A committee performs work referred to it by the Senate through an order of reference.
Committees study proposed legislation or bills, government expenditures (the estimates),
and conduct special studies. When a committee has completed its work, or a part thereof,
it presents its findings, recommendations or decisions in the form of a report to the
Committee work is important because it gives senators an opportunity to examine in
detail the subject under review. This examination process usually includes hearings, which
allow senators to question groups and individuals on their views. Senate committee reports
have been generally well received throughout the years and at times have influenced public
policy development in Canada.
There are two types of select committees: standing committees permanently established
by the Senate Rules and special committees appointed to study a specific order of
reference. Select committees can establish subcommittees as necessary. In addition, the
Senate and the House of Commons can create standing joint committees or special joint
The average Senate committee ranges in size from 12 to 15 members. Committee membership
generally reflects the standings of the political parties in the Senate itself.
An order of reference is the parliamentary term for a task delegated to a committee by
the Senate. A committee's order of reference may be as all-encompassing as: (i) a major
investigation into a broad policy issue; (ii) the detailed study of proposed legislation
after second reading; or, (iii) the study of a specific subject matter such as the
pre-study of a bill. The committee is bound by the terms of its order of reference, which
sets the mandate of the committee and, in the case of special studies, the date it must
report back to the Senate. A committee can have more than one order of reference at a
When a standing committee receives an order of reference, it is authorized under Rule
90 of the Senate Rules to invite persons to submit briefs or to testify before it. This
rule also applies when the Senate permits a standing committee to travel for the purpose
of holding hearings outside Ottawa. In the case of special committees, their orders of
reference must provide the authority to obtain briefs and hear witnesses.
The clerk of the committee is responsible for providing procedural advice and
performing administrative duties for the committee. The clerk takes directions from the
chairperson and the other members of the committee.
The clerk is a permanent employee of the Senate and is strictly non-partisan. He or she
is knowledgeable in the procedure and administrative policies and is the person to whom
you should direct any questions.
Committees regularly invite private individuals, experts, groups and organizations,
lobbyists, public servants and ministers of the Crown to appear before them in order to
receive information relevant to the study currently under consideration. Individuals or
groups interested in a study being carried out by a committee may make a request to appear
before that committee.
Committees select witnesses based largely on two criteria: the knowledge or interest of
the witnesses and the amount of time available for the committee to conduct its work.
Often, committees are unable to hear the testimony of all those who wish to
appear. Nonetheless, committees will receive written briefs from any and all interested
Once the committee decides who will be invited to give evidence, the clerk will contact
them, giving the date, time and place of the meeting.
When transmitting the committee's invitation to a witness, the clerk will specify
whether or not the committee expects to receive a written brief.
The Preparation of Briefs
(a) Briefs may be submitted in either English or French.
(b) When a brief is submitted in one official language only, it should be sent to the
clerk at least one week in advance, when circumstances permit, to allow for translation.
Briefs are distributed to committee members in both official languages.
Witnesses from federal government departments and agencies are required to submit their
briefs in both official languages.
(a) The brief should be succinct, generally not exceeding 10 pages.
(b) The brief should provide factual information to substantiate the views expressed.
(c) Any recommendations should be as specific as possible, particularly when proposing
amendments to legislation.
(a) In addition to the hard copy, it is useful to provide a diskette to the clerk.
Microsoft Word or ASCII formats are preferred.
(b) The name and address of the person, association or organization submitting the
brief must be clearly indicated.
(c) Recommendations should be summarized at the end.
(d) Numbered endnotes are preferred to footnotes.
(e) Logos, graphs, tables and diagrams should be in black ink as other colours may not
(f) Any separate photographs accompanying the submission should be in black and white
and on glossy paper.
(a) If a witness requires audio-visual equipment, the clerk must be informed at least
two working days before the meeting.
(b) If a witness does not submit a brief in advance, but wants to circulate one at the
meeting, it is advisable to bring 25 English and 15 French copies.
(c) Unless a witness indicates otherwise, a brief will not be circulated outside of the
committee until the date of the hearing.
All parliamentary buildings have entrances adapted for the disabled; parking spots are
also available. All committee rooms are fully accessible. Some washrooms can accommodate
wheelchairs; these are located on the first floor in Centre Block, second floor in East
Block and sixth floor in the Victoria Building. If a witness requires further information
or additional facilities, the clerk should be consulted.
The chairperson is a senator elected from among the members of the committee to preside
over its meetings. The chairperson maintains order and decorum, recognizes members to
speak, and rules on questions of procedure.
The chairperson is responsible for introducing the witness to the committee, and
inviting the witness to make a statement and to respond to the questions that usually
Upon arrival at the committee room, it is suggested that witnesses introduce themselves
to the committee clerk. The clerk will explain the format and show the witnesses where
they will sit while speaking to the committee.
At the outset of the meeting, the chairperson indicates the order in which witnesses
will be heard and introduces the first witnesses to the committee. Presentations by
witnesses usually last 10 to 15 minutes, followed by questions from the members of the
committee (see Appendix A). The committee sets its own guidelines for questioning
All witnesses have the right to address any committee in either official language.
Simultaneous interpretation is provided at all public meetings.
Witnesses appearing before a committee usually do so voluntarily. They willingly seek
to present their views and the committee is grateful to receive them. Certainly, the
cooperation of witnesses is a feature that makes the work of committees that much more
informative and effective. Still, it should be noted that a committee hearing constitutes
a proceeding of Parliament which means that the work of the committee, including receiving
the evidence of
witnesses, is protected by privilege and immune to most subsequent court action.
Nothing said by a witness before a committee may be used in a court of law. Therefore a
witness may not refuse to answer a question on the grounds of self-incrimination.
1. Prepare a brief, generally not exceeding 10 pages.
2. Submit your brief at least one week in advance of the meeting when circumstances
permit, so that the brief can be translated and distributed to Senators for their
3. Include a diskette of your brief formatted in Microsoft or ASCII whenever possible.
4. Provide a written summary of your brief if it is lengthy (10 pages or longer).
5. Ensure that the views expressed in the brief are substantiated with factual
6. Keep oral presentations short (generally no longer than 15 minutes). A committee, at
its discretion, may require shorter presentations.
7. Speak to the terms of reference. When possible, follow the committee's work on the
subject. With regard to proposed legislation, attempt to address the questions raised
during second reading debate in the Chamber.