House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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18. Financial Procedures

The Business of Supply

The Business of Supply is the process by which the government asks Parliament to appropriate the funds required to meet its financial obligations and to implement programs already approved by Parliament. The Crown, acting on the advice of its responsible Ministers, transmits to the House of Commons the government’s projected annual expenditures, or “estimates”, for parliamentary scrutiny and approval. The House of Commons has sole authority to grant the “supplies” needed to satisfy the government’s demands. All financial legislation (which includes all government expenditures) must originate in the House of Commons. [91] Once Supply is granted, the government can draw on the Consolidated Revenue Fund to meet its financial obligations. [92] 

Historical Perspective

The Supply procedures established in 1867 remained basically unchanged for the first hundred years following Confederation. Deriving from a long-standing rule of the British House of Commons, [93]  the Business of Supply was considered in a Committee of the Whole House, called the Committee of Supply. [94] 

From Confederation to 1968

Prior to 1968, the Supply proceedings consisted of the process of entering into Committee of Supply and the study of the annual Estimates or government spending proposals in Committee of Supply. Before the Committee of Supply could begin its work, the Finance Minister had to table the Estimates along with the message from the Governor General signifying the recommendation of the Crown. [95]  The Minister then moved that the message and recommendation, together with the Estimates, be referred to the Committee of Supply. [96] 

When the Order of the Day was read for the House to resolve itself into the Committee of Supply, [97]  the motion, “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair” was proposed to the House. [98]  This initiated the first phase of the Supply proceedings; it was an opportunity for Members to debate and, if they chose, amend the motion that the Speaker leave the Chair. The rules pertaining to relevance were relaxed and Members used amendments to the motion as the mechanism to raise their issues and debate them in the House. In addition, the Opposition could use the threat of delaying Supply to obtain concessions from the Executive. The practice of allowing every description of amendment to be moved, [99]  coupled with great latitude permitted in the debate and the lack of time limits, reflected the ancient tenet of parliamentary government which held that the Crown should respond to the grievances of the people before the people granted Supply. [100]

Once having agreed to the motion for the Speaker to leave the Chair, the House was then sitting as the Committee of Supply. Each Estimate was considered as a separate resolution or motion, “that a certain sum be granted to Her Majesty for …” Amendments to the motion were permitted and no time limits were placed on the debate. If decided in the affirmative, the resolutions were reported to the House for its concurrence. This was accomplished by “reading” the resolution twice. The first reading was purely formal; however, the motion for second reading was debatable and amendable. Reports from the Committee of Supply were usually not received or taken up by the House on the same day they were reported, but were ordered to be received at a subsequent sitting of the House. Upon reporting, the Committee requested leave “to sit again”, without which permission the Committee of Supply, as an entity, would have ceased to exist. [101] 

When the Order of the Day was read to report the resolutions approved in Committee, a formal motion for their first reading was proposed. The motion was never debated or amended. If the House agreed, each resolution was then read separately a second time, after which the Speaker put the question for concurrence. Both the debate and any amendment had to be relevant to the proposed resolution. [102] 

When all the Estimates had passed through the Committee of Supply, the Finance Minister would move a motion for the House to resolve into the Committee of Ways and Means to consider resolutions to authorize the necessary withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. [103]  Again, each sum was proposed as a separate resolution, considered and, if agreed to, reported to the House. Once the resolutions had been read a second time, they formed the basis for the Appropriation or Supply Bill, which set aside (or appropriated) from the Consolidated Revenue Fund the amounts required to fund the programs and activities approved in the Estimates. Supply Bills were often introduced and passed through two or more legislative stages in a single day. [104]  Once it had been passed by the House, the Supply Bill was sent to the Senate where it was given three readings and passed before being returned to the House.

The debate on the motion “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair” often resulted in Supply being considered very late in the session, and often late at night. Consequently, by the time the Estimates were actually discussed in the Committee, they tended to be given relatively short examination, provoking frequent criticism of the lack of effective parliamentary oversight of government expenditure. [105] 

In 1913, the Standing Orders of the House were modified: henceforth, when the order for the House to go into the Committee of Supply was called on Thursday and Friday, the motion “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair” would be deemed adopted without question put. [106]  This change represented the first encroachment on the Members’ previously unfettered right to air grievances before considering the government’s financial requirements. The effect of the adoption of the change was that from 1913 to 1955, only 132 amendments to the motion were moved, while in the period 1867 to 1913, 271 amendments had been moved. By guaranteeing the government at least two days a week on which its financial requirements could be taken up by the House, the new rule introduced the first real constraint on the opposition’s capacity to delay Supply.

There were no further modifications until 1927 [107]  when the House agreed to allow a sub-amendment to the motion for the Speaker to leave the Chair to go into the Committee of Supply or the Committee of Ways and Means when proposed on a day other than a Thursday or Friday. [108] 

Opinion soon began to differ as to whether Estimates should continue to be considered in a Committee of the Whole or be referred to a standing committee. [109]  In 1955, the House agreed to establish a Special Committee on Estimates. [110]  Initially, the Committee lacked the authority to send for persons, papers and records; however, changes to the Standing Orders in 1958 gave the committee the necessary powers. [111] 

Additional changes, approved provisionally in 1967, made it possible for standing committees to examine the Estimates and limited to four the number of occasions in any session on which the House could debate the motion to go into the Committee of Supply or the Committee of Ways and Means. [112]  A maximum of 30 days in each session was allocated for the consideration of the Business of Supply. [113] 

