Committee Membership, Leadership and Staff

To ensure the success of their work, committees count on the participation of their key players, in other words, their members. Guidance of the work is mainly in the hands of its leadership, that is, the Chair, and if any, the Vice-Chairs. To assist committees in organizing and completing studies and projects, staff from the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament are made available to committees by the administrations of the two organizations.


The number of members varies depending on the type of committee. There are three basic types of members: regular members, non-voting members (applicable to Parliamentary Secretaries) and, in the case of standing and standing joint committees only, associate members.

Members and Associate Members

Status of Members, Associate Members and Non-Members

The status of member of a committee is accorded to Members of the House of Commons who belong officially to that committee as appointed by the House. This status allows them to participate fully in their committee’s proceedings. Members may move motions,398 vote and be counted for purposes of a quorum.399 They may also submit notices of motion if their committee requires such notice. Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries cannot be regular members of a committee.400

The Chief Government Whip may designate one or more Parliamentary Secretaries as non-voting members of a committee by filing a notification with the clerk of the committee in question. This status gives them all the rights and privileges of a committee member, aside from the right to vote, move any motion or be part of any quorum.401

Standing and standing joint committees also have associate members. Associate members may be named to subcommittees and may act as substitutes for regular committee members who are unable to attend a committee meeting.402 When Members serve on subcommittees or as substitutes for regular members, they enjoy all the rights of regular members:403 they are counted for purposes of a quorum; they may participate in debate; they may move motions and vote; and, if required, they may submit a notice of motion. The use of associate members on subcommittees helps to reduce the workload of regular members.

The Standing Orders provide that any Member, whether affiliated with a political party or sitting as an independent, may take part in the public proceedings of any committee of which he or she is not a member, unless the House or the committee in question orders otherwise.404 The Standing Orders specifically exclude a non-member from voting, moving motions or being counted for purposes of a quorum.405

Committees often adopt a routine motion that governs the process and time allotted for committee members to question witnesses.406 A non-member is able to participate in such proceedings if a committee member chooses to share his or her time for questioning.407 Alternatively, a committee could decide to suspend temporarily its routine motion and agree to give time to a non-member during the questioning of witnesses.408

With the exception of joint committees, the Standing Orders do not provide for the participation of Senators in meetings of committees of the House of Commons.409

Establishing Committee Membership

Committees cannot take up the responsibilities assigned to them until their members have been named.410 It is the House, and the House alone, that appoints the members and associate members of its committees, as well as the Members who will represent it on joint committees. The Speaker has ruled that this is a fundamental right of the House.411 The committees themselves have no powers at all in this regard.412

In the vast majority of cases, the House sets the number, or the maximum number, of members for each committee. The number of members to be selected from each of the recognized parties is the subject of negotiation among the parties at the beginning of each Parliament. The resulting agreement is not set down in the Standing Orders, but is reflected in the composition of each committee, which generally reflects the proportions of the various recognized parties in the House.413

The House has adopted committee membership mechanisms that enable it to rely largely on the recognized political parties to prepare the lists of members and associate members. As a result, an independent Member rarely sits on a committee unless a recognized political party allots him or her one of its seats.414

Members may belong to more than one committee, as either regular or associate members. Current practice normally excludes from committee membership those who have other parliamentary functions, such as the Speaker415 and the other Chair Occupants,416 and the leaders of recognized parties.417 Ministers, including the Prime Minister,418 cannot serve on or act as a substitute on any committee.419 Until recently, Parliamentary Secretaries were normally regular members of the standing committees that had a mandate in their area of responsibility, but this changed at the commencement of the Forty-Second Parliament and led to the creation of the status of non-voting member.420

Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

For assistance in determining the membership of many of its committees, the House uses its Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as a striking committee, that is, to prepare lists of members for standing, legislative and sometimes special committees.421 The lists are then reported to the House for approval. As a result of the Committee’s key role, there is a special procedure for appointing its members.422 At the start of the first session of a Parliament,423 the Government House Leader normally moves a motion424 to appoint the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.425 The members of the Committee continue in this capacity from session to session throughout the life of a Parliament. At its first meeting, following the election of its Chair, the Committee usually decides to delegate to the Whips of the recognized parties the authority to prepare lists of committee members and associate members for proposal to the House.426

Standing and Standing Joint Committees

The Standing Orders specify the number of members to sit on standing committees.427 The Standing Orders do not fix the number of representatives of the Commons on standing joint committees, but they do require the House to appoint enough Members to reflect the proportional relationship between the two Houses of Parliament.428 This relationship is roughly one-third (Senate) to two-thirds (House of Commons). The number of members on each standing joint committee varies from session to session depending on the number of Senators and Members that the two Houses of Parliament appoint to them.

Within the first 10 sitting days following its appointment at the beginning of a Parliament, and thereafter, within the first 10 sitting days after the commencement of each session,429 the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs must report to the House a list of members for standing committees and of the Members who will sit on standing joint committees.430

The list of members of standing committees and standing joint committees431 takes effect when the House concurs in the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.432 Until the report has been concurred in, any previous memberships approved by the House during the session remain in effect.433

The Standing Orders also give the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs responsibility for drawing up a list of associate members.434 They set no limit on the number of associate members per committee, nor do they set a deadline for presenting the House with a list of associate members. For practical reasons, the Committee usually reports this list to the House at the same time as its list of regular members. Here again, the list of associate members takes effect only when it has been concurred in by the House.435

Legislative Committees

Within five sitting days after the start of debate in the House on a motion to establish a legislative committee or to refer a bill to one, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs must meet to draw up a list of no more than 15 members for the legislative committee.436 The list must be reported to the House no later than the Thursday following the Committee’s first meeting on that matter, and the report is deemed concurred in upon presentation.437 The membership list, which is then in effect, does not include the Chair of the committee, who is named separately by the Speaker.438

Special Committees and Special Joint Committees

The Standing Orders provide that special committees shall have no more than 15 members.439 The membership of special committees may be established in several ways: the order of reference establishing a special committee may include the names of its members;440 the members may be appointed separately by order of the House;441 or the order of reference establishing the special committee may contain an instruction to a striking committee442 or the Whips of the recognized parties to prepare and bring in a list of names of Members.443 The report from a striking committee must be concurred in by the House for it to come into effect.

In the case of special joint committees, the list of Members who will represent the Commons may be included in the order of reference that establishes the committee.444 The members may also be appointed later, either by the adoption of a motion of the House445 or by concurrence in a report from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.446 The House typically informs the Senate which Members will represent it, either by way of a message or by communicating the original order of reference (if it contains the membership list).447 Unlike special Commons committees, the number of members on special joint committees is not limited; it can be whatever the two Houses prefer. By practice, the number of Members appointed to a special joint committee reflects the relative proportions of the Senate and the House of Commons.


The membership of a subcommittee is usually determined by the main committee. Members of subcommittees may be named directly as part of the order of reference agreed to by the main committee,448 but more often the main committee simply states in the order of reference the number of Members per recognized political party who will make up the subcommittee. It lets the Whips designate the Members belonging to their parties who will be regular members of the subcommittee.449 The membership of the subcommittee is complete once the Whips have designated their members. In some cases, the main committee will use a combination of these two methods.450 The House itself may also name the members of a subcommittee.451

The members of a subcommittee may be selected from the regular members of the main committee, or from the list of associate members in the case of a subcommittee of a standing or standing joint committee.452 The House or the main committee ultimately decides the number of members for a given subcommittee; the Standing Orders impose no limit in this regard.453

The membership of a subcommittee need not necessarily reflect the proportions of party membership either on the main committee or in the House itself. For example, when committees have agreed to establish subcommittees on agenda and procedure (steering committees), their memberships have varied considerably to suit individual committees’ needs. Typically, the steering committee of a standing committee consists of the main committee’s Chair, its two Vice-Chairs and two other members of the government party.454 The steering committee of a legislative committee usually consists of the Chair and a representative of each of the parties.

