Administrative Structures and Services

The House of Commons is one of three constituent elements of the Parliament of Canada.114 The other two elements are the Sovereign, represented in Canada by the Governor General, and the Senate. The House of Commons is not a department of the Government of Canada, although its administrative structure may be described as generally comparable to that of a government department. One of the privileges of the House is its right to independent regulation of its own internal affairs.115 The House may voluntarily adopt the administrative policies of the government as its own, but it cannot be compelled to do so, and it is also free to develop new policies and practices.116

The House Administration exists to support the activities of Members individually and collectively in their various roles as legislators in the House, in committees, and in international and interparliamentary affairs, as representatives of their constituents, and as members of their respective party caucuses. As well as serving Members elected for the duration of a Parliament, the Administration also serves the House as an institution.

In 1964, the administrative structure of the House of Commons was the subject of an important review which noted significant diversity in the nature, volume and complexity of House services and recommended an administrative reorganization.117 The origins of the modern administrative structure of the House may be traced to a major comprehensive audit carried out by the Auditor General in 1979 and 1980. In 1978, wishing to support a program of expenditure restraint undertaken by the government, Speaker Jerome asked the Standing Committee on Management and Members’ Services to suggest possible economy measures for the House.118 Out of this came a recommendation from the Committee for a complete and independent review of the administration of the House.119

At the Speaker’s request, the Auditor General reviewed the administration of the House of Commons, submitting an interim report in October 1979 and a final report early in 1981.120 The Auditor General noted that services to Members were of high quality; however, fundamental weaknesses and a number of significant deficiencies were identified.121 These findings led to a major realignment of the administrative structure of the House, which has continued to evolve to meet changing circumstances and demands. Another comprehensive audit undertaken by the Auditor General in 1990–91 found a greatly improved quality of general and financial administration.122 The Office of the Auditor General undertook a performance audit of the House of Commons Administration for the 2010–11 fiscal year. The audit focused on how well the House Administration carried out internal policies. It also reviewed the procedures in place that ensure that its objectives are met. The Auditor General concluded that the necessary policies were in place to support Members of Parliament.123 The audit also found that corporate human resource management framework and the information services policies and practices ensured the needs of Members and the Administration were well served.

The administrative structure of the House is not set out in any single text or piece of legislation. The organization required to support the activities of the House has evolved and developed over the years in response to the needs of an increasingly complex system of government. Provisions for various aspects of the administration are found in legislation,124 the Standing Orders,125 by-laws made by the Board of Internal Economy, internal policy manuals and in the unwritten practices developed over time.

Overall Authority of the Speaker

Elected by the Members of the House, the Speaker holds a position of authority and represents the Commons in all its powers, proceedings and dignity.126 The Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, and spokesperson for the House in its relations with the Sovereign, the Senate and other authorities outside Parliament. When in the chair, the Speaker is responsible for regulating debate and preserving order in accordance with the rules of the House.127

In addition to the more visible roles as representative of the House and presiding officer in the Chamber, the Speaker is at the head of the administration of the House of Commons and holds extensive responsibilities in that regard. The Speaker is responsible for the overall direction and management of the House of Commons administration,128 much as a Cabinet Minister is responsible for a department.

The House has a number of unique characteristics that have a direct impact on how it functions and is managed. As part of its corporate rights and privileges, the House of Commons, through the Speaker, holds exclusive jurisdiction over its premises and the people within. The administrative activities of the House are numerous and diverse. All matters of finance and administration are overseen by the Board of Internal Economy, a statutory body of Members of Parliament. The House is accommodated for the most part in heritage buildings, which are recognized national symbols. These and other characteristics inevitably produce a necessarily complex administrative decision-making process.

Board of Internal Economy

The Board of Internal Economy is the governing body of the House of Commons. It has a long statutory history, originating in 1868 with the passage of An Act respecting the internal Economy of the House of Commons, and for other purposes.129


The membership of the Board consists of the Speaker, who acts as its Chair, two Ministers of the Crown (appointed to the Board by the Governor in Council), the Leader of the Opposition or his or her representative, and additional Members appointed in numbers resulting in an overall equality of government and opposition representatives (apart from the Speaker), regardless of the composition of the House of Commons.130 All recognized opposition parties (i.e., those holding at least 12 seats in the House) are given representation on the Board. The Speaker informs the House of appointments no later than 15 sitting days after they are made.131 Each member of the Board is required to take an oath or affirmation “of fidelity and secrecy”, administered by the Clerk of the House.132

The Clerk of the House is the secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.133 When Parliament is dissolved, members of the Board retain their functions until they are replaced.134 This ensures continuity in the administrative leadership of the House; the practice has been that decisions taken by the Board while Parliament is dissolved are confined to those of a housekeeping nature.


Meetings of the Board of Internal Economy are chaired by the Speaker of the House. Five members, including the Speaker, constitute a quorum.135 In the event of the death, disability or absence of the Speaker, five members of the Board constitute a quorum; one must be a Minister. The members present then designate one of their number to chair the meeting.136

Mandate and Authority

The powers and authority of the Board flow from provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. Under the Parliament of Canada Act, the Board has legal authority to “act on all financial and administrative matters respecting the House of Commons, its premises, its services and its staff; and the Members of the House of Commons”.137 The Board examines and approves the annual budget estimates of the House before the Speaker transmits them to the President of the Treasury Board, who will then lay them before the House with the estimates of the government.138 All sums of money voted for the House by Parliament are released by order of the Board. In other words, the Board of Internal Economy manages all operating and administrative expenses of the House, including employee salaries and amounts payable to Members (for example their sessional allowances, travel and communications costs). In administrative matters, the Board is responsible for managing the premises, services and staff of the House as well as those goods, services and premises made available to Members to carry out their parliamentary functions.