Supply Proceedings Since 1968

In 1968, changes were recommended by the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization. The Committee had described Supply procedures as "time-consuming, repetitive and archaic", claiming they did not permit an effective scrutiny of the Estimates, did not provide the House with the means of organizing meaningful debate on pre-arranged subjects, had failed to preserve effective parliamentary control over expenditures and had failed to guarantee an expeditious decision on appropriation bills. The Committee found that the traditional Supply procedures were irrelevant to the realities of government in the present day. [114]  The House agreed to alter substantially its financial procedures. [115]  The Committee of Supply was abolished, along with the Committee of Ways and Means. All Estimates would be referred now to standing committees before they were taken up in the House. Under the revised rules, the Main Estimates would be tabled and referred on or before March 1 of each year. Committees were required to report back the Estimates, or would be deemed to have reported them back, no later than May 31. [116] 

The House agreed to establish, at the beginning of each session, a continuing order for the consideration of Supply on the House agenda under Government Business. [117]  Unlike the order for the House to go into the Committee of Supply, which lapsed once the committee had reported the Estimates back to the House, the continuing order remains on the agenda as an item of government business and may be taken up at any time at the government’s discretion.

The new rules divided the parliamentary calendar into three periods, during which 25 days would be allotted to the Business of Supply. Five allotted days were set aside in the Supply period ending December 10, seven days in the period ending March 26 and an additional thirteen days in the period ending June 30. Opposition or Supply motions could be moved only by Members in opposition to the government and might be related to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada. [118] 

In addition, the new rules stipulated that in any period, the opposition could ask that up to two of its allotted day motions be brought to a vote and that these could be designated as votes of non-confidence in the government. Since the requirement that the Executive retain the confidence of the House is a matter of convention, many questioned why votable opposition motions should be termed “no-confidence” motions. [119]  In March 1975, the Standing Orders were provisionally modified so that votes on opposition supply motions would no longer, ipso facto, be considered an expression of confidence in the government. [120]  The provisional rules lapsed at the beginning of the following Session and the term “no-confidence” found its way back into the 1977 version of the Standing Orders. Amendments to the Standing Orders in June 1985 again removed the non-confidence provision from the rules on opposition motions. [121] 

In 1986, provision was made for the Leader of the Opposition to extend the committee consideration of the Main Estimates of one department or agency beyond the May 31 deadline, for a period not exceeding 10 further sitting days. [122]  In addition, the new rules set aside the last allotted day in the Supply period ending June 30 to debate the motion to concur in the Main Estimates, instead of the usual opposition motion, and extended the sitting hours on that day until 10:00 p.m. In 1991, the end date for that period was changed to June 23 and, as a result of a reduction of the number of sittings days in the year, the total number of allotted days over a year was reduced from 25 to 20. [123]  Provision was also made to increase or decrease the number of allotted days in a Supply period in relation to the total number of sitting days in the period, [124]  and to limit the number of allotted days falling on Wednesday and Friday. [125]  Finally, in 1998, the total number of allotted days was increased to 21, and the last allotted day in June again provided for the consideration of an opposition motion. [126]  However, the consideration of the opposition motion on this last allotted day is not to go beyond 6:30 p.m. and is to be followed with the necessary motions to concur in the Main Estimates.

The Continuing Order for Supply

In the Speech from the Throne, which begins each new session of Parliament, the Governor General traditionally advises Members of the House of Commons that they will be asked to appropriate (approve the spending of) the funds required to carry on the services and payments authorized by Parliament. [127] 

Among its first items of business after the Speech from the Throne, the House considers a motion usually proposed by the Minister serving as President of the Treasury Board: “That the business of Supply be considered at the next sitting of the House”[128]  By long-established practice, the motion is not debatable and is traditionally decided without dissent. Once agreed to, the motion is an order of the House to add the Business of Supply on the Order Paper for the remainder of the session. [129]  This process has the effect of establishing a continuing order of the day for the purposes of considering Supply, which enables the government to call Supply on any sitting day, within the framework laid out in the Standing Orders.

The Business of Supply consists of the consideration of motions:

  • to concur in Interim Supply;
  • to concur in Main and Supplementary Estimates;
  • to restore or reinstate any item in the Estimates;
  • to introduce or pass at all stages any bill or bills based thereon;
  • to be proposed by the opposition on allotted days. [130] 

In any calendar year, 21 days are set aside under the Standing Orders for consideration of the Business of Supply and, on these days, Supply have precedence over all other government business. [131]  The Business of Supply can be divided into a general debate phase and a legislative phase. The general debate phase is taken up with the consideration of opposition motions proposed on allotted days. [132]  During the legislative phase, the House considers and votes on the government’s proposed annual spending plans (the Main and Supplementary Estimates) [133]  and the legislation (appropriation bills) needed to authorize all consequential withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

General Debate Phase

Allotted Days

The setting aside of a specified number of sitting days on which the opposition chooses the subject of debate derives from the tradition which holds that Parliament does not grant Supply until the opposition has had an opportunity to demonstrate why it should be refused. Of the twenty-one days allocated in each annual Supply cycle for the House to consider the Business of Supply, seven days are allotted during the period ending December 10, seven during the period ending March 26 and seven during the period ending June 23. Of these twenty-one days, no more than four may fall on a Wednesday and no more than four on a Friday (the shortest sitting days of the week). [134]  The twenty-one days are designated as “allotted days”. On each of these days, the House will debate an opposition motion. [135] 