Changes in Membership

Members of the House who are appointed to committees as regular or associate members retain this status until the House, or a mechanism authorized by the House,455 designates replacements for them (in the case of regular members) or removes them from the list (in the case of associate members).456 This applies even when Members can no longer carry out their functions on a committee (for example, in the event of a Member’s death or resignation from the House),457 no longer wish to do so (for example, because of a change in the portfolio they have been given by their party), or cease to be members of the recognized party which they were appointed to represent.458

Changes regarding Parliamentary Secretaries appointed as non-voting members of a standing, special or legislative committee are made following the same process as their initial appointment.

Standing and Standing Joint Committees

When a Member wishes to resign from a standing committee or a standing joint committee, the Member would usually inform their party Whip or write to the Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs;459 the resignation takes effect when a report of the Committee naming a replacement has been concurred in by the House. In the case of Members who die or resign their seats, their party Whip will ensure that the necessary replacements are arranged.

Members who would like to be added to or removed from the list of associate members of a given committee inform their Whip, who takes the necessary steps.460

Any change to the lists of members and associate members is done via a report to the House by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In the case of changes to the list of regular members, the report indicates the name(s) of the Member(s) being replaced and the new Member(s) being appointed. If changes are being suggested to the list of associate members, the Committee will report additions to or removals from that list. In all cases, changes take effect when the House concurs in the Committee’s report.461

Legislative Committees

Changes in the membership of legislative committees are effective immediately after a notification of a change is signed by the Chief Whip of the appropriate party and filed with the clerk of the committee.462 The notification indicates the names both of the Member being removed from the committee and of the replacement.

Special and Special Joint Committees

Changes in the membership of special committees and in the list of Members sitting on special joint committees are normally done by a special order of the House or by using the mechanisms set out in the initial order of reference creating the committee.463


A main committee may modify the membership of one of its subcommittees if it appointed the subcommittee’s members, but not if the House has done so.464 If the members of the subcommittee were named in the motion creating the subcommittee, the main committee must adopt another motion providing for the permanent replacement of some members by others. If the initial motion left it up to the Whips of the recognized parties to designate members, changes to the membership list may be made by the Whips, who then inform the clerk of the subcommittee.465 Motions creating a subcommittee often designate officers of the main committee (Chair, Vice-Chairs) as members of the subcommittee.466 If other Members assume these leadership functions in the course of the session, they automatically become members of the subcommittee without further formal action.


Status of Substitutes

It is generally accepted that Members who have been appointed to a committee are required to attend its meetings.467 However, this may not be possible on occasion. When members of some types of committee are unable to attend its meetings, they can be replaced by designated substitutes. While a substitution is in effect, the substitute enjoys the same rights and privileges as the regular committee member whom he or she is replacing.468 Substitutes are counted for purposes of establishing a quorum, and they may move motions (including those of which the member they are replacing has given notice469), participate in debate, and vote. Substitutes may also give notice, if the committee requires this, of motions that the member they are replacing, or another substitute for that member, may move at a later meeting.470

Substitutes for members who are officers of the committee (for example, its Chair or Vice-Chair) do not, however, assume the prerogatives or responsibilities related to these positions.