Pursuant to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the Board approves and controls the budgetary expenditures of the committees of the House of Commons, and must cause to be tabled an annual financial report outlining the expenses incurred by each committee.139 The rules further require that when the Board has reached a decision concerning any budget presented to it, the Speaker shall lay upon the Table the record of the Board’s decision.140

In accordance with the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Board is deemed to be the employer of the staff of the House of Commons, as defined in the Act (the chief exception being Members’ staff, who are deemed to be employed by the Members).141 As employer, the Board approves rates of pay for unrepresented employees and authorizes officials of the House to negotiate the renewal of the collective agreements of unionized employees and ratifies such agreements.

Pursuant to the Standing Orders, two members of the Board (one government representative and one opposition representative) are designated to be responsible for answering any questions pertaining to the administration of the House which may be put during Question Period.142 These spokespersons may also respond to points of order in the House on behalf of the Board.143

By-laws and Decisions of the Board

The Board is authorized by the Parliament of Canada Act to make by-laws governing Members’ use of the funds, goods, services and premises made available to them. When the Board makes a by-law, it must be tabled in the House within 30 days of its making, or deposited with the Clerk if the House is not sitting.144

The Standing Orders require the Speaker to table at the beginning of each new session of Parliament a report of decisions of the Board of Internal Economy for the previous session.145 Early in the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994–97), a new practice was instituted whereby records of the Board’s decisions (typically in the form of minutes) are tabled in the House as soon as they have been approved by the Board.146 Since the Forty-First Parliament, the minutes have also been published online, and following an October 2013 announcement, the Board also set out measures to enhance disclosure of Members’ expenditures.147 In an ongoing trend towards transparency and accountability, the Board has increased public availability of the information and detail regarding Members and the institution.148 In addition, the Parliament of Canada Act was amended in 2017 to stipulate that all meetings of the Board of Internal Economy are to be open to the public, with certain exceptions.149

Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Some of the duties of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also deal with the administration of the House. The Committee’s mandate includes, among other things, reviewing and reporting to the House and to the Board of Internal Economy on issues concerning the management of the House and the provision of services and facilities to Members.150 Moreover, the Committee reviews the effectiveness and management of operations under the joint control of the House of Commons and the Senate, radio and television broadcasting and webcasting of proceedings of the House and its committees, and matters relating to the election of Members.151

In addition, the Committee considers the budgetary estimates of the House of Commons,152 as well as the main estimates of Elections Canada, and the annual report of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner pertaining to activities in relation to Members of Parliament.153

Office of the Clerk of the House

Members are supported in their parliamentary functions by services administered by the Clerk of the House154 who, as the chief executive of the House Administration, reports to the Speaker. The Clerk is appointed by Order in Council, following the referral of the name of the proposed appointee to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the ratification of the appointment by the House.155 The Clerk is the senior permanent official of the House. The Clerk advises and supports the Speaker, the House and its committees in all procedural and administrative matters, and acts as secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.156 The staff and administration of the House come under the control of the Clerk.157 The Standing Orders establishing the procedural and administrative functions of the Clerk have changed little since Confederation; however, the responsibilities of the office have evolved considerably as the administrative apparatus of the House has become more complex.

The Clerk is responsible for maintaining records of the proceedings of the House and for keeping custody of these records and other documents in the possession of the House.158 The Standing Orders also require the Clerk to provide the Speaker, prior to each sitting of the House, with the official agenda for the day’s proceedings, published under the title Order Paper and Notice Paper.159 This rule has traditionally been interpreted to mean that the Speaker must be in possession of the current Order Paper and Notice Paper in order for the day’s proceedings to begin.

All decisions of the House are authenticated by signature of the Clerk. At the beginning of a Parliament, the Clerk administers the oath of allegiance to all duly elected Members. The Clerk also administers an oath to Members joining the Board of Internal Economy.160 In addition, the Clerk is responsible for administering the oath of allegiance to all employees of the House Administration.161

Reporting to the Clerk are senior officials who are responsible for the various organizational units of the House Administration. They form an executive governing body called the Clerk’s Management Group, and assist the Clerk in his or her functions. Their main responsibilities include: setting strategic directions, priorities and expected results of the House of Commons administration; ensuring the necessary financial and human resources are available to carry out the Administration’s mandate; reviewing and/or approving all policies pertaining to the House of Commons Administration before they are submitted to the Board of Internal Economy for approval or information; and ensuring that the Administration complies with all policies or directives. Members of the Clerk’s Management Group include:

  • the Deputy Clerk,162 responsible for providing procedural advice, organizational support and services to the House of Commons, its committees and its international and interparliamentary activities. The Deputy Clerk is also responsible for the Parliamentary Press Gallery Secretariat;
  • the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel,163 responsible for providing legal counsel services to the Speaker, the Board of Internal Economy, Members, the Clerk and officials of the House of Commons Administration, along with legal and legislative counsel services to Members and committees of the House of Commons;
  • the Chief Information Officer, Information Services, responsible for providing real property and digital technology services, continuous delivery of operational services related to the broadcast of parliamentary events, and collaboration with stakeholders in the delivery, management and development of the plans for the rehabilitation of the parliamentary buildings and grounds under the LTVP;
  • the Chief Financial Officer, responsible for providing services pertaining to financial management as well as material and resource information management to the House of Commons;
  • the Chief Human Resources Officer, responsible for providing human resources services to the House of Commons;
  • the Director General, Parliamentary Precinct Operations, responsible for client and building support services, tenant operations, and printing services; and
  • the Sergeant-at-Arms,164 acts as the Corporate Security Officer165 and fulfills ceremonial Chamber duties.