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Work in Committees

Committee work is an important component of a Member of Parliament's duties. In committee meetings, Members study proposed legislation, amend bills and examine departmental spending plans. Committees can also initiate inquiries or study issues referred to them by the House. They examine a wide variety of topics such as those related to defence, agriculture, food, environment and finance.

 

So that they will be well informed on their subject of study, committees can ask interested parties and subject experts to appear and submit briefs. They may also travel across Canada and abroad to gather information and hear from a wider segment of those who are interested and/or have expertise. At the conclusion of a study, the committee may present a report to the House with its views and recommendations.

The House of Commons has 24 standing committees in the 40th Parliament, as it did in the 39th Parliament, each with 11 or 12 members. Two standing joint committees are composed of both Senators and Members of the House of Commons. A number of committees have also struck subcommittees to study specific issues.

Selecting Committee Members

Representation on parliamentary committees is based on party standings in the House of Commons. To determine committee membership, party whips submit lists of candidates to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which sends a final list to the House of Commons for approval. Many Members sit on more than one committee.

Most standing committees are chaired by members of the governing party. The Vice-Chair, who is a member of the Official Opposition, assists the Chair, and a second Vice-Chair is designated from an opposition party other than the Official Opposition. The Standing Orders governing committees provide for several exceptions to this rule. The following committees are chaired by a member of the Official Opposition, with a Vice-Chair from the governing party:

  • Public Accounts;
  • Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics;
  • Government Operations and Estimates;
  • Status of Women; and
  • the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations.

Working on a Committee

Because a committee is comprised of a small number of Members, it provides an opportunity for parliamentarians to study matters in detail and learn in depth about issues of public policy. Committees investigate current issues, study proposed new legislation and policies, and can request input from subject experts and have this information placed on the public record.

A committee does not make final decisions. 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 provide a comprehensive response within 120 days.

Studying Issues in Committee

Over the 2008-2009 fiscal year, committees held 911 meetings totaling more than 1,469 hours, heard 2,618 witnesses and produced 136 reports. The following are examples of the subjects investigated by parliamentary committees of the 39th and 40th Parliaments:

  • "Product of Canada" claims on food products;
  • veterans' health care;
  • Passport Canada's services in the regions;
  • Employment Insurance premiums;
  • the forestry industry;
  • rail safety;
  • the crisis in the automotive sector;
  • free trade with Colombia; and
  • conductive energy weapons.

Organizing the Work of Committees

Committee members elect their Chairs and Vice-Chairs. The Chair presides over committee meetings and speaks on behalf of the committee. The Chair only casts a vote when there is a tie and is responsible for maintaining order and ruling on questions of procedure.

Each committee has a clerk, who is a non-partisan officer serving all members of the committee equally. The clerk is an expert on the rules of committees and may be asked to advise on procedural matters. The clerk also has a coordinating, organizing and liaison role and is in frequent contact with committee members.

One or two analysts from the Library of Parliament are assigned to each committee. They prepare background research documents and draft reports for committees.

Types of Committees

Standing committee-A permanent committee that oversees the activities of government departments and studies proposed legislation and estimates.

Special committee-Appointed by the House of Commons to inquire into specific matters; a special committee ceases to exist after it presents a final report to the House.

Legislative committee-Studies a bill referred to it by the House and reports the bill back to the House, with or without amendments; a legislative committee ceases to exist once it has submitted its report to the House.

Joint committee-Consists of a proportionate number of Senators and Members of the House of Commons.

Subcommittee-A standing committee may delegate any or all of its powers to a subcommittee, except the power to report directly to the House of Commons.

 

Standing Committees of the House of Commons for the 39th and 40th Parliaments

  • 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, Skills and 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 of the 39th and 40th Parliaments

  • Library of Parliament
  • Scrutiny of Regulations
Photo of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan

Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan

Canada's mission in Afghanistan received considerable attention from parliamentary committees. Via the adoption of a motion in the House, a Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan was created during the Second Session of the 39th Parliament and again in the Second Session of the 40th Parliament. The committee received regular briefings on Canada's involvement in that country. The Standing Committee on National Defence visited Canadian troops in the region and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development studied the mission and made recommendations.

Photo: © National Defence

 

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