At meetings, the very principle of substitution means that it may occur only when the substituted member is absent from the meeting. Thus, a member who is called upon to appear as a witness before a committee of which he or she is a member retains his or her right to participate and vote during the meeting and may not be substituted by another member while present.471 A member acting as a substitute during a meeting who appears as a witness also retains his or her right to participate and vote.472

Methods of Designating Substitutes
Standing and Standing Joint Committees

The Standing Orders provide for the temporary replacement, by designated substitutes, of members of standing or standing joint committees who are unable to participate in a committee meeting.473

Substitutions are usually in effect when the Chief Whip of the recognized party to which the Member belongs files a signed substitution form with the committee clerk.474 For the purpose of substitution, Whips may select any Member belonging to their party, except a Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary who is a non-voting member of the same committee.475 They may also select one of the independent Members, if any, listed as associate members of the committee.476

Independent Members who are regular members of a committee usually occupy a spot traditionally reserved for a Member belonging to one of the recognized parties; therefore, that Member can be substituted only on the initiative of the Chief Whip of the recognized party in question. Independent Members who are associate members may act as a substitute for the party that placed them on the list of associate members.477

Ordinarily, substitutions are limited to one day at a time (the day the committee plans to meet). In most cases, a substitution takes effect from the time the committee clerk receives the notice until the end of the meeting or meetings held on the date indicated in the notice, or until the regular member arrives.478 More than one notice of substitution for the same regular member may be filed successively with the committee clerk on a day when the committee is meeting, in which case the notice received last automatically replaces the earlier one.

Legislative Committees

Since 2017, substitutions in the membership of legislative committees can be made following the same process as the membership of standing or standing joint committees.479 Previously, the Standing Orders did not provide a mechanism for substitutions on legislative committees. Instead, a member of a legislative committee who was temporarily unable to carry out his or her duties had to use the procedure established for changing the membership of a legislative committee.

Special and Special Joint Committees

Substitutions are permitted on special committees and special joint committees only when authorized in their order of reference and only in the manner stipulated in that order. The House has permitted substitutions on special committees in a manner similar to that used by standing committees.480 It has also permitted special committee membership to be changed on signed notification by a Chief Whip, as is done for legislative committees.481


The substitution mechanisms for subcommittees depend on the type of main committee to which they are attached. For example, the members of subcommittees of standing committees and the Members who sit on subcommittees of a standing joint committee may be substituted following the same procedure applicable to their main committee.

Standing, Special and Legislative Committees: Parliamentary Secretaries

The process for substituting Parliamentary Secretaries appointed as non-voting members is the same for all types of committees. The Chief Government Whip may substitute one Parliamentary Secretary for another by filing a notification with the clerk of the committee. The change is effective immediately. Parliamentary Secretaries can substitute for regular members on any committee unless they are already non-voting members of that committee.482

Participation by Non-Parliamentarians

In the past, some committees have allowed people who were neither Members of the House nor Senators to participate in certain committee studies. These individuals, who represented groups specifically targeted by the studies, were permitted to put questions to witnesses and participate in deliberations and the drafting of reports. They were not permitted to move motions or vote, nor could they be counted for purposes of a quorum.483

Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Acting Chairs

Roles of Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Acting Chairs

Role of Chairs

The Chair is a key figure on any committee.484 Chairs are so important that, when a committee does not have one, it is not considered properly constituted. It can undertake no work or other activities, and cannot exercise any of its powers.

Committee Chairs have procedural, administrative and representative responsibilities.

Procedural Responsibilities

Chairs preside over committee meetings and oversee committee work. They recognize the Members, witnesses and other people who wish to speak at these meetings; as in the House, all remarks are addressed to the Chair. They ensure that any rules established by the committee, including those on the apportioning of speaking time, are respected. They are responsible for maintaining order and decorum in committee proceedings, and rule on any procedural matter that arises, subject to an appeal to the committee.485

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 together with other members of the committee; and when there is an equality of voices (a tie), the Chair has the casting vote.486

Administrative Responsibilities

Committee Chairs have considerable administrative responsibilities, starting with those involving the committee’s program of activities. In compliance with instructions from the committee or an order from the House, the Chair:

  • calls committee meetings;487
  • decides on the agenda for the meeting;
  • cancels scheduled meetings or modifies agendas if an unexpected development makes this necessary and there is no committee meeting before the meeting that needed to be cancelled or have its agenda modified;488
  • usually presides over the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, if there is one; and
  • works closely with committee staff to ensure that the committee’s work goals are achieved.