The normal Supply cycle can be disrupted by an extended adjournment, a prorogation or a dissolution. In these cases, the number of opposition days in each Supply period may be increased or decreased. If, for any reason, the number of sitting days in any Supply period is fewer than the number prescribed under the parliamentary calendar, the number of allotted days in that period will be reduced by an amount proportional to the number of sitting days the House stood adjourned. The Speaker will determine and announce to the House the reduction in the number of allotted days for that period. [136]  Conversely, should the House sit more than the prescribed number of sitting days, the total number of allotted days will be increased by one day for every five additional days the House sits. [137]  The House may also decide that any unused days from the six days allotted to the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, or from the four days allotted to the Budget Debate, be added to the number of allotted days in the Supply period in which they would have been taken up. [138] 

If, in the Supply period ending June 23, concurrence is sought in Supplementary Estimates for the previous fiscal year, a further three sitting days will be allocated in that period for the consideration of a motion to concur in those Estimates and for the passage at all stages of the related supply bill. [139]  On occasion, changes have been made, with the consent of the House, to the length of a Supply period or to the number of allotted days. For example, the House has agreed to extend the length of a Supply period; [140]  to add Supply days; [141]  and to transfer unused Supply days from one period to the next. [142]  The House has also agreed that an allotted day in one Supply period be deemed disposed of and one additional allotted day be designated in the subsequent Supply period. [143] 

Designating an Allotted Day

The government designates the days allotted to the consideration of the Business of Supply. The established practice is for a Minister of the Crown, usually the Government House Leader, to rise in the House and designate the following day or a subsequent day as an allotted day; [144]  allotted days may also be designated during the “Thursday Statement” on the House business for the following week. [145]  However, the date so designated is not binding on the government and may, like the scheduling of any other Government Order, be revised at any time. [146]  If the government fails to designate the prescribed number of allotted days, the remaining days in that period will be designated by default. [147]  When the sitting on a day designated as an allotted day ends before the House has reached Orders of the Day, the allotted day has not commenced, and therefore the sitting does not count as one of the days designated for the consideration of an opposition motion. [148]  On the other hand, once the order for Supply has been called, an allotted day is deemed completed if, subsequently, the proceedings are superseded. [149] 

Opposition Motions

Opposition motions have precedence over all government Supply motions on allotted days. [150]  However, on the last allotted day for the period ending June 23, at not later than 6:30 p.m., the Speaker interrupts the proceedings on the opposition motion and puts, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the motion. Any recorded division requested is deferred to the end of the Supply proceedings on that day, but not later than 10:00 p.m. Meanwhile, the House proceeds to consider a motion or motions to concur in the Main Estimates. [151] 

Members in opposition to the government may propose motions for debate on any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as well as on committee reports concerning Estimates. [152]  The Standing Orders give Members a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on Supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (e.g., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene. [153] 


Before an opposition motion can be taken up on an allotted day, a 24-hour written notice of the motion must be given. [154]  A notice which is not filed by 6:00 p.m. (or 2:00 p.m. on a Friday) on the day before a designated allotted day will not appear on the Order Paper the following day. [155]  A Member may put an opposition motion on notice even though an allotted day has not yet been designated. [156]  However, a decision by the government not to proceed with a designated allotted day is not in itself a reason for the Chair to remove a notice of an opposition motion from the Notice Paper[157]  It can remain on the Notice Paper until it is proceeded with later or withdrawn by the sponsor. Only the sponsor can have it removed, and the consent of the House to do so is not required. [158] 

Speaker’s Power to Select

The Standing Orders are silent on the method of apportioning allotted days between the parties, when two or more recognized parties form the opposition. Although the government designates which days shall be used for the Business of Supply, the opposition parties decide among themselves which party will sponsor the motion and whether or not, subject to the provisions of the Standing Orders, that motion will be brought to a vote. The distribution has reflected the proportion of seats each recognized party occupies in the Chamber. It is not the purview of the Official Opposition to determine unilaterally who can propose a motion on an allotted day. [159]  Notices of more than one motion may be given by one or several opposition parties. [160]  Where notice of two or more opposition motions appears on the Order Paper for consideration on an allotted day and there is no agreement among the opposition parties as to which shall be taken up, the Speaker must decide which motion shall be given precedence. [161]  Generally, in making their decision, Speakers will take into consideration the following: representation of the parties in the House; the distribution of sponsorship to date; fair play towards small parties; the date of notice; the sponsor of the motion; the subject matter; whether or not the motion is votable; and what has happened, by agreement among the parties, in the immediate past Supply periods. [162] 

Votable Motions

For each annual Supply cycle, not more than 14 opposition motions considered on allotted days may be brought to a vote. [163]  For the purpose of calculating votable motions, the period ending December 10 is deemed to be the first period in the Supply cycle. [164]  The allocation of the 14 votable motions is worked out in an informal agreement among the opposition parties. [165]  However, except in a situation where the limit of allowable votable motions in a Supply period or in any year has been reached, it is not within the competence of the Chair to rule whether or not a particular motion should be votable. [166]  Although it happens infrequently, some opposition motions on allotted days have been agreed to by the House. [167] 

