House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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Chairs and Vice-Chairs

Role of Chairs

The Chair of a committee is responsible for recognizing members and witnesses who seek the floor and ensuring that any rules established by the committee concerning the apportioning of speaking time are respected. Furthermore, the Chair is also responsible for maintaining order in committee proceedings. However, the Chair does not have the power to censure disorder or decide questions of privilege; this can only be done by the House upon receiving a report from the committee. [228] 

As the presiding officer of the committee, the Chair does not move motions. Furthermore, the Chair does not vote, except in two situations: when a committee is considering a private bill, the Chair may vote like all other members of the committee; and, in all cases where there is an equality of votes, the Chair has a casting vote.

Reports to the House from the committee are signed by the Chair, who must ensure that the text presented in the House is the one agreed to by the committee. Committee reports to the House are usually presented by the Chair. [229]  During the Oral Question Period in the House, a committee Chair may respond to questions, provided they deal with the proceedings or schedule of the committee and not the substance of its work. [230] 

Any Member of the House may be asked to chair a committee, provided that, for all committees except legislative committees, he or she is a member of that committee. The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker have chaired a variety of committees on matters related to the House. [231]  The Deputy Speaker has also been called upon, as an ex officio member of the Panel of Chairmen, to chair legislative committees. [232]  Ministers, [233]  party leaders and independent Members [234]  do not normally serve on committees and, hence, do not act as Chairs.

Chairs of standing and special committees also often assume a leadership role in planning and co-ordinating the committee’s work and in conducting its investigations.

The Chairs of standing committees (and House Joint Chairs of standing joint committees) are ex officio members of the Liaison Committee, responsible for the allocation of funds to standing committees. [235] 

Chairs of legislative committees have a role analogous to the Chair of Committees of the Whole House. Selected from the all-party Panel of Chairmen by the Speaker, they preside without participating in the debate on substantive issues. This need for impartiality was cited by both the Lefebvre and the McGrath Committees as the justification for establishing the Panel of Chairmen for legislative committees. [236]  Some legislative committee Chairs have cited this principle of impartiality as grounds for abstaining from votes in the House on the bill they were to preside over in committee. [237]  Unlike the Chairs of other committees, the Chair of a legislative committee is not considered a member of the committee and is not counted as part of a quorum. [238] 

The Chair of a sub-committee has the same role as the Chair of the main committee. By practice, the Chair of the main committee serves as Chair of the sub-committee on agenda and procedure (the steering committee).

Role of Vice-Chairs

The Vice-Chairs of committees serve as replacements, presiding over meetings when the Chair is unable to attend. All of the Chair’s powers can be delegated to the Vice-Chair, but the Vice-Chair cannot preside over a committee meeting while the office of Chair is vacant. [239]  Normally, Vice-Chairs also serve as members of the sub-committee on agenda and procedure.

Acting Chairs

In the absence of the Chair and the Vice-Chairs of a committee, an Acting Chair must be chosen to preside over a committee meeting. With the committee’s consent, the Chair of a standing or special committee will often designate a member to act as Chair. Where no Acting Chair has been designated, the clerk of the committee presides over the election of an Acting Chair at the beginning of the meeting. The Chair of a legislative committee is empowered by Standing Order to designate a member of the committee as an Acting Chair. [240]  An Acting Chair has all of the powers and duties of the Chair while presiding but has no power to convene meetings of the committee or to preside when the office of Chair is vacant.

Election of the Chair and the Vice-Chair

The election of a committee Chair is the first order of a committee’s business. Chairs and Vice-Chairs are elected at the beginning of a session and, as necessary, during the course of a session. The election of the Chair, presided over by the clerk of the committee, proceeds by way of a motion, rather than the balloting procedure employed to elect the Speaker of the House. [241]  Where several different motions are proposed, the clerk may take those proposed after the initial motion as notices of motion. [242]  The motions are put to the committee seriatim until one of the motions is adopted. Only a regular member of the committee may be proposed for the position of Chair, but the member nominated need not be present at the meeting. When a committee Chair is elected in absentia, the clerk immediately proceeds to the election of an Acting Chair, who presides over the remainder of the meeting. [243] 

When a motion for the election of a Chair is made, the clerk will first ask if the committee agrees to the nominating motion and will, if necessary, call for the “yeas” and “nays”. Members are free to request that the vote be a recorded vote, that is, that the names of those voting for or against the nominating motion be recorded in the minutes. [244]  On occasion, committees have had recourse to a secret ballot. [245]  This is done only when the committee members express a unanimous desire to proceed in this manner. [246]  As the meeting is called pursuant to Standing Order for the sole purpose of electing a Chair, and since the committee is not properly constituted until the Chair has been selected, the clerk who presides over the election has no authority to hear points of order or to entertain any motion except that for the election of a Chair, not even a motion to establish the manner in which the committee wishes to proceed with that election. As well, in the event of a tie vote, the clerk does not have a casting vote.

