The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence is a permanent committee established by the Standing Orders, the written rules under which the House of Commons regulates its proceedings. It is mandated to review all matters pertaining to the Department of National Defence (“the department”) and the Canadian Armed Forces. It may examine and report on matters referred to it by the House of Commons or it may undertake studies on its own initiative.
The National Defence Act established the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces – the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force – as two separate entities operating in close cooperation under the authority of the Minister of National Defence. National Defence Headquarters is a “combined” headquarters consisting of both military and civilian personnel. The Standing Committee on National Defence is responsible for examining legislation, activities and expenditures concerning the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as the effectiveness of related policies and programs.
When examining legislation or undertaking a particular study, the Committee may hear from a variety of witnesses including the Minister, relevant departmental and Canadian Armed Forces personnel, academics, subject matter specialists, stakeholders, Ministers and officials from other departments and federal entities, and members of the public.
Order in Council Appointments, whereby individuals are appointed to certain senior posts within the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, are referred to the Committee after they have been tabled in the House of Commons. Within 30 sitting days of this referral, the Committee may choose to examine the qualifications and competence of these appointees in relation to the posts to which they have been appointed. If the Committee decides to present a report to the House, the report will ordinarily state that the Committee has reviewed the appointment or nomination and indicate whether the Committee finds the person to be qualified and competent to perform the duties of the office.
The Committee is also empowered to review the performance and policies of the following federal entities, which operate within the defence portfolio:
For procedural information regarding the mandate and power of committees, please consult the relevant section in the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure.
Until 1986, the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence was responsible for examining defence policy. One result of the Canadian parliamentary reforms implemented during the 1980s was the establishment of a separate Standing Committee on National Defence in 1986.
In 1989, Veterans Affairs was added to the mandate of the Committee, and it was renamed the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. However, on 5 April 2006, at the beginning of the 39th Parliament, the House of Commons adopted a motion that amended its Standing Orders to, among other things, divide the areas of responsibility and establish both the Standing Committee on National Defence and the Standing Committee on Veterans 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.
Further information on the PBO may be found at: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/
Since 2010, the Committee has presented a number of substantive reports to the House of Commons, including the following:
In undertaking these in-depth studies, the Committee has travelled to Canadian Armed Forces bases and to the United States, visiting both the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. The Committee has also travelled overseas to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and has visited Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed on military operations in Latvia, Ukraine, Mali and Senegal. As well, the Committee has met with visiting foreign delegations in Ottawa, and has received departmental briefings on Canada’s participation in ongoing overseas missions.
In addition to its substantive reports, the Committee has examined government estimates, reviewed and adopted Order in Council appointments, and considered legislation. Most recently, the Committee studied and reported on Bill C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts , which proposed reforms to the military justice system.