Proceedings on an Opposition Motion

Proceedings on non-votable opposition motions expire at the conclusion of the debate or at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders. [168]  However, a motion can be moved to extend the sitting beyond the hour of daily adjournment. [169]  In the case of votable motions, the Speaker will interrupt the debate 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders and proceed to put, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the motion. [170]  When a recorded division on a votable opposition motion is demanded on a Friday, the division is automatically deferred until the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on the next sitting day; however, a recorded division demanded on the last allotted day of a Supply period may not be deferred. [171] 

The proceedings on a votable opposition motion may continue for more than one allotted day; [172]  usually, such proceedings have taken place over two consecutive sitting days where both have been designated together as allotted days. [173]  The duration of such proceedings must be stated in the notice respecting the day or days set aside. [174] 

The mover of the motion, who is a Member of the opposition, speaks first on an opposition day. No Member may speak for more than twenty minutes; a ten-minute period is also provided for questions and comments. [175]  It is often the case that two Members of the same party will agree to share the twenty minutes, with each speaker receiving five minutes for questions and comments. [176]  On allotted days, the party of the opposition Member sponsoring the motion may be recognized more frequently on debate than otherwise might be warranted, given their relative numbers in the House.

Only one amendment and one sub-amendment are permitted to opposition motions considered on an allotted day. [177]  Amendments which have the effect of providing the basis for an entirely different debate are not in order. [178]  When a party has been allocated an allotted day and a subject has been proposed for debate by way of an opposition motion, the day should not be taken away by way of an amendment. [179]  The House has consented, despite the rules, to allow amendments which had been ruled inadmissible by the Chair. [180] 

Legislative Phase

Main Estimates

The Main Estimates provide a breakdown, by department and agency, of planned government spending for the coming fiscal year. The Estimates are expressed as a series of “Votes”, or resolutions, which summarize the estimated financial requirements in a particular expenditure category, such as operations, capital or grants. [181] The Votes are expressed in dollar amounts, the total of which, once agreed to, should satisfy all the budgetary requirements of a department or agency in that category, with the exception of any expenditures provided for under other statutory authority. Each budgetary item, or Vote, has two essential components: an amount of money and a destination (a description of what the money will be used for). Should the government wish to change the approved amount or destination of a Vote, it must do so either by way of a “supplementary” Estimate or by way of new or amending legislation.

The Main Estimates are presented in two parts. Part I, the Government Expenditure Plan, gives an overview of the government’s projected total expenditures for the new fiscal year. Part II contains the Main Estimates, which summarize the budgetary and statutory expenditures for all government ministries and agencies for the same period. It also contains an introductory section, which explains the different kinds of Votes [182]  and other elements making up the Estimates, as well as any changes to the content with respect to that found in previous fiscal years. Part II outlines spending according to departments, agencies and programs and contains the proposed wording of the conditions governing spending which Parliament will be asked to approve. [183]  The information provided in Part II directly supports the Schedule of the Appropriation Act. Statutory items are expenditures authorized under separate legislation and, because already approved by the statute, they do not require further approval by Parliament. They are identified in the Estimates with an “S” and are included for information purposes only. [184]  Part I is now combined with Part II in the volume known historically as the “Blue Book”. [185]

The form and content of the Main Estimates have been modified on only four occasions since Confederation: in 1938, 1970, 1981 and, most recently, in 1997. [186]  In each instance, the impetus behind the reforms was a desire to improve the quality and utility of the information provided to Members of Parliament. In 1938, the Minister of Finance included in the Estimates, for the first time, a breakdown of departmental operating costs by function. [187]  Still greater precision was introduced in 1970, when departmental expenditures were linked to programs and activities. An explanatory forward clarifying the technical terms used was added and, for the first time, the Blue Book was printed in bilingual format. [188] 

As the scope of the federal government widened and government operations grew increasingly complex, compressing all government expenditure information into a single document became more and more impractical. In 1981, following a comprehensive review of financial management and accountability in the federal government, two new documents were introduced. The old Blue Book became known as Part II, Estimates, and a new Part I and Part III were added. [189]  Part I provided an overview of federal spending, along with information about planned future activities which could not be included along with the annual appropriations and statutory spending set down in the Blue Book. Part II continued to list in detail the resources that individual departments and agencies required for the upcoming year. Finally, Part III, the Departmental Expenditure Plan, was a collection of separate books each providing additional details about the programs and activities of a single department or agency. The first Part IIIs were tabled with the 1982-83 Main Estimates. [190] 

In Chapter 6 of the 1992 Annual Report to Parliament, the Auditor General addressed the issue of departmental reporting. It was noted that much of the government’s financial activity was not expressed as spending and, for this reason, not captured in the information Members of Parliament used when considering and approving Supply. [191]  In the view of the Auditor General, information to Parliament should include a description of the organization’s mission, its major lines of business, the way it is structured, the instruments it uses, its strategic targets and objectives for achieving the mission, as well as performance reports on the extent to which these objectives have been met. [192]  In 1997, the House decided to undertake a pilot project to split the Part III departmental expenditure plans into the Report on Plans and Priorities and the Performance Report. Beginning in fiscal year 1997-98, the Part IIIs were replaced by two documents, the Report on Plans and Priorities to be tabled on or before March 31 and the Performance Report to be tabled in the fall. [193] 

