Under Standing Order 108(1), the House of Commons may refer certain matters to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women for examination and report. This Order also authorizes the Committee to create subcommittees to focus on particular subjects. Under Standing Order 108(2), the Committee has the broad authority to study the policies, programs, expenditures (budgetary estimates) and legislation of departments and agencies, including the Department for Women and Gender Equality, that conduct work related to the status of women and gender equality.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women was created for the first time in the 38th Parliament in 2004. To establish its initial work plan, the Committee undertook a series of consultations with national and regional women’s organizations. During roundtable discussions in November and December 2004, four major themes were identified:
the impact of federal government funding to women’s organizations and equality-seeking organizations on their ability to provide services and to advocate for equality;
the importance of developing and strengthening the capacity of the federal government to take into consideration the way that gender inequality impacts women’s lives;
the continued, disproportionate incidence of poverty among women; and
the persistent level of violence experienced by women.
These priority issues helped the Committee identify four initial subjects for study:
funding provided through the Women’s Program at Status of Women Canada;
pay equity; and
access to maternity and parental benefits for self-employed workers.
Although the Standing Committee on the Status of Women was first established in 2004, there was a precedent for having a separate committee to examine women’s issues. During the 34th Parliament, the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, Social Affairs, Seniors and the Status of Women struck a Subcommittee on the Status of Women. That subcommittee produced two important reports: a report on violence against women, entitled The War Against Women (1991), and a report on breast cancer, entitled Breast Cancer: Unanswered Questions (1992).
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.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women has studied the status of women in Canada by examining a number of issues relevant to women and to gender equality. Since 2010, for instance, the Committee has produced 12 substantive reports (available online under PARLINFO – House of Commons – Procedure - Substantive Reports of Committees) on the following themes: women’s employment opportunities; women’s economic circumstances; health conditions that affect women; violence against women; and the implementation of gender-based analysis at the federal level.
Over this same period, two pieces of legislation were referred to the Committee: Bill S-2, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves (in 2013); and Bill C-471, An Act respecting the implementation of the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force and amending another Act in consequence (in 2010). As well, each fiscal year, the Committee has examined the main estimates and the supplementary estimates of Status of Women Canada.
Summaries of the Committee’s substantive studies from the 2nd Session of the 41st Parliament are listed below:
Women in Skilled Trades and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Occupations (Adopted by the Committee on June 4, 2015; Presented to the House on June 11, 2015)
The committee examined women’s participation in skilled trades and science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations in Canada. The committee studied the challenges women encounter while studying and working in these fields and the initiatives established by the private sector, non-governmental organizations and different levels of government to increase women’s participation in these occupations.
Promising Practices to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (Adopted by the Committee on May 26, 2015; Presented to the House on June 4, 2015)
The committee studied the contributing factors and prevalence of violence against women in Canada. The committee examined promising practices to address and prevent violence against women and girls, including for example engaging men and boys in initiatives to address violence against women, providing more shelters and housing for victims of violence, and raising awareness and educating the public on the risk of violence.
The Economic Leadership and Prosperity of Canadian Women (Adopted by the Committee on March 26, 2015; Presented to the House on April 20, 2015)
The committee undertook a study on the economic leadership and prosperity of Canadian women, in particular women’s participation on corporate boards, as entrepreneurs, and in non-traditional employment. The committee also examined promising practices to support women’s economic leadership and prosperity, as well as the barriers to women’s full economic participation.
Eating Disorders among Girls and Women in Canada (Adopted by the Committee on October 30, 2014; Presented to the House on November 17, 2014)
The committee studied the impact of eating disorders among girls and women in Canada, as approximately 80% of individuals with eating disorders are female. The committee examined the factors contributing to eating disorders, the obstacles in addressing them and seeking treatment, and promising treatment practices.
A Study on Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace (Adopted by the Committee on December 5, 2013; Presented to the House on February 6, 2014)
The committee examined the incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment in the federal workplace, which encompassed the federal public administration, including both civilian and non-civilian components of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Forces; federally regulated industries; and Parliamentary workplaces, including the House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament. The committee studied the processes for responding to complaints of sexual harassment and factors affecting the reporting of sexual harassment in the workplace.