Chairs are also key figures in a committee’s financial administration. They:

  • submit budget requests approved by their committee to the Liaison Committee or the Board of Internal Economy;489
  • manage the budgets allocated to their committee, in conjunction with the committee clerk;
  • are members of the Liaison Committee;490
  • sign service contracts with personnel hired from outside the Parliamentary Precinct, as approved by their committee; and
  • sign the committee’s financial documents, including those incurring expenses and paying bills.491 Chairs may partially delegate this authority to the committee clerk.
Representative Responsibilities

Committee Chairs also have certain representative responsibilities for their committee. Committee reports are signed by the Chair, to certify that their content reflects the committee’s decisions.492 Chairs normally present the reports to the House as well.493

Important correspondence from the committee is signed by its Chair, whose name also appears in the committee’s press releases. Chairs participate in official press conferences held by their committee. They are the committee’s main spokesperson with other parliamentarians,494 the media and civil society. During Oral Questions in the House, a committee Chair may answer questions, provided these deal with the committee’s agenda or schedule and not with the substance of its work.495

Within the Parliamentary Precinct, committee Chairs may have to represent their committee in making budget submissions, obtaining special leave from the House or welcoming delegations from other Parliaments. Outside the Parliamentary Precinct, when a committee travels, its Chair acts as head of the delegation.

Role of Vice-Chairs

Vice-Chairs usually preside over meetings, or parts of meetings, when the Chair is absent.496 When they preside, they have the same authority as the Chairs for maintaining order and decorum.497 The practice is that a committee’s first Vice-Chair is called upon first to replace its Chair, and that the second Vice-Chair, if one exists, is called upon to replace the Chair if the first Vice-Chair is not present in the absence of the Chair.498

Vice-Chairs are usually members of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, if their committee has one. Occasionally they may play a role outside committee meetings, at the request of the Chair. They may present a committee report in the House, for example, or appear before the Liaison Committee to defend a budget submission. In the Chair’s absence they may also answer oral questions in the House about the committee’s schedule or proceedings.499 However, a Vice-Chair has no administrative or representative responsibility, such as convening or cancelling meetings, unless he or she is acting on the instruction of the Chair.

Vice-Chairs cannot fulfill any responsibilities or perform any other function while the office of Chair is vacant.

Role of Acting Chairs

In the absence of the Chair and Vice-Chairs of a committee, an Acting Chair must be chosen to preside over a committee meeting.500 With the committee’s consent, the Chair of a standing or special committee may designate a member to act as Chair at a given meeting if it is known in advance that the Chair and the Vice-Chairs will not be attending.501 Where no Acting Chair has been designated, the committee clerk must preside over the election of an Acting Chair before the committee can begin its work.502

When he or she is unable to act in that capacity at or during a meeting, the Chair of a legislative committee is empowered by the Standing Orders to designate a member of the committee as an Acting Chair.503 The Chair’s designation of a replacement is notified to the clerk of the committee in writing, who in turn informs the committee at the meeting concerned.

An Acting Chair has the same authority as the Chair for maintaining order and decorum. No Acting Chair may be designated when the office of Chair is vacant.

Methods of Designation

As shown in figure 20.3, “Methods of Designating Chairs and Vice-Chairs by Type of Committee”, the methods of designating Chairs and Vice-Chairs vary depending on the type of committee. In most cases, they are elected by the members of the committee, but others are, or may be, chosen by third parties (the House, the Speaker, the main committee in the case of a subcommittee). Some committees have Vice-Chair positions, some do not, depending on the Standing Orders or an order from the House. In some cases, the decision whether or not to have Vice-Chairs is up to the committee.

