators from the National Assembly of Afghanistan as participants in the Parliamentary Officers' Study Program. Designed to support the development of a strong, stable parliament in Afghanistan, this intensive training program focused on parliamentary procedure, the legislative process, committees, the financial cycle and accountability.
  • The Senate and the House Administration provided weekly presentations on the Canadian system of government to new recruits to the public service in order to increase their understanding and appreciation of how Parliament functions.
House of Commons Televising Committees

Photo: © House of Commons

Focus on Committees

Televising Committees

Committee activities were first broadcast on a case-by-case basis. Certain committees received special permission to broadcast their meetings, such as was the case with the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada (1982). The response was positive.

The House felt that broadcasting committees enabled Canadians to arrive at a better understanding of Members' work, and it decided to begin broadcasting committee proceedings on an experimental basis in 1992. Today, the audio of all committee meetings, except those held in camera, is broadcast live over the Internet in both official languages. Televised meetings are broadcast on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).

Updating Major Publications on Parliamentary Procedure

  • To provide information to parliamentary experts and the public alike, the House Administration continually develops and updates publications explaining the activities and traditions of the House of Commons:
    • A team of procedural experts is working on the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, scheduled for publication in print and online in 2009.
    • The Annotated Standing Orders, which trace the evolution of the rules of the House, was launched in an online format. In addition, three new chapters were added to the online publication Compendium of House of Commons Procedure, which provides up-to-date information on the practices and procedures of the House.

lV. Applying the Highest Standards of Public-Sector Governance in a Parliamentary Context

The House Administration strives to manage its activities effectively and to exercise responsible stewardship of its resources. It does so by establishing strong planning and policy frameworks, adhering to high standards of governance and accountability, and maintaining a healthy and fulfilling workplace.

Sustaining a Motivated and Effective Workforce

  • To ensure a workforce with the skills necessary to meet Members' needs into the future, the House Administration focused its activities on the following areas:
    • promoting recruitment by participating in job fairs and posting employment opportunities on the Parliament of Canada Web site;
    • improving career management and professional development tools;
    • increasing the number of competency profiles for positions, and offering competency-based training.
  • An occupational health and safety policy was approved in the past fiscal year, and training sessions for House employees will follow in 2007-2008. Activities to promote employee health included a week-long event "Just for the Health of It," as well as exercise programs and monthly sessions on health-related topics.
  • House Administration employees were offered procedural training and a program entitled, "The Many Facets of Parliament Hill", which explains how their work supports Parliamentarians.

Keeping the House of Commons Secure

  • The House Administration introduced "Security is Everybody's Business," a strategy to enhance security by encouraging employees to follow security protocols when they are at work. Activities included security awareness sessions for employees focusing on security protocols for five key areas: identification cards, visitors, packages, office security and personal safety. Awareness sessions for Members and their staff have started and will continue through the coming year, and all employees will receive further information on security issues.
  • The Senate, the House Administration and the RCMP began work on a Parliamentary Precinct Master Security Plan, which will provide strategic orientation on security issues and will be aligned with the Long-Term Vision and Plan (LTVP) for construction and renovation. In 2007-2008, as an initial stage, the partners will produce a report on the guiding principles for security, and on strategy options for such areas as security technologies, resources and accountabilities.
Participants of the Parliamentary Officers' Study Program for Afghanistan with Speaker Milliken

Participants of the Parliamentary Officers' Study Program for Afghanistan with Speaker Milliken.

