The Standing Orders of the House of Commons give all standing committees the mandate to exercise certain general powers. Standing Order 108(2) gives committees the power “to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the department or departments of government which are assigned to them.” For a more detailed overview of parliamentary committees, please consult the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure.
Generally speaking, the Standing Committee may examine any issue related to Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry. It is a public forum where specific events or initiatives affecting the sector can be addressed.
More specifically, the Committee focuses on bills, expenditures and activities of the organizations that are part of the Agriculture and Agri-Food portfolio:
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food also examines the activities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and the activities of other organizations that are independent of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, such as the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). An important part of the Committee’s mandate is to study and vote on the items for the various agencies in the Agriculture and Agri-Food portfolio.
 The CFIA was moved to the Health portfolio in October 2013, but the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food continues to be responsible for the CFIA's non-food safety agricultural activities.
The parliamentary reforms implemented in the early 1980s (resulting from the Lefebvre Committee in 1982-1983 and the McGrath Committee in 1984-1985) gave standing committees the power to look into any matter of interest in their respective fields. As matters of interest in agriculture are dictated by natural phenomena and major developments in politics and science, occasionally issues must be re-examined. The history of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, whose name was changed to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in 1993, has been marked by a number of major developments underlying the issues considered by the Committee:
1. The federal program review and reform (the Nielsen Task Force) that led to the 1986 National Agriculture Strategy and, four years later, to the new vision statement for Canada's agri-food industry entitled Growing Together. The statement’s four pillars – awareness of market signals, greater self-reliance, regional diversity and environmental sustainability - are still issues of crucial importance today.
2. Trade negotiations, such as the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in the late 1980s and the Uruguay Round, in the mid-1990s, had unprecedented scope and brought major changes to agriculture.
3. The development and gradual implementation of the new Agricultural Policy Framework, early in the new millennium, made the Standing Committee a focal point for farmers wanting parliamentarians to hear about their concerns and to understand their vision of Canadian agriculture.
4. The single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) found in Alberta in 2003 and its impact on the livestock industry gave rise to broad-based upstream and downstream reforms across the entire beef production chain.
5. The Doha Round, in the early years of the new millennium, the emergence of new agricultural exporting powers, and the rise of commodity prices in 2007-2008 revived the debate on agricultural trade and Canada’s competitiveness in the global agricultural marketplace.
6. The multiplication of large outbreaks of food borne disease in developed countries, and increased interest from consumers on how and where food is produced, have raised questions on how the food production system might adapt to meet consumers’ demands abroad and domestically.
Over the years, the Committee’s studies have covered a wide range of topics and events. The following topics have regularly returned to the Committee’s agenda and have been the subject of more than one report:
Other studies have been in response to circumstances occurring in Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sector, specifically:
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, one or more analysts and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. These individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs their duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee, and as such, will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. They are also responsible for inviting witnesses and dealing with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ Website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts, who are subject-matter experts, provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the committee. They are part of the committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analysts work individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, parliamentary counsel (Legislation) are available to assist members who are not in Cabinet with the preparation of private members’ bills or of amendments to government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the committee stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the report stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides the name of the parliamentary counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee with any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of report stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) is an officer of Parliament created by the Parliament of Canada Act who supports Parliament by providing analysis, including analysis of macroeconomic and fiscal policy, for the purposes of raising the quality of parliamentary debate and promoting greater budget transparency and accountability.
The Parliament of Canada Act also provides the PBO with a mandate to, if requested by a committee, estimate the financial cost of any proposal over which Parliament has jurisdiction. Certain committees can also request research and analyses of the nation’s finances or economy, or of the estimates.
Further information on the PBO may be found at: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/
The Committee also studied the following subjects:
These two studies did not lead to reports.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee met virtually as of 5 May 2020 pursuant to a motion of the House of Commons on 29 April 2020. The Committee continued to meet virtually until the end of the session on 18 August 2020.
During the 42nd Parliament, the Committee released a number of reports on various issues affecting Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector, for example:
In addition to these studies and this bill, the Committee examined the government’s estimates and held briefings on a range of subjects such as animal diseases, delays in transporting grain by rail, pulse fumigation, genetically modified wheat and China’s import ban on Canadian canola. The Committee also launched a study on the public perception of and trust in the Canadian agriculture sector, which it was unable to complete before the 42nd Parliament was dissolved.