Figure 20.3 Methods of Designating Chairs and Vice-Chairs by Type of Committee

Committee Type

Method of Designation

Standing Committee

  • Elected by the committee members

Standing Joint Committee

  • Elected by the committee members

Legislative Committee

  • The Chair is selected by the Speaker from among the members of the Panel of Chairs. The Panel is established at the beginning of each session and is composed of as many as 12 members proportionately representing all recognized parties, along with the:
    • Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole;
    • Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole; and
    • Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole
  • No Vice-Chairs

Special Committee

  • Elected by the committee members
  • May be named by the House in a special order

Special Joint Committee

  • Elected by the committee members
  • May be named by the House and the Senate in a special order


  • May be named by the members of the main committee in an order of reference. If the main committee has not provided any direction on this issue, the Chair is elected from among the members of the subcommittee
  • Normally, no Vice-Chairs

Any Member of the House may serve as the Chair or the Vice-Chair of a committee, provided that, for all committees except legislative committees, the Member is a member of that committee and belongs to the appropriate party as specified in the Standing Orders.504 Ministers,505 party leaders and independent Members506 do not normally sit on committees and therefore do not usually act as Chairs or Vice-Chairs. The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker have chaired a variety of committees studying matters related to the House.507 As ex officio members of the Panel of Chairs, Chair Occupants have been called on to chair legislative committees.508

Standing and Standing Joint Committees

The Standing Orders provide for the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of standing and standing joint committees to be elected by all members of the committee.509

At the beginning of each session of Parliament, within 10 sitting days following concurrence by the House in the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs establishing the membership of the standing committees and the list of Members representing the House on standing joint committees, the Clerk of the House convenes meetings of each committee to elect a Chair.510 The only item on the announced agenda for these organization meetings is the election of the Chair. Committee members must be given 48-hours’ notice of the meeting.511

The Standing Orders require that each standing and standing joint committee elect a Chair and two Vice-Chairs at the beginning of each session.512 While committees usually take advantage of the organization meeting to elect their Vice-Chairs,513 they may decide to postpone those elections to a later meeting.

The Standing Orders also require standing and standing joint committees to elect their Chairs and Vice-Chairs “if necessary” during a session. This is required when a vacancy arises in the offices of Chair or Vice-Chairs. In such cases, the committee holds only the election necessary to fill the vacancy.514

To be eligible for the office of Chair or Vice-Chair, a Member must meet two conditions. First, the Member must be a regular member of the committee;515 second, the Member must be from the political party prescribed in the Standing Orders for the office in question. For the vast majority of standing committees, the Chair must be a Member of the government party, the first Vice-Chair a Member of the Official Opposition, and the second Vice-Chair a Member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition party.516 However, there are special provisions for four standing committees and one standing joint committee. In the case of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts,517 the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, and the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations,518 the Standing Orders require that the Chair (or Joint Chair) be a Member of the Official Opposition, the first Vice-Chair a Member of the government party, and the second Vice-Chair a Member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition party.

The committee clerk presides over the election in all cases but may not take part in debate with committee members or hear points of order or questions of privilege.519 In fact, the clerk may not entertain any motions except those concerning the election of a Member to an office.

Before proceeding with the election, the clerk must determine that there is a quorum. If all offices are to be filled at the meeting, the clerk begins with the election of a Chair. Following the election of the Chair, the committee may agree to proceed to the election of the first and second Vice-Chairs, in that order. In standing joint committees, two Joint Chairs are elected, one from each House. The Senate Joint Chair is elected first, followed by the Commons Joint Chair. The election of each Joint Chair is presided over by the Joint Clerk from the respective House. All committee members, whether they are Senators or Members of the House of Commons, are entitled to vote for the Joint Chairs from each House.520

For each office to be filled, the clerk invites members to make motions proposing the election of a particular member to the office in question.521 When members have no further nominations to propose, the clerk calls for a vote. If there is only one candidate for the office, the motion is agreed to or negatived (if there is a tie or a majority of “nays”) by the committee members.522 If there is more than one candidate, the Standing Orders require that the election be conducted by secret ballot as follows:523

