The mandate of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (the “Committee”) is set out in section 108(3)(a) of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. The Committee also acts as a striking committee for House standing committees under section 104 of the Standing Orders, and possesses the powers of examination and inquiry common to all standing committees under section 108(1)(a) of the Standing Orders.
Under its mandate, the Committee may review and report about the following matters:
In addition to its mandate as outlined in the Standing Orders, the Committee is responsible for all matters related to referendums, possesses a role in the electoral boundaries readjustment process, and is the House of Commons committee to which questions of privilege are referred.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (the “Committee”) traces its origins back to the earliest days of the Confederation. On 7 November 1867, the second sitting day of Canada’s Parliament, the House of Commons established ten select standing committees, three of which possessed mandates that are now included under the Committee’s current mandate. These committees were the Select Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, the Select Standing Committee on Miscellaneous Private Bills, and the Select Standing Committee on Standing Orders
Various committees have, in the past, shared part of the Committee’s current mandate. In 1991, the Standing Committee on House Management was established by merging the Standing Committee on Management and Members’ Services with the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections (previously named the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members’ Business). At the time, the Standing Committee on House Management was also entrusted to act as the Striking Committee for the membership of other committees.
In 1994, the Standing Committee on House Management was replaced by the Committee. In 1995, the Committee was designated as the committee responsible for matters related to the Referendum Act, and, in 2004, the mandate of the Committee was expanded to include all matters relating to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
Each session, the Committee undertakes numerous studies and presents reports to the House of Commons on various matters related to its mandate, including:
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.
Further information on the PBO may be found at: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/
COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW OF THE CONFLICT OF INTEREST CODE FOR MEMBERS
In May 2012, the Committee began a comprehensive review of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. Prior to its completion, the Committee’s review was interrupted; it was recommenced in February 2015. As part of this review, the Committee invited the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to provide a list of recommendations for amendments to the Code to the Committee for its consideration. In its report, the Committee recommended ten amendments to the Code, regarding gifts and other benefits, sponsored travel, the compliance process related to disclosure obligations, and inquires. The House concurred in the Committee’s report in June 2015.
REVIEW OF THE STANDING ORDERS
In October 2013, the House of Commons passed a motion ordering the Committee to undertake a review of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, procedures of the House and its committees, including the proceedings of the take note debate on the Standing Orders held on 17 February 2012. As part of its study, the Committee received submissions from all recognized political parties proposing amendments to the Standing Orders, and a submission from the Clerk of the House proposing technical amendments. The Committee’s review was interrupted; it was recommenced in September 2014. Over the course of its study, the Committee considered approximately 70 different matters covered by the Standing Orders; its report adopted by the House in February 2015 contained numerous amendments and deletions to the Standing Orders.
CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS: SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Following an order of reference from the House in November 2014, the Committee established a subcommittee in December 2014 to make recommendations regarding the establishment of a code of conduct for members that provides a fair and confidential process for addressing complaints of harassment between members, and includes training and education initiatives to ensure compliance with the code. Following its study, the subcommittee recommended in its report that the measures proposed by the subcommittee be developed into a code of conduct for members on sexual harassment and that this code be appended to the Standing Orders and come into effect at the beginning of the 42nd Parliament. The House concurred in the Committee’s report in June 2015.
REVIEW OF THE BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY
In October 2013, the House of Commons instructed the Committee to conduct a study on the Board of Internal Economy. The Committee invited a number of witnesses to appear on the matter, including the House Administration, past Speakers of the House, the Auditor General and a director at the United Kingdom’s Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It also surveyed the administrative bodies and oversight regimes in place in a wide number of jurisdictions to ascertain the best practices these jurisdictions employed. In its report, the Committee concluded that positive improvements must continue to be made to the Board in order to meet public expectations regarding transparency and oversight, but remained satisfied that the structure and mandate of the Board as it was currently formulated was the most appropriate model for the functions it performed. The report was concurred in by the House in March 2014.
QUESTIONS OF PRIVILEGE
Over the past several years, the House referred a number of cases of privilege to the Committee for study. Among these cases, two were broadly similar in their allegations; one was referred to the Committee in May 2012, the other in October 2014. Both cases dealt with allegations made by members that their right, as protected by parliamentary privilege, to have unimpeded access to the parliamentary precinct was infringed upon by the security arrangements put in place at the time of a visit by a foreign dignitary. The focus of the May 2012 and March 2015 reports, as presented to the House by the Committee following study, was on improved planning and greater coordination between security partners during visits by foreign dignitaries, and increased education and awareness on the part of security services and members. Neither report found that a breach of privilege had occurred.
Another case of privilege referred to the Committee involved a dispute between two members and Elections Canada over corrections to electoral campaign returns. In ruling the case raised a prima facie question of privilege, the Speaker sought direction from the Committee as to any process for handling official communications made under the Canada Elections Act between the Chief Electoral Officer and the Speaker and between the Speaker and the House. In its report presented to the House in October 2014, the Committee recommended that letters so received by the Speaker be communicated to all members of the House.
In another case of privilege, the Committee studied threats and intimidating videos made against a member by an internet group known as “Anonymous.” After studying the matter the Committee presented its report in May 2012; it found that the transgressions which occurred had violated the parliamentary privileges of the member, but that sanctions against Anonymous would need to wait until a transgressor was identified.
FEDERAL ELECTORAL BOUNDARIES READJUSTMENT
The federal electoral boundaries are readjusted following the completion of each decennial census. The Committee has a role in the process for readjusting electoral boundaries, as set out by the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The reports for proposed electoral boundaries prepared by each federal electoral boundaries commission (one per province) are tabled in the House of Commons and sent to the Committee for the purpose of hearing members’ objections. In all, the Committee held 26 meetings to review and report on the 138 objections brought forward by members. The Committee began work on this study in January 2013 and presented its reports in the House for all ten provinces prior to the adjournment for summer 2013.
RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY THE CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER FOLLOWING THE 40TH GENERAL ELECTION
Following the 40th federal general election, the Chief Electoral Officer tabled a report entitled Responding to Changing Needs: Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 40th General Election, which contained 50 proposed amendments to the Canada Elections Act. The Committee considered these recommendations over the course of the 40th and 41st Parliaments, holding 25 meetings on this matter. The Committee’s determination on virtually all the recommendations reflected consensus. The Committee presented its report to the House in February 2012.
LEGISLATION AND PRIVATE MEMBERS’ MOTIONS
Over the past several years, the Committee studied numerous bills and private members’ motions. These included:
ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND PARLIAMENTARY PRIVILEGE
In October 2012, the Committee undertook a study concerning the relation between parliamentary privilege and access to information requests. The House of Commons and its members are not subject to the Access to Information Act. Nonetheless, from time to time the House receives third-party requests for records held by governmental entities subject to the Act that contain information relating to the business of the House. The practice had been for the House to object to the disclosure of these records based on its parliamentary privilege to control its own proceedings. In its report presented to the House in March 2013, the Committee recommended a new process for access to information requests allowing the House Administration to consent to the communication of certain records.
The Committee is responsible for the Main Estimates and Supplementary Estimates of both the House of Commons and the Chief Electoral Officer. Generally, at least once per fiscal year the Committee will invite the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Clerk, and members of their staff to appear before the Committee to respond to questions in respect of budgetary planning, priorities and performance. Likewise, the Chief Electoral Officer, along with members of his staff, generally appears before the Committee at least once per fiscal year, to respond to questions from members concerning budgetary planning, priorities and performance at Elections Canada.