The Report on Plans and Priorities describes a department’s (or agency’s) mandate, mission and strategic objectives, and provides detailed information about the business line structure, expected results and performance-measurement strategy. [194]  The reports are tabled in Parliament by the President of the Treasury Board on behalf of the responsible Minister. [195]  Performance Reports are individual departmental and agency accounts of achievements, measured against planned performance expectations as set out in their Report on Plans and Priorities[196]  These too are tabled by the President of the Treasury Board on the Ministers’ behalf and referred to the appropriate standing committee. [197]  With regard to the Administration of the House of Commons, the annual Report on Plans and Priorities, as well as the annual Performance Report, are tabled in the House by the Speaker. [198] 

The Main Estimates for an incoming fiscal year must be referred to the standing committees on or before March 1 of the expiring fiscal year. The Estimates are presented by a Minister of the Crown, normally the President of the Treasury Board, and are accompanied by a recommendation from the Governor General, which the Speaker reads aloud in the House. [199]  The Main Estimates are typically referred to standing committees as soon as they are tabled. [200]  Any Minister may move a motion during Routine Proceedings that an item or items in the Main Estimates be referred to any standing committee or committees; the motion is decided without debate. [201] 

Interim Supply

Since the fiscal year begins on April 1 and the normal Supply cycle only provides for the House to decide on Main Estimates in June, the government would appear to be without funds for the interim three months. For this reason, the House authorizes an advance on the funds requested in the Main Estimates to cover the needs of the public service from the start of the new fiscal year to the date on which the Appropriation Act based on the Main Estimates of that year is passed. This is known as “Interim Supply”, [202]  a spending authority made available to the government pending approval of the Main Estimates.

The government gives notice of a motion setting out in detail the sums of money it will require, expressed in twelfths of the amounts to be voted in the Main Estimates. [203]  Most are three-twelfths of the total amount, corresponding to the three-month hiatus between the beginning of the new fiscal year and the final passage of the Main Estimates, but the government may request more. [204]  The motion for Interim Supply is considered on the last allotted day of the period ending March 26. Concurrence in the motion is followed by the consideration and passage at all stages of an appropriation bill based on Interim Supply and authorizing the prescribed withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. [205]  The granting of Interim Supply does not necessarily constitute immediate House approval for the programs to which it applies in the Main Estimates.

Supplementary Estimates

Should the amounts voted under the Main Estimates prove insufficient, or should new funding or a reallocation of funds between Votes or programs be required during a fiscal year, the government may ask Parliament to approve additional expenditures set out in Supplementary Estimates. The government may introduce as many sets of Supplementary Estimates in a year as it deems necessary, although the practice has been to limit such requests to two or three.

The Supplementary Estimates are tabled as a document in the same form as Part II of the Main Estimates. However, instead of being expressed as summary Votes (i.e., where a Vote summarizes all the anticipated disbursements in a particular expenditure category), each Supplementary Estimate or Vote relates to a specific program or financial transaction. The information included in the Supplementary Estimates will become a Schedule in the subsequent Appropriation Act authorizing the prescribed withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

As with the Main Estimates, each set of Supplementary Estimates is presented normally by the President of the Treasury Board and is accompanied by a recommendation from the Governor General, which the Speaker reads aloud in the House. [206]  Supplementary Estimates are referred to the relevant standing committees immediately after their tabling in the House. [207]  The reference motion is moved by a Minister of the Crown during Routine Proceedings and is decided without debate. [208]  The Supplementary Estimates must be reported back, or are deemed to have been reported back, not later than three sitting days before the last allotted day, or the last sitting day, of the Supply period in which they were tabled. [209] 

Final Supplementary Estimates

Where concurrence in final Supplementary Estimates cannot be obtained before March 31 of the fiscal year to which they relate, the Standing Orders provide for approval to be sought in the next Supply period, which is the first Supply period of the subsequent fiscal year. In such cases, three days will be added to the Supply period ending not later than June 23 to consider the motion that the House concur in those final Estimates for the previous fiscal year and to pass at all stages any bill based thereon. [210] 

Dollar Items

Supplementary Estimates often include what are known as “one dollar items”, which seek an alteration in the existing allocation of funds as authorized in the Main Estimates. The purpose of a dollar item is not to seek new or additional money, but rather to spend money already authorized for a different purpose. Since “estimates” are budgetary items, they must have a dollar value. However, because no new funds are requested, the “one dollar” is merely a symbolic amount. Dollar items may be used to transfer funds from one program to another; [211]  to write-off debts; [212]  to adjust loan guarantees; [213]  to authorize grants; [214]  or to amend previous appropriation acts. [215] 

The inclusion of one dollar items in the Estimates also gave rise to the issue of using Estimates to “legislate” (i.e., Estimates going beyond simply appropriating funds and attempting to obtain new legislative authority which would otherwise require separate enabling legislation through the regular legislative process, outside the Supply procedure). [216] 

Prior to 1968, Supply procedures afforded ample opportunity for the House to debate individual items in the Estimates. Those of a legislative nature (virtually always “one dollar items”) were regularly included in Appropriation Acts. [217]  However, this practice was not accepted readily by the House and Members did question the regularity of these items. [218]  The 1968 changes to the rules governing Supply, which provided for the abolition of the Committee of Supply and the reference of Estimates to standing committees for detailed study, had the effect of reducing significantly the time allocated for the House to consider the Supplementary Estimates (where most dollar items are found). Moreover, the Supplementary Estimates are often tabled fairly late in the Supply period allowing relatively little time for committee consideration. As a result, soon after the 1968 changes, the Speaker was called on increasingly to decide questions concerning the admissibility of dollar items. [219]  The rulings by Speakers of the House have clarified what is, and what is not, procedurally acceptable in regard to dollar items.