If no motion proposing a member for the position of Chair is adopted, no other business can be transacted. When an impasse is evident, the members disperse and must be reconvened by the clerk at a later time, with the election of a Chair remaining their first order of business. [247] 

In the event of resignation or removal of the Chair from the committee, a new Chair must be elected before the committee can take up other business. [248]  This parallels proceedings in the House, where a vacancy in the office of Speaker necessitates the immediate election of a new Speaker before any other matter can be considered. [249]  Where the Chair announces his or her resignation as Chair at a committee meeting, the committee proceeds immediately to the election of a new Chair. [250] 

A standing committee must meet to elect a Chair within 10 days of concurrence in the Procedure and House Affairs Committee’s report establishing the committee membership. [251]  This normally occurs at the beginning of each session and following the presentation of the new membership report in September. Elections are held after the September report, whether or not there has been any change in committee membership. [252] 

Each standing committee elects a Chair and two Vice-Chairs of whom two must be government members and the third a member of the opposition. [253]  While the Standing Orders do not require it, the practice has been that the opposition member is from the Official Opposition. [254]  As well, the Chairs of standing committees have traditionally been government members, with the exception of the Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts [255]  and the House Joint Chair of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, [256]  both of which elect Chairs from the Official Opposition. [257] 

The Chair of the committee (or, in the Chair’s absence, the Acting Chair) presides over the election of the Vice-Chairs. Where a committee is electing two Vice-Chairs, one from the government party and one from the opposition, there is no set order in which the elections must be held, and each committee is free to arrange its own proceedings. When a secret ballot is requested for the election of a Vice-Chair, the decision is made by adopting or rejecting a motion to that effect. As the committee is, with the election of the Chair, properly constituted, any decisions made with respect to the manner of proceeding are decided by a majority vote of the committee. [258]  If a Vice-Chair is elected in absentia, it is not necessary to proceed to the election of an Acting Vice-Chair. [259] 

The Panel of Chairmen for legislative committees is established at the beginning of each session and is composed of 12 members named by the Speaker in proportion to the party standings in the House, along with the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole House, the Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole House and the Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole House. [260]  Unlike the practice with respect to standing and special committees, the Chair of a legislative committee may be a member of any of the parties in the House. [261]  The designation of the Chair by the Speaker, rather than his or her election by the committee, assists the Chair of a legislative committee in acting as a neutral arbitrator of the proceedings. [262]  The Speaker selects the Chair of a legislative committee once the membership of the committee has been established. [263]  Legislative committees do not elect Vice-Chairs. When a replacement for the Chair is necessary at a given meeting, the Chair will designate a committee member to act in that capacity for the meeting. [264] 

Chairs of special committees are elected following the procedure used in standing committees.&bnsp;[265]  This election takes place as the first order of business at the initial meeting of the committee, convened by the clerk for that purpose. [266] 

In standing joint committees, two Joint Chairs are elected, one from each House. The Senate Joint Chair is elected first, followed by the Joint Chair of the House of Commons. The election of each Chair is presided over by the Joint Clerk from the respective House. All committee members are entitled to vote on the motions for the Joint Chairs from each House. [267]  The Joint Chairs of special joint committees are elected following the procedure used in standing joint committees. [268] 

The practice with respect to the election of Vice-Chairs is variable in joint committees: they may choose not to have any Vice-Chairs, to elect one only, or to elect two, who may either be from one or both Houses. [269]  In standing joint committees, when the House Joint Chair is a member of the government party, the committee usually chooses a member from the Official Opposition in the House as Vice-Chair. The opposite also holds true. For example, in the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, where the House Joint Chair is traditionally from the Official Opposition, a government member from the House is usually elected as Vice-Chair. [270]  Special joint committees rarely elect Vice-Chairs. [271] 

In establishing sub-committees, the main committee may either designate a Chair in the initial order of reference [272]  or allow the members of the sub-committee to elect the Chair themselves. [273]  While most sub-committees are chaired by government members, Chairs have been selected among members of the opposition, [274]  including parties other than the Official Opposition. [275]  Given the small size of their membership and their limited mandates, sub-committees do not usually find it necessary to elect Vice-Chairs. [276] 


In the event that the elected Chair of a committee resigns or is for any reason unable to carry out his or her duties, the committee must proceed to elect a new Chair as its first order of business. As the committee ceases to be properly constituted until a new Chair has been selected, the election is presided over by the clerk of the committee. The Vice-Chair has no role to play in the election of a new Chair. When a Vice-Chair is elected Chair of a committee, he or she resigns from the office of Vice-Chair. [277] 

In the case of the resignation of a Chair who has been designated either by the Speaker (in the case of a legislative committee) or by the House (in the case of some special committees), a new Chair must be designated before the committee can continue with its work. [278] 

The Chair of a committee presides over any election necessitated by the resignation of a Vice-Chair. [279] 

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