  • The committee clerk first announces the candidates to the committee members and then provides a ballot paper to each member who is eligible to vote.
  • The members print the first and last name of the candidate whom they support on the ballot paper, which they then deposit in the box provided.
  • The committee clerk counts the ballots and announces the name of the candidate who received the majority of the votes. If no candidate received a majority of the votes, a second ballot is taken, the name of the candidate who received the fewest votes having been dropped from the ballot. Balloting continues in this manner until a candidate receives a majority of the votes.

The Standing Orders require the clerk to destroy the ballots and to refrain from divulging the number of votes cast for any candidate.

In the case of an election for the office of Chair, if no motion is adopted, the committee cannot proceed with other business. When an impasse is evident, the members disperse, and the Clerk of the House must convene another meeting at a later time, when the election of a Chair will be the first order of business.524

Legislative Committees

The Chair of a legislative committee is not elected by the members but is selected by the Speaker from the Panel of Chairs once the committee’s membership has been established.525 The Panel of Chairs is established at the beginning of each session and is composed of as many as 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, the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, and the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole.526

Like the Speaker, the Chair of a legislative committee acts as a neutral arbitrator of proceedings.527 He or she may be a member of any of the parties in the House,528 is not counted for the purposes of determining quorum,529 and does not take part in the committee’s debates.530

Special and Special Joint Committees

The Standing Orders provide for special committees to elect a Chair and two Vice-Chairs. The Chair must be a Member of the government party, the first Vice-Chair a Member of the Official Opposition, and the second Vice-Chair a Member of an opposition party other than the Official Opposition party.531 Like standing joint committees, special joint committees elect a Joint Chair from the House of Commons and a Joint Chair from the Senate, as well as two Vice-Chairs.532

The election of a Chair is the first order of business on the proposed agenda of the committee’s first meeting.533 The meeting is convened for that purpose by the Clerk of House after the committee’s membership has been established and consultations have been held with recognized parties concerning the timing of the meeting.534 In the case of special joint committees, the Senate is also consulted. Special committees usually elect Vice-Chairs at this meeting as well.535 Elections during a session must be conducted only if a vacancy arises.


Like other types of committees, a subcommittee must have a Chair in order to conduct business.

When establishing a subcommittee, the main committee is responsible for determining whether or not to name a Vice-Chair.536 If it sees fit, the committee may also specify the required political affiliation of the Chair or Vice-Chairs.

Main committees have two choices regarding the selection of their subcommittees’ officers: designate them directly in an order of reference,537 or leave it up to the subcommittee members to elect them according to the procedure followed by standing and special committees.538


Occasionally, vacancies arise in the office of Chair or Vice-Chair during a session. In fact, they arise automatically when an officer:

  • is elected to another officer position within the same committee;539
  • resigns from his or her position;540
  • resigns as a Member of Parliament;541
  • passes away;
  • ceases to be a member of the committee;542
  • ceases to be a member of the recognized party required by the House to hold the office;543 or
  • is removed from office by the committee.544

In the event of a vacancy in the office of Chair, the committee cannot conduct any other business until a new Chair is chosen.545 This is similar to procedure in the House, where a vacancy in the office of Speaker must be filled before any other matter can be considered.546

In the case of committee Chairs who are elected, a vacancy that arises while the committee is sitting triggers an immediate election.547 If the vacancy occurs when the committee is not sitting, but a meeting has already been convened by the former Chair, the first order of business at that meeting will be the election of a new Chair. If no meeting is scheduled, the next one will be convened by the Clerk of the House after the usual consultations with the recognized parties. If the Chair of a committee was designated by a third party (the House, the Speaker, the main committee in the case of a subcommittee), a new designation is required when there is a vacancy.548

Vacancies in the offices of Vice-Chair do not prevent committees from conducting business. If the Vice-Chairs are elected, the committee holds a new election.549 If the Vice-Chairs are designated, there must be a new designation as soon as possible.

