House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
Previous PageNext Page

Committee Studies

The role of committees is to examine selected matters in greater depth than is possible in the House and to report any conclusions of those examinations, including recommendations, to the House. Committees undertake studies in four general areas: the Estimates, legislation, Order-in-Council appointments and subject-matter studies (including the review of departmental annual reports). While it may be common for standing committees to conduct studies in all four areas, special committees are normally established to conduct subject-matter inquiries, and legislative committees are charged solely with the examination of legislation.

Certain items of study, such as the Main Estimates and departmental annual reports, are required to be tabled in the House each year at a specific time and referred to committees. Other items, including Supplementary Estimates, Order-in-Council appointments and legislation, are referred to committees only if and when tabled or introduced in the House. The number of such items varies from year to year, depending on a wide variety of factors including the government’s legislative schedule and events outside Parliament.

When a committee receives an order of reference or decides to take up a particular study, the steering committee is usually charged with the responsibility both for establishing a work plan for each study and for co-ordinating the committee’s consideration of the variety of topics before it. Standing committees routinely deal with several matters concurrently. [476]  While in some cases committees are able to deal with important matters consecutively, time limits imposed by the Standing Orders for consideration of the Main Estimates and Order-in-Council appointments require careful planning to ensure committee effectiveness. [477]  One avenue which is often selected by committees having a heavy workload is the delegation of one or several items of study to sub-committees. [478]  This allows the committee to share its work by drawing upon the asciate members of the committee for the membership of sub-committees.


The Main Estimates are the projected government spending for the coming fiscal year broken down by department and program. [479] The Estimates are displayed as a series of budgetary items or “Votes”, each of which indicates the amount of money required by the government for a program or function. Normally, a single Vote in the Main Estimates covers a total spending category, such as departmental operations or capital costs, and summarizes all the planned activity or program expenditures for the department or agency in that category. Where additional funds or the reallocation of already appropriated funds is necessary during a fiscal year, the government may table Supplementary Estimates.

The Standing Orders provide for detailed consideration of the Estimates, both Main and Supplementary, by standing committees. [480]  Each committee has referred to it those departmental and agency Votes which relate to its mandate. Programs whose funding and funding levels are already prescribed by statute are included with the Estimates, marked “S” or “Statutory”. As these expenditures have already been approved by the passage of the appropriate legislation, they are not referred to committee for examination, but are provided for information purposes only.

The Estimates for each coming fiscal year are required to be tabled in the House and referred to standing committees no later than March 1 of each year. [481]  The Standing Orders do not impose an obligation on committees to consider the Estimates. Where a committee has chosen to study and report on the Estimates, however, it must report them back not later than May 31 of the fiscal year to which they apply. If a committee has not reported the Estimates back by that date, it is deemed to have done so, whether it has actually considered them or not. [482]  The Leader of the Opposition may, not later than the third sitting day prior to May 31, ask to extend the reporting deadline respecting committee consideration of the Main Estimates of a named department or agency. [483]  A committee studying the Main Estimates of that department or agency must report back, or will be deemed to have reported, no later than the earlier of either 10 sitting days after May 31 or the sitting day prior to the final allotted day in that Supply period. [484]  While considering the Main Estimates, committees are also empowered to consider expenditure plans and priorities in future years for the departments and agencies. [485]  The deadline for reporting on those plans and priorities is the final sitting day in June. [486] 

Supplementary Estimates are referred, upon tabling in the House, to the appropriate standing committees. [487]  The deadline for a report on Supplementary Estimates is not later than the third sitting day before the earlier of the final sitting day or the final allotted day in the current Supply period. As with the Main Estimates, if a committee has not reported within the prescribed time, it is deemed to have done so. [488] 

Committees consider each Vote separately as a distinct motion, beginning with Vote 1 which covers general departmental administration or operations. Committees usually begin their examination of the Estimates by hearing from the appropriate Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary, accompanied by senior departmental officials. [489]  The questioning and discussion at this meeting is generally wide-ranging, although the rule of relevance does apply. Subsequent meetings, if any, are normally held with the senior departmental officials responsible for the areas and programs specifically dealt with in each Vote. [490] 

When the committee has completed its consideration of the Estimates, each item is put to a vote separately. Restrictions exist on the power of a committee to amend the Estimates. Amendments may be presented to reduce the amount of an item, [491]  but it is not in order to propose an amendment to reduce the amount of a Vote to zero, as the proper course is to vote against the motion “Shall the Vote carry?” It is also out of order to propose an increase in an item, as such a proposal infringes the spending authority of the Crown. [492]  Similarly, it is not permitted to attempt to change the way in which funds are allocated, by transferring money from one item to another. [493]  Statutory items included in the Estimates for information purposes may not be amended by the committee. [494]  Finally, a committee cannot include substantive recommendations in its report on Estimates. [495] 


