Pursuant to House of Commons Standing Order 108(1), standing committees may consider any matter referred to them by the House of Commons or whose study is required by law. Standing committees may report to the House and are authorized to call witnesses, require that records and documents be produced and can delegate their powers to subcommittees. Standing committees may sit when the House is sitting or when it has adjourned, and may sit jointly with other standing committees.
The Standing Committee on Official Languages is not attached to a specific department. According to Standing Order 108(3)(f), the mandate of the Official Languages Committee is as follows:
… shall include, among other matters, the review of and report on official languages policies and programs, including Reports of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which shall be deemed permanently referred to the Committee immediately after they are laid upon the Table.
Moreover, Section 88 of the Official Languages Act stipulates that:
The administration of this Act, any regulations and directives made under this Act and the reports of the Commissioner, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Canadian Heritage made under this Act shall be reviewed on a permanent basis by such committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament as may be designated or established for that purpose.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages currently holds this mandate. The Commissioner of Official Languages’ reports are automatically sent to the Committee after having been presented to the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate, pursuant to section 69 of the Official Languages Act.
The Special Joint Committee on Official Languages was the first parliamentary committee responsible for studying official languages issues. In May 1980, it was mandated to study the annual reports of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
In its Fifth Report, presented on 23 April 1983, the Special Joint Committee recommended the creation of a standing joint committee on official languages. This committee was initially formed in the spring of 1984 and was known as the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages Policy and Programs. In November 1986, it became the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.
Further to a Senate decision to no longer take part in the proceedings of the Joint Committee, the House of Commons established its first Standing Committee on Official Languages in May 1991. This committee met infrequently over the next three years. On 17 March 1994, at the start of the 35th Parliament, the Joint Committee was re established and met during every session until June 2002.
In the fall of 2002, the Senate decided once again to withdraw from the Joint Committee and created its own standing committee on 10 October. The House of Commons then followed suit, creating its Standing Committee on Official Languages on 21 November 2002.
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/
During the 1st Session of the 43rd Parliament, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages held five meetings. The Committee began a study on the enumeration of rights holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It suspended its work in March 2020 due to the health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.