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Committees

Committee meetings are another important part of the Members' day. Here Members study issues in depth, calling on expert witnesses and interested citizens to hear their views. Committee meetings largely operate according to the parliamentary calendar, taking place in the same weeks that the Chamber sits; however, committees may sit during recess weeks and even over the summer period. They are scheduled most days of the week between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., so Members have to balance their attendance in the Chamber and in committee. During the 2009-2010 fiscal year, 1,091 committee meetings took place.

Examining Bills and Issues in Depth

Committees examine matters that are important to Canadians. They study proposed legislation, propose amendments to bills, examine departmental spending and conduct inquiries into issues that arise in Canada and around the world. These inquiries can be initiated by a committee itself or undertaken at the request of the House. Members of a committee suggest witnesses to provide information, and people who have information to share can request to appear in front of the appropriate committee. Sometimes a committee will travel across the country to hear from a broader group of interested and knowledgeable Canadians. Committees usually present a report to the House at the conclusion of a study. These reports often contain various recommendations, and committees can request a comprehensive response from the government within 120 days. In the past year, committees presented 186 reports to the House.

During the time of this report, there were 24 standing committees, one special committee and two standing joint committees with the Senate, and several committees struck subcommittees to examine specific issues. In the past fiscal year, committees met for 1,787 hours.

Committee Membership

Each committee has 11 or 12 members. Party representation on committees is based on standings in the House of Commons. To determine committee membership, the parties submit lists of candidates to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which provides a final list to the House for approval.

Most standing committees are chaired by members of the governing party; however, 5 of the 26 standing committees of the 40th Parliament are chaired by a member of the Official Opposition. Each Chair is assisted by a first Vice-Chair, who is usually a member of the Official Opposition, and a second Vice-Chair, who is a member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition.

Members must balance their time in committee with their time in the Chamber. Many sit on more than one committee. Often committee meetings will pause to allow Members to participate in a vote in the Chamber.

Issues Studied by Committees in the 40th Parliament

Due to their small size, committees provide an opportunity to learn about matters from witnesses and to have in-depth discussions about these topics. They are also a means of ensuring that input from interested parties and experts is placed on the public record. In the past fiscal year, 3,708 witnesses testified at committee meetings. The public can read about the committees and the subjects they studied on the parliamentary Web site at www.parl.gc.ca. Below are some examples of issues studied over the period of this report:

  • food safety
  • evolution of the television industry in Canada
  • foreign credential recognition
  • oil sands and Canada's water resources
  • poverty reduction in Canada
  • organized crime
  • Arctic sovereignty
  • mental health and addiction in relation to federal corrections facilities
  • high-speed rail in Canada
  • Canada's mission in Afghanistan

Types of Committees

Standing committees are permanent committees that oversee the activities of government departments and study proposed legislation and estimates.

Special committees are 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 committees study bills referred to them by the House. A legislative committee may report a bill back to the House with or without amendments. The committee ceases to exist once it has submitted its report to the House.

Joint committees consist of a proportionate number of Senators and Members of the House of Commons.

Subcommittees are created by committees. A committee may delegate any or all of its powers to a subcommittee, except the power to report directly to the House of Commons.

 

Rulings on Procedural Matters in Committee

Committee Chairs are regularly called upon to rule on procedural matters. When doing so, they usually seek advice from the clerk of the committee, who often consults the reference work entitled House of Commons Procedure and Practice. On occasion, committee members will ask the clerk to provide references to the text and may, themselves, use the book when raising procedural matters in committee.

Readers of the second edition of this work will find more detailed information about the work of standing, special, legislative and joint committees. The chapter on committees has been expanded and restructured to make it easier to use. The revised chapter, which includes a new section on committee procedure and a number of new tables and graphics, has a more user-friendly presentation that makes it easier to locate supporting references.

 

40th Parliament

Standing Committees

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

Special Committees

Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan

Standing Joint Committees (with the Senate)

Library of Parliament

Scrutiny of Regulations*

*Chaired by a Member of Parliament from the Official Opposition

What Happens After Committee Meetings

Committee work for Members and the House Administration does not stop when the meetings end. Members consult with constituents, experts, the House Administration and other Members. The House Administration is assigned specific work by the committee or simply carries out the usual post-committee duties.

Members' work after committee meetings

  • Consult with fellow committee members on witnesses and business for upcoming meetings
  • Present a committee report in the House (usually done by the committee Chair)
  • Report back to colleagues (e.g., at a caucus meeting) on the deliberations and decisions
  • Follow up with constituents and stakeholders on the work and decisions
  • Participate in a press conference

Diagram of a committee room

 

House Administration work after committee meetings

  • Prepare minutes of the meeting and the notice and agenda for the next meeting
  • Provide procedural advice to the Chair and the committee members
  • Coordinate the production of committee reports in both official languages, in print and online
  • Prepare work plans, budgets and arrangements for future committee meetings
  • Collaborate with Library of Parliament staff and consultants to provide briefing material
  • Review amendments to legislation proposed in committee for procedural admissibility
  • Provide on-demand access to the video, audio and text of committee proceedings through the parliamentary Web site

 

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