Committees play a major role in the legislative process. The Standing Orders provide for all legislation to be considered in committee. Referral to committee may take place either after second reading or before second reading [496]  and bills may be referred to legislative, standing or special committees [497]  or to a Committee of the Whole. [498]  On rare occasions, the House has referred bills to joint committees. [499]  When a bill is referred to a committee, it is the bill itself which constitutes the committee’s order of reference. A motion instructing a committee to prepare and bring in a bill may also be proposed by a Minister or by a private Member. [500] 

Adoption of a motion for second reading of a bill expresses the House’s approval of the principle of the bill. The committee is charged with examining the wording and effect of each clause of the bill in light of the principle; it may propose any modifications deemed necessary or useful in order for the bill to better realize its purpose. [501] When a bill has been referred to a committee following second reading, it is not in order to propose amendments which seek to extend the scope of the bill or alter its principle. It is also not in order to propose amendments to Acts or sections of Acts not affected by the bill itself. [502]  When a bill has been referred to a committee prior to second reading, the committee is not bound by the same limitations since the House has not yet approved the bill’s principle. While amendments may be proposed which would alter the principle, they must still be relevant to the bill. [503] 

Order of Consideration

When a committee studies a bill, consideration of the preamble, if any, is postponed as is consideration of the first clause if it contains only a short title. [504]  After Clause 1 has been called by the Chair (or Clause 2, if Clause 1 contains only the short title of the bill), a committee may proceed to hear witnesses, usually beginning with the sponsor of the bill. A legislative committee is restricted to hearing only witnesses on technical matters related to the bill. [505]  In addition to hearing witnesses, a committee may receive written briefs related to the bill. At the conclusion of testimony, a committee may invite the sponsor to appear again in order to answer any concerns which have been raised by other witnesses.

A committee then proceeds to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. Clause-by-clause study involves the consideration of each clause individually and, if necessary, of each line of the bill. At this stage, each clause is proposed to the committee as a separate question on which it must decide. It is also at this stage that members of the committee have the opportunity to propose amendments to the bill. They may propose that words be added, that certain words be struck out and replaced by others, or that words simply be struck out. [506] During clause-by-clause consideration, it is normal for departmental officials to remain before a committee as witnesses in order to provide technical explanations of the effect of individual clauses of the bill and the technical implications of proposed amendments. [507] 

Motions to amend a clause of a bill do not require notice. As a practical matter, proposed amendments are usually forwarded to the clerk of the committee before clause-by-clause consideration begins. The clerk then has the opportunity to place the amendments in the proper sequence for consideration as the committee proceeds through the bill. The proposed amendments received by the clerk are usually circulated to members prior to the beginning of clause-by-clause consideration, for information purposes. At this stage, the amendments are not formally before the committee and the member may move them or not when the committee reaches the appropriate place in the bill.

Time Limits for the Consideration of Bills

The Standing Orders do not set any time limit for the consideration of government bills in committee. Nonetheless, the House may set a reporting deadline by special order [508]  or it may invoke the time allocation provisions of the Standing Orders. [509] 

Committees are required to report on private Members’ public bills within 60 sitting days. [510]  The committee must either report the bill to the House with or without amendment, or seek a single 30-day extension to the time provided for consideration of the bill, or present a report containing a recommendation to not proceed further with the bill. If the committee has not reported by the conclusion of the 60-day period (or the 30-day extension, where applicable), the bill is deemed reported back without amendment.

Private bills are to be referred to legislative committees following second reading. [511]  However, private bills are often dealt with, by unanimous consent, in a Committee of the Whole. The particular procedures related to consideration of private bills are found in Chapter 23, “Private Bills Practice”.

Adoption and Report

Once a committee has concluded its consideration of the clauses of a bill, a motion is proposed to carry the bill (or the bill, as amended). [512]  The committee then adopts a motion, instructing the Chair to report the bill to the House. [513]  If the committee has amended the bill, it usually will also order that the bill be reprinted for the use of the House at report stage. [514] 

Committee to Prepare and Bring in a Bill

A committee may be given an order of reference to prepare and bring in a bill. [515]  The motion proposing such an order is considered under Government Orders, if proposed by a Minister, or under Private Members’ Business, if proposed by a private Member. [516]  The committee’s report recommends the principles, scope and general provisions of the bill and may include proposals for legislative wording. [517] 

Order-in-Council Appointments

The government is required to table in the House certified copies of all Order-in-Council appointments to non-judicial posts, not later than five sitting days after they have been published in the Canada Gazette[518]  Appointments are effective on the day they are announced by the government, not on the date the certificates are published or tabled in the House. The Standing Orders provide that the certified copies be automatically referred to the standing committee specified at the time of tabling, normally the committee charged with overseeing the organization to which the individual has been appointed.