Speakers have often indicated that Members should take the initiative in bringing to the attention of the Chair any procedural irregularities with regard to the Estimates. [220]  They have also repeatedly asked that Members raise questions about the procedural acceptability of Estimates as early as possible so that the Chair has time to give “intelligent” consideration to these questions. [221] 

The Chair has maintained that Estimates with a direct and specific legislative intent (those clearly intended to amend existing legislation) should come to the House by way of an amending bill. [222]  Speaker Jerome stated in a ruling: “ … it is my view that the government receives from Parliament the authority to act through the passage of legislation and receives the money to finance such authorized action through the passage by Parliament of an appropriation act. A supply item in my opinion ought not, therefore, to be used to obtain authority which is the proper subject of legislation.” [223]  He also said in a further ruling: “ … supply ought to be confined strictly to the process for which it was intended; that is to say, for the purpose of putting forward by the government the estimate of money it needs, and then in turn voting by the House of that money to the government […] legislation and legislated changes in substance are not intended to be part of supply, but rather ought to be part of the legislative process in the regular way which requires three readings, committee stage, and, in other words, ample opportunity for Members to participate in debate and amendment.” [224] 

Consideration of Estimates in Committee

When the Estimates are tabled in the House, they are referred to standing committees for consideration. [225]  When a committee decides to consider Estimates, each budgetary item, or “Vote”, is called, proposed and debated as a distinct motion. A Vote can be agreed to (the budget item is approved), reduced [226]  (but, as the case may be, no lower than the amount already approved in interim supply) or negatived [227]  (the budget item is not approved). [228]  Calling a Vote is the mechanism by which the committee opens debate on the program expenditures to which that Vote pertains. Committees considering Estimates may invite witnesses to appear; these typically include the Minister, departmental or agency officials, and interested individuals or groups.

The discussion on Vote 1 in the Main Estimates (generally departmental administration or operations) is traditionally wide-ranging. Typically, questions on departmental policy are directed to the responsible Minister; questions of a more technical or administrative nature may be referred through the Minister to departmental officials. Chairs have generally exercised considerable latitude in the nature of the questioning permitted on Estimates. [229]

A committee may not increase the amount of a Vote, change the destination of a grant or change the destination or purpose of a subsidy, as this would exceed the terms of the royal recommendation and infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown. [230]  A committee may move to reduce a Vote by an amount equal to that set aside in the Estimates for a program or activity to which the committee is opposed. [231]  Members cannot propose a motion to reduce a Vote by its full amount; the procedure is simply to vote against the question, “Shall the Vote carry?”

Statutory expenditures are provided for on an ongoing basis by way of legislation other than the Appropriation Act and are identified in the Main Estimates for information purposes only. [232]  Motions or recommendations respecting statutory expenditures listed in the Main Estimates are not allowed, although questions requesting information are acceptable. Statutory items may be modified only by way of amending legislation.

Report to the House

A committee is under no obligation to report the Estimates back to the House; however, in the case of Main Estimates, committees that do not report are deemed to have done so on May 31 and, in the case of Supplementary Estimates, they are deemed to have done so on the third sitting day before the last allotted day or the last sitting day in the Supply period. [233]  Where a committee chooses to report on the estimates, the Chair, or any member of the committee acting on behalf of the Chair, rises during “Routine Proceedings”, when the Speaker calls “Presenting Reports from Committees”, for the purpose of presenting the report.

The rules provide for one exception to the May 31 reporting deadline for Main Estimates. The Leader of the Opposition may give, not later than the third sitting day prior to May 31, notice of a motion to extend the committee consideration of the Main Estimates of a named department or agency. [234]  The motion is deemed adopted when called under “Motions” during Routine Proceedings on the last sitting day prior to May 31. [235]  Adoption of the motion allows the committee to continue its consideration of Main Estimates for that department or agency and to delay the presentation of its report for up to 10 sitting days, but not later than the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on the sitting day immediately preceding the final allotted day in the Supply period. [236]  If the committee has not reported by this time, it is deemed to have done so. Where the designated committee chooses to report, the Chair, or any member of the committee acting on behalf of the Chair, may rise on a point of order, at any time prior to the reporting deadline, and the House will revert immediately to “Presenting Reports from Committees” for the purpose of receiving the report. [237] 

The report of a committee on Estimates ought to correspond, both in its form and as to its substance, with the authority with which the committee is invested. [238]  As it is the Estimates which have been referred to the committee by the House, it is the Estimates (as agreed to, reduced or negatived) which should be reported back to the House. In making other substantive recommendations, the committee is clearly going beyond the scope of its order of reference, which was to deal with the Estimates. [239]  The Speaker has expressed strong reservations regarding the inclusion of substantive recommendations in committee reports on Estimates. [240]  A standing committee wishing to make substantive recommendations respecting the Estimates which it has considered may do so under its permanent authority to study and report on any matter relating to the mandate, management and operation of the departments or agencies it oversees. [241]  A motion to concur in a committee report on Estimates can only be considered on an allotted day as part of the Business of Supply. [242] 

A committee may also report on the expenditure plans and priorities in future fiscal years of the departments and agencies whose Main Estimates are before the committee for consideration. [243]  Such reports must be presented to the House not later than the last sitting day in June, as provided for in the parliamentary calendar, and any concurrence motion can only be considered by the House on an allotted day. [244] 

