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,1 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:
the response to the impact of natural disasters on agriculture, such as two severe droughts in 1987 and 1988, which brought back memories of the "dust bowls” of the 1930s;
the use of biotechnology in farm production and the public debate about genetically modified food;
the elimination of subsidies and the development and examination of agricultural safety net programs, now referred to as risk management programs;
developments in supply management in the structured marketing context; and
the successive versions of the Agricultural Policy Framework, Growing Forward and Growing Forward 2.
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, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her 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. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, 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 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 analyst works 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 in 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 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 concerning 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) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
Bill S-11, An Act respecting food commodities, including their inspection, their safety, their labelling and advertising, their import, export and interprovincial trade, the establishment of standards for them, the registration or licensing of persons who perform certain activities related to them, the establishment of standards governing establishments where those activities are performed and the registration of establishments where those activities are performed (2012)
In addition to these studies and the bills, the Committee also reviewed the estimates of the government and held briefings on various issues such as losses in honey bee colonies, and the US rule on Country of Origin Labelling (COOL).