A Minister may also table a certificate of nomintion to a non-judicial post. [519]  Such notices are also referred to the standing committees specified at the time of tabling. Committees have 30 sitting days, following the day of tabling, in which to consider the appointments or nominations. [520]  During that period, the committee may call the appointee or nominee to appear before it, for a period not to exceed 10 sitting days, [521]  to answer questions respecting his or her qualifications and competence to perform the duties of the post to which he or she has been appointed or nominated. [522]  Committees are under no obligation to consider any of the Order-in-Council appointments or nominations which have been referred to them. [523] 

Upon written application from the clerk of a committee, the Minister’s office must provide the curriculum vitae of any Order-in-Council appointee or nominee to any post which falls within the mandate of that standing committee. [524] 

The scope of a committee’s examination of Order-in-Council appointees or nominees is strictly limited to the qualifications and competence to perform the duties of the post. [525]  Questioning by members of the committee may be interrupted by the Chair, if it attempts to deal with matters considered irrelevant to the committee’s inquiry. Among the areas usually considered to be outside the scope of the committee’s study are the political affiliation of the appointee or nominee, contributions to political parties and the nature of the nomination process itself. [526]  Any question may be permitted if it can be shown that it relates directly to the appointee’s or nominee’s ability to do the job.

A committee has no power to revoke an appointment or nomination and may only report that they have examined the appointee or nominee and give their judgement as to whether the candidate has the qualifications and competence to perform the duties of the post to which he or she has been appointed or nominated. [527] 

Subject-matter Studies

Most standing committees are empowered to study and report on any matter relating to the operations and policies of government departments assigned to them. These committee-initiated studies may be directed towards: the relevant statute law; departmental or agency objectives; immediate, medium-and long-term expenditure plans; evaluations of activity against stated objectives; and any other matter relating to departmental or agency mandates or operations. [528]  Certain standing committees, including standing joint committees, are accorded specific mandates to initiate studies in well-defined areas of responsibility outlined in the Standing Orders. [529] 

A number of committees have permanent orders of reference which give rise to subject-matter studies having particular effect. The Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations may present reports which initiate a procedure leading to the revocation of government regulations. [530]  The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs reports to the House on the selected items of Private Members’ Business that have been designated as votable. [531] 

As well, the House may strike a special committee [532]  or, with the Senate, a special joint committee [533]  to inquire into a particular subject matter. In such cases, the order of reference to the committee is usually included in the order which establishes the committee, although the House may refer additional matters to it at a later date.

The House may also refer specific matters to standing committees for consideration. [534]  In particular, the House may refer questions arising out of a complaint of breach of privilege to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. [535]  The Committee will then conduct an inquiry, calling for whatever witnesses and papers it deems appropriate. As with matters related to privilege which occur in any other committee, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has no power itself to deal with the matter directly by imposing sanctions of any kind. At the conclusion of its study, the Committee reports to the House, indicating whether, in its opinion, the complaint of breach of privilege was well founded. The Committee also stipulates what, if any, action it feels to be appropriate. [536]

A statute may also require subsequent review by a parliamentary committee of its provisions or operation, requiring the House to designate or establish a committee to carry out the review. [537] 

Committees sometimes hold hearings not for the purpose of preparing recommendations for the House but simply in order to stay informed with respect to an important topic within their mandate. [538]  In most cases, however, the committee will present a report to the House, outlining the evidence which it received, summarizing its deliberations and presenting its recommendations.

The actual conduct of a subject-matter study varies widely, depending on the topic and the approach selected by the committee. Typically, a committee will begin with a background briefing provided by the committee research staff or departmental officials. [539]  The committee will then invite testimony and briefs from interested parties. During the evidence-gathering phase, the committee may travel to broaden the range of witnesses heard and to visit sites and facilities relevant to the study. Following the gathering of evidence, the committee will provide drafting instructions to the staff assigned to prepare the report. Once the draft report has been circulated to members, the committee will meet to consider it and propose any alterations necessary to accurately reflect the committee’s views. Committees often consider draft reports at in camera meetings, [540]  but reports are also considered in public session. [541]  Once the committee has agreed to the final version of the report, it is presented to the House. [542]

Top of documentPrevious PageNext Page