Concurrence in Estimates

The Estimates, as reported or deemed reported by the standing committees, must be concurred in by the House in order for the government to introduce the appropriation bill authorizing the necessary withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Any motions to concur in Estimates are proposed on the final allotted day of a Supply period, once the proceedings related to an opposition motion are completed. In a normal Supply cycle, concurrence motions would occur as follows: [245] 

  • On the last allotted day in the Supply period ending December 10, a motion or motions to concur in Supplementary Estimates would be considered, if any were tabled by the government during the period;
  • On the last allotted day in the Supply period ending March 26, a motion or motions to concur in Supplementary Estimates would be considered first, if any were tabled by the government during the period, followed by a motion to concur in Interim Supply for the next fiscal year;
  • On the last allotted day in the Supply period ending June 23, a motion or motions to concur in the Main Estimates would be considered first, followed by a motion or motions to concur in Final Supplementary Estimates relating to the preceding fiscal year and a motion or motions to concur in Supplementary Estimates for the current fiscal year, if any were tabled by the government during the period.

A motion to concur in the Main or Supplementary Estimates is a motion to concur in the Estimates as reported or deemed reported by the standing committees. The government, usually through the President of the Treasury Board, will give 48 hours’ written notice of a motion or motions to concur in the Estimates. [246]  Should a committee have reduced or negatived a Vote or Votes in those Estimates, the government may move that they be restored or reinstated. [247]  Forty-eight hours’ written notice is also required for any motions to restore or reinstate Estimates which have been reduced or negatived in committee. [248] 

Furthermore, any Member may give notice to oppose any item in the Estimates before the House: such items are then referred to as “opposed items” in the Estimates. The notice period for opposed items is 24 hours in the Supply periods ending December 10 and March 26, and 48 hours in the Supply period ending June 23. [249]  Members give notice of opposed items to express opposition to the total amount of a Vote [250]  or to a specified portion of that amount. [251]  A notice to oppose an item in the Estimates is not a motion. [252]  Because the government may propose in one motion the concurrence in all the Votes in the Estimates, [253]  the notice to oppose an item is rather a mechanism by which Members force the government to propose a separate motion for the concurrence in each Vote that is the subject of total or partial opposition. [254]  The wording of the general concurrence motion is then changed to exclude those Votes. [255]  On one occasion, Members who had filed notices of opposed items in the Estimates informed the Clerk of the House that they did not wish to proceed with their notices. Thus, the separate motions were not put to the House, and the Votes that had been opposed were reintegrated in the general concurrence motion. [256] 

On the last allotted day of each Supply period, once the proceedings on the opposition motion are completed, motions to restore or reinstate Votes in the Estimates are considered first, followed by motions to concur in each of the Votes for which a notice of opposition has been given, and the motion to concur in altogether the remaining unopposed Votes [257]  before proceeding to the appropriation bill based on those Estimates. For that purpose, the House may sit beyond the normal hour of adjournment for that day. [258] 

In principle, all the motions are debatable and amendable. [259]  However, in practice, on the last allotted day in each of the Supply periods ending December 10 and March 26, the debate on the opposition motion, which has precedence over all government motions to dispose of the Business of Supply, continues throughout the day and is interrupted by the Speaker at 15 minutes before the time provided for Government Orders expires. At that time, all the motions, starting with the opposition motion, are decided in sequence without further debate or amendment. [260] 

On the last allotted day in the Supply period ending June 23, unless previously disposed of, at 6:30 p.m., the Speaker interrupts the proceedings on the opposition motion. If the opposition motion is not a motion that must come to a vote, proceedings on the motion expire at the conclusion of the debate and the House proceeds to consider a motion or motions relating to the Main Estimates. [261]  If the opposition motion is a motion that must come to a vote, the Speaker must put forthwith and without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the proceedings and any recorded division requested is deferred to the end of the consideration of a motion or motions relating to the Main Estimates. [262]  At 10:00 p.m., the Speaker must interrupt any proceedings then before the House, proceed first to the taking of any deferred division or divisions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion, [263]  as the case may be, and subsequently put forthwith, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the motion or motions relating to the Main Estimates. Immediately thereafter, the Speaker must put successively and without debate every question necessary to dispose of any business relating to the final Estimates for the preceding fiscal year or for any Supplementary Estimates, the restoration or reinstatement of any Vote in the final or Supplementary Estimates, or any opposed item in the final or Supplementary Estimates.

The Supply Bill or Appropriation Act

Concurrence in the Estimates or in Interim Supply is an order of the House to bring in an appropriation bill or bills giving effect to the spending authority (amounts and their destinations) that the House has approved. [264]  Once adopted, the legislation will authorize the government to withdraw from the Consolidated Revenue Fund amounts up to, but not exceeding, the amounts set out in the Estimates for the purposes specified in the Votes.

Supply bills must be based on the Estimates or Interim Supply as concurred in by the House. [265]  They bear the standard title: An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31 (year)[266]  They begin with a preamble which cites both the message from the Governor General recommending the Estimates to the House, and the purpose of the Estimates, which is “to defray certain expenses of the public service of Canada, not otherwise provided for” for a specified fiscal year. The Chair has cautioned that an Appropriation Act gives authority only for a single year and is therefore not appropriate for expenditure which is meant to continue for a longer period, or indefinitely. [267]  On one occasion, Speaker Parent expressed strong reservations about the reference to two fiscal years in the long title of a Supply bill. [268]  He qualified the reference as “not needed” and “misleading”. Although a separate statute may grant a government agency legislative authority to carry the unexpended balance of money appropriated for a fiscal year over to the end of the following year, [269]  the appropriation itself is and must be for one year only and not be referred to as a multi-year appropriation.

