The mandate of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (the Committee) includes all areas covered by the Department of Indigenous Services and Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. The Committee can study any aspect of the management and operation of the two departments, as well as legislation, programs or policy areas administered by them.
The Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs reviews, examines and reports on issues affecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and northerners.
Prior to the late 1960s, “Indian affairs” matters were occasionally referred to a select committee, special committee or special joint committee for consideration. For example, in 1874 a select committee inquired into the condition of the Six Nations of the Grand River. In 1927, 1946–1948 and 1959–1961, special joint committees of the House of Commons and the Senate were appointed to study British Columbia land claims and Indian Act reform. It was not until 1965 that the matter of Indian affairs was specifically referred to a House standing committee, the Committee on Indian Affairs, Human Rights, Citizenship and Immigration. From 1966–1968, this Committee met infrequently.
Prior to the 1960s, northern matters were not addressed by parliamentary committees on a consistent basis. Northern issues not related to Indigenous peoples were seen for the most part as resource questions within the mandate of the largely inactive Standing Committee on Mines, Forests and Waters. In 1964, the House of Commons established a Standing Committee on Northern Affairs and National Resources to match the mandate of the then Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. It, too, appears not to have met very often.
It was the establishment of the new Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1966 that led to the creation, in 1968, of the first Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
The new Committee was active from the start. From 1968–1972, it received numerous Orders of Reference dealing with budgetary estimates and legislation. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Committee’s activities showed a willingness to take a broad view of its mandate to review the Department’s budget and Annual Reports, in order to study matters of special interest.
In 1989, during the 34th Parliament (1988–1993), the Committee’s mandate was split. The new Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs retained responsibility for Aboriginal matters, while the Northern Development mandate was moved to the then Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Regional and Northern Development. However, for the 35th Parliament (1993–1997), this situation was reversed, and the committee was re-established as the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. During the 37th Parliament (2001-2004), the mandate of the Committee included Natural Resources.
On 12 April 2016, during the 42nd Parliament, the Committee adopted a motion to change its name from the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs. The name change reflected the preferred usage of Indigenous communities across the country and corresponded to the name change of the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, including a newly-named Minister of Indigenous Affairs. In November 2017, the department was split into the Department of Indigenous Services and the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
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.
During the First session of the 43rd Parliament, the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (the committee) studied the estimates for the Department of Indigenous Services and the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and it held a meeting to hear testimony on the dispute surrounding the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee had also launched a study on food security in northern communities.
From 1 May 2020 to 19 June 2020, the committee held 13 virtual meetings to receive evidence related to the pandemic and other matters, such as murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and public procurement.