Committee Staff

In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk and analysts. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks, lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and staff hired from outside the Parliamentary Precinct.

Committee Clerk

The clerk of a committee is a professional from Procedural Services of the House of Commons who serves as the committee’s procedural and administrative officer.550 The clerk is the committee’s principal adviser regarding parliamentary procedure, especially committee procedure. The clerk also prepares the Minutes of Proceedings and swears in witnesses at the committee’s request.

Following the instructions of the Chair and the committee, the clerk organizes the committee’s work and meetings. In particular, the clerk publishes and distributes notices of meetings to interested parties, contacts witnesses from whom the committee wishes to hear, distributes all meeting documentation to the committee members, and oversees the process of producing reports and presenting them to the House. If the committee travels outside the Parliamentary Precinct, the clerk prepares a detailed itinerary and oversees the travel arrangements (transportation, accommodation, per diems and so on).

The clerk also has a number of financial roles and responsibilities. Ordinarily, the clerk advises the committee members and the Chair on financial matters. The clerk prepares the committee’s budget requests and assists the Chair in providing justification to the Liaison Committee if necessary. The clerk regularly manages and monitors the committee’s finances. If authorized to do so by the Chair, the clerk approves the payment of invoices received by the committee for goods and services. In addition, the clerk prepares the contracts required to hire staff from outside the Parliamentary Precinct.

The clerk is also the main point of contact for procedural and administrative inquiries from the general public, public officials and the media concerning the committee. The clerk receives most of the correspondence intended for the committee. The clerk also acts as the committee’s liaison with other branches and services of the House, the Senate and the Library of Parliament.

As a non-partisan and independent officer, the clerk also provides advice to all members of the committee; the clerk carries out his or her duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and the Chair. In performing those functions, the clerk receives assistance and support from the many services of the House, particularly from administrative and logistical staff of the Committees and Legislative Services Directorate.


The Library of Parliament provides analysts to all committees on request.551 The analysts are highly skilled researchers and usually are specialists in the subject area of the committee to which they are assigned. They are the resource persons for any substantive questions that the Chair and committee members may have. They provide briefing material and other background material to committee members. They may identify potential witnesses for the committee and suggest possible lines of questioning during committee hearings. They play an important role in the drafting of substantive reports. Like the committee clerks, they perform their duties in a non-partisan, neutral manner and they are at the disposal of all committee members.

Legislative Clerks

Legislative clerks are not part of the regular staff assigned to committees. They assist committees during the clause-by-clause analysis of bills. Legislative clerks are professionals from Procedural Services of the House of Commons who advise committee Chairs and members on the procedural admissibility of amendments that Members propose to bills. Legislative clerks have an in-depth knowledge of the bills being considered and their constituent parts, and of the rules of procedure governing the nature and form of amendments that can be proposed by Members. During a session, legislative clerks are assigned responsibility for a number of bills and work with more than one committee.

Other Staff

When questions of a legal nature arise, committees sometimes avail themselves of the services of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and his or her staff. The Standing Orders also empower committees to hire expert, professional, technical, administrative, clerical and secretarial staff on contract from outside the Parliamentary Precinct, as required.552 Before considering that option, committees should verify the availability of internal resources from the administration of the House of Commons or the Library of Parliament.553

If they wish to proceed with hiring from outside, they must first determine the nature and scope of the work to be performed. Next, they must adopt a motion specifying the terms of reference and duration of the contract, and the maximum rate or amount of remuneration of the additional staff.554 They are then required to obtain the necessary approval and funding for the contracts from the appropriate authorities (Liaison Committee, Board of Internal Economy).555

Such contracts and budgets are subject at all times to the guidelines set out by the Board of Internal Economy. Special rules apply to contracts in the event of prorogation or dissolution of Parliament.556