COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Definition and purpose
Most deliberations of the Senate take place either in the Senate Chamber, or in its standing or special committees. On occasion, deliberations will take place in a Committee of the Whole, which combines elements of procedure followed by the Senate and its committees. A Committee of the Whole is composed of all senators and may be formed to deliberate on a bill or other matter before the Senate.[i] It meets in the Senate Chamber, but its proceedings are generally less formal than those of the Senate itself.
The Senate generally sits in Committee of the Whole to receive officials nominated for appointment to positions such as the Senate Ethics Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, the Official Languages Commissioner, the Auditor General or the Parliamentary Budget Officer.[ii] The Senate has also used this process to consider urgent bills such as back-to-work legislation[iii] and to study proposed revisions to the Rules of the Senate.[iv]
Process for Committee of the Whole
Although a Committee of the Whole is a committee that meets in the Senate Chamber, its deliberations are governed by rules that differ in some respects from those governing both the Senate and its standing or special committees. A Committee of the Whole is established and exists only for the duration of the mandate given to it by the Senate. Although no notice is required for a motion to transform the Senate into a Committee of the Whole, in most cases notice of such a motion is given so that senators are aware of when the committee will meet, and also to establish any special conditions that will apply to the committee’s proceedings (e.g., maximum duration).[v]
Chair and witnesses
In Committee of the Whole, the Speaker of the Senate does not preside. The Speaker pro tempore, or another senator called upon by the Speaker presides instead.[vi] The chair of the committee sits at the table in the chair usually occupied by the Clerk of the Senate. The mace is placed under the table and a table officer becomes Clerk of the Committee of the Whole. In a Committee of the Whole, senators need not stand nor be in their assigned seats to speak.[vii] Witnesses may be invited onto the floor of the Senate to give testimony before a Committee of the Whole.[viii]
A minister who is not a member of the Senate may be invited to sit in the chamber, next to the Leader of the Government, and take part in the debate of a Committee of the Whole when the committee is considering a bill or any other matter that is the responsibility of a department or the Government of Canada.[ix]
The Rules of the Senate apply in Committee of the Whole with the following exceptions:
- a senator is not limited to one intervention, but may speak any number of times;
- each intervention by a senator is limited to 10 minutes;
- any standing vote is taken immediately, without bells to call in the senators;
- there can be no arguments against the principle of a bill;
- there can be no motions for the previous question or for an adjournment; and
- notice is not required for a motion or an amendment.
A Committee of the Whole must suspend its work at 6 p.m., just like the Senate.[xi] The committee cannot exempt itself from this, or any