The destinations and the amounts attributable to each spending item, or Vote, are set out in the schedules attached to each bill. These provide the governing conditions under which expenditures may be made. The schedules are organized alphabetically, by department, in both the English and French versions of the bill. [270] 

Supply bills are considered on the last allotted day in each Supply period, at the end of the day, after the Speaker has interrupted the proceedings on the opposition motion or the Main Estimates, as the case may be, in order for the House to go through all the remaining steps to complete the Business of Supply for the period. At that time, the House must proceed through all the motions related to the Estimates, the Interim Supply and the Supply bills without further debate or amendments. [271]  As all bills are printed and made available once they have received first reading, Members would not normally be made aware of the content of the Supply bills until late in the day, at a time when the proceedings are dealt with expeditiously in the House. To compensate for this lack of time, the practice established in recent years is therefore to allow for an early distribution of the draft copy of the bills to Members at the beginning of the Supply proceedings on that day. The House invariably gives its consent to that special arrangement. [272] 

Like all public bills, Supply bills are “read” twice, considered in committee, and read a third time before going to the Senate. [273] Because concurrence in the Estimates or in Interim Supply is an order of the House to bring in the appropriation bill, first reading proceeds forthwith, without the formality of introduction, and a motion is proposed that it be read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole. [274] 

Although, theoretically, a Supply bill is debatable, and therefore amendable, at all stages after first reading, it generally passes without debate or amendment on the last allotted day. [275]  However, if time for debate were to remain on that day, and debate were to occur at the second and third reading stages of the bill, speeches would be limited to 20 minutes, followed by a period not exceeding 10 minutes for questions and comments. [276]  In a Committee of the Whole, the bill is considered clause by clause and then reported back to the House. [277] It is at the Committee of the Whole stage that a Member of the opposition usually seeks assurance from the President of the Treasury Board that the Supply bill is in its usual form. [278]  Bills reported from a Committee of the Whole are concurred in without debate or amendment. [279]  Once the bill has been read the third time, it is forwarded to the Senate, where it must be given a further three readings before receiving Royal Assent and becoming law.

Normally, bills which have passed in both Houses of Parliament are held by the Clerk of the Parliaments (the Clerk of the Senate) until the Governor General (or a deputy) grants them Royal Assent. However, because the granting of Supply is a prerogative of the House of Commons, Supply bills are always returned to the House and taken by its Speaker to the Senate Chamber to receive Royal Assent. The Speaker, as spokesperson for the House, assembles with Members from the House of Commons, at the bar of the Senate Chamber. The Speaker addresses the Crown’s representative, saying:

May it please Your Excellency (Honour [280]): The Commons of Canada have voted Supplies required to enable the Government to defray certain expenses of the public service. In the name of the Commons, I present to Your Excellency (Honour) the following Bill: (title), To which Bill I humbly request Your Excellency’s (Honour’s) Assent.

The Speaker presents the bill to the Clerk of the Senate who reads out the title of the bill, to which the Governor General (or a deputy) nods consent. The Royal Assent is then pronounced by the Clerk of the Senate in the following words:

In Her Majesty’s name, (the Honourable the Deputy to) His/Her Excellency the Governor General thanks Her Loyal Subjects, accepts their benevolence, and assents to this Bill.

The Journals of the House of Commons carries the text of the Speaker’s address, together with the response from the Crown’s representative in granting Assent, and the title of the bill. [281] 

Deviations from Supply Cycle

From time to time, circumstances may require a deviation from the normal Supply process and cycle. For example, because of an unscheduled adjournment or a prorogation or disolution of Parliament, the Main Estimates might not be tabled and referred to standing committees before the March 1 deadline, or the Interim Supply or the Main Estimates might not be concurred in by the June 23 deadline. In those cases, the Standing Order provisions relating to the Business of Supply no longer apply (such as those respecting the timetable for the tabling of Estimates, their reference to standing committees and their return to the House, the concurrence motions and the appropriation bills).

Such situations may be dealt with by temporarily suspending the relevant Standing Orders. There may be an arrangement worked out between the government and the opposition parties to finalize Supply as expeditiously as possible. Typically, this involves adopting a special order [282]  which, depending on the situation, might address the following matters: length of Supply period; [283]  number of allotted days in the period; [284]  number of votable opposition motions; [285]  committee referral and reporting date for Main or Supplementary Estimates; [286]  date of concurrence in Estimates; [287]  and debating time allotted to the appropriation bill. [288] 

Where the government feels that there is a matter of urgency and it cannot wait until the end of a Supply period, it may use its own time to consider the Estimates. The Standing Orders specifically provide a mechanism in the event of an emergency where a motion to concur in the Estimates and the subsequent appropriation bill may be taken under “Government Orders” and not on days allotted for Supply. [289]  The concurrence motion and the bill are then treated like any other item of government business and are therefore debatable. There is no automatic time limit on the debate and the days used for that purpose are not considered as allotted days and may not be deducted from the number of days allocated to the Business of Supply. [290]  Apart from these two exceptions, the rules respecting the consideration of Supply under Government Orders are the same as those governing proceedings on any allotted day. [291] 

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