Committee Lifespans

Each type of committee has its own lifespan. Standing and standing joint committees exist for the length of the parliamentary session, while legislative and special committees cease to exist in the course of a session once they complete the task that the House has entrusted to them. Two events arising from the parliamentary cycle can interrupt the activities of parliamentary committees: the prorogation and the dissolution of Parliament.132

Effect of Prorogation on Committees

During a Parliament, prorogation occurs when the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, issues a proclamation putting an end to a parliamentary session. Parliament then ceases to sit until the date set for the opening of the next session. Members are thus released from their parliamentary functions and most uncompleted business lapses.133

Because committees are creations of the House of Commons and have no independent existence, they are directly affected by prorogation. As soon as Parliament is prorogued, parliamentary committees (with certain exceptions) lose their orders of reference, mandates, powers and members,134 and all studies undertaken by committees lapse. Quite simply, committees cease to exist while Parliament is prorogued. As a result, they can neither sit nor report to the House.

Future meetings that have been announced are cancelled. Studies and other activities undertaken by a committee or entrusted to it by the House—whether the consideration of a bill or estimates or the review of a government appointment—automatically cease. Committee orders, if any, for the appearance of witnesses or the production of papers become null and void. Motions before a committee on which debate has been adjourned lapse, as do all notices of motions received. Draft reports that have not been presented to the House are not considered any further. The only aspect of a committee’s work that survives prorogation is a request for a government response to a report already presented to the House by that committee.135

All budgets required for committee operations136 are frozen once all financial obligations have been paid, and no new financial obligations may be undertaken. Service contracts with non-parliamentary personnel expire automatically five calendar days after prorogation or dissolution.137

Effect of Dissolution on Committees

Dissolution occurs when the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, issues a proclamation putting an end to the current Parliament, which triggers a general election.

Upon dissolution, all business before committees is terminated and all committees, without exception, cease to exist until the House reconstitutes them following the election. The effect of dissolution upon committees is essentially the same as that of prorogation, although the government is no longer required to provide comprehensive responses to committee reports.

Archiving of Committee Records

At the conclusion of each parliamentary session, committee clerks, who are the administrative and procedural officers of the committees, prepare their committees’ archives, incorporating into them such items as Minutes of Proceedings, correspondence, briefs and any other official document received. The committees’ permanent records are archived at Library and Archives Canada under a formal agreement between Library and Archives Canada and the House of Commons.138

Archived committee documents are publicly available, with the exception of those that are deemed confidential. Confidential documents, which are for the exclusive use of the members and staff of the committee during the session, include transcripts and other documents from in camera meetings, as well as any other document the committee categorizes as such. They are to be kept as secret records by Library and Archives Canada for a period of 30 years from the end of the session in which they were received.

Resuming Proceedings in a New Session

Certain specific conditions must be met to continue with a study begun during a previous session or Parliament. First, the committee concerned must be re-established. In the case of standing and standing joint committees, this poses no difficulty because their existence is automatically provided for under the Standing Orders. In the case of special139 and legislative140 committees, however, the House (with the Senate in the case of a special joint committee) must agree to re-create them. The same applies to subcommittees: they must be re-established by the House or the main committee concerned.141 Finally, committees must be constituted; that is, they must be assigned members and a Chair must be chosen.

Standing and standing joint committees that wish to resume a study they initiated themselves can do so by adopting a motion to this effect.142 If the study originally arose from a matter referred to the committee by the House (e.g. a bill, estimates, an appointment), the committee will have to wait for the matter to be referred to it again. A legislative committee resumes consideration of a bill when the committee is re-established by the House in the new session and the bill is referred to it once again. In the case of special committees and subcommittees, their studies are normally reinstated de facto in the motion that reconstitutes them.143

If occasion arises and they consider it appropriate, committees that have the power to do so may readopt orders for the appearance of witnesses or the production of papers. It is quite common for the House or a committee to adopt an order stating that evidence heard and papers received in a preceding parliamentary session be taken into consideration in the new session.144 This is normally done in order to complete studies that have not yet been reported on to the House.

During a new parliamentary session, committees can review draft substantive reports not completed at the end of the previous session. Some will decide to readopt substantive reports or portions of substantive reports that they presented to the House in a previous session.145 This applies primarily in the case of standing committees that have been prevented by dissolution from obtaining the government response they had requested to their reports.