Photo: © House of Commons

Strengthening the House of Commons Management Practices

  • The House Administration will work with the Senate to develop performance indicators for Parliament's international and interparliamentary activities. These indicators will help to ensure the best possible performance and promote a better understanding of these activities.
  • The House Administration completed a Framework for Investment Planning as part of its activities to introduce a lifecycle approach to managing assets such as IM/IT, real property, equipment and vehicles. The plan includes a long-term investment plan and guidelines for investment proposals. Investment planning will be integrated into the Administration's management practices over the coming fiscal year.
  • Based on a multi-year policy plan that guides policy review and development, the House Administration reviewed financial, human resources and materiel management policies on: the delegation of financial signing and human resources management authorities; ex-gratia payment; classification; and corporate credit cards. Policies still under review include employment equity, learning and procurement. The House Administration also held information sessions on workplace accommodation and conflict of interest policies. Future policy work will focus on asset management, managing personal information, harassment prevention and a financial and materiel management accountability framework.
  • Auditing financial statements is an important component of sound management practices. The House Administration appreciates this, and has an annual audit of its financial statements performed by an independent public accounting firm. The audit determines whether appropriate controls are in place and functioning properly, and tests transactions on a sample basis to determine whether the financial statements present a true picture of the situation. The audit report provides a summary of any significant findings as well as recommendations for improvement. The most recent audit completed, of the 2005-2006 financial statements, was extremely positive in that it resulted not only in an unqualified audit opinion, but also raised no new observations for remediation by management.
  • The House Administration continues to develop an integrated risk management approach and methodology to support decision-making processes that affect the achievement of the House's strategic and financial goals. It has developed and is piloting audit planning and assessment tools to identify key risks facing the organization's programs and service areas. In the future, it will integrate these processes within the House's internal controls.

Managing Parliamentary Information and Information Technology Assets

  • The House Administration used existing PRISM and Smartbook technologies to compile information about parliamentary exchanges and associations, to standardize documents and to publish reports directly to the Parliament of Canada Web site. Further improvements are planned for the coming year to speed up and facilitate the compiling and publication of reports and other documents. Improvements were also made to the section of the Web site devoted to international and interparliamentary affairs in order to make it more user-friendly.
  • To improve services to Members participating in international activities, and to share knowledge among employees, the House Administration developed an electronic operations manual dealing with such subjects as travel preparation and meeting planning.
  • Separate databases for tracking proceedings in the Chamber and committees were combined to create a more powerful research tool providing users with access to a wider range of information. The technology used to make this possible will be adapted to permit publication of the Procedural Digest, a concise, weekly review of activities in the House.
  • The House Administration continued efforts to make records management more consistent, to facilitate search and retrieval, to share information, and to preserve corporate memory. Future activities will include records management training, and the development of a strategy for the long-term management of information stored on shared drives, personal drives and e-mail.
  • The House Administration worked with the Senate and the Department of Justice with a view to implementing a shared information system for publishing legislation.
  • Through its IT security management program, the House Administration evaluates and addresses risks to the Parliamentary precinct network. To ensure that Members work in a secure IT environment, it has enhanced anti-virus and anti-spyware technology, and introduced a system to monitor the network and block non-sanctioned activity.
Special Committee on the Canadian Flag

Photo: © Library And
Archives Canada

Focus on Committees

Special Committee on
the Canadian Flag

December 15, 1964 - In response to the recommendations of a special committee formed in October of 1964, the House of Commons adopted a national flag. The new flag featured a red maple leaf on a white background between two bands of red. The flag was flown for the first time on Parliament Hill on February 15, 1965.

Improving Environmental Management on the Hill

  • Working with its partners, the House Administration redesigned its environmental awards program and was invited by the Canada School of Public Service to present the program as a model for other organizations.
  • In 2002, Printing Services at the House of Commons underwent a stringent process to receive EcoLogo certification from Environment Canada. This certification identifies Printing Services as a supplier of environmentally preferable products and services. To maintain its certification, the House Administration must constantly seek out new ways to improve its environmental performance. In 2006-2007, it introduced a water treatment system for its printing operations that will minimize waste and downtime, and ensure the high performance of printing machinery. A system was also introduced to recover and recycle liquid waste from rags used in the printing process.

Focus on Committees

Seeking out Information

This map shows some of the locations that House of Commons committees have visited in recent years. With the approval of the House, committees can travel to hear evidence, hold consultations or visit locations relating to their studies. When they hold meetings in other parts of Canada, committees follow the same process as they do on Parliament Hill. The evidence and proceedings are recorded and made public. The committees retain all their powers, and members and witnesses are protected by parliamentary privilege. When committees travel outside the country, they can consult groups and individuals and visit facilities. They do not hold official hearings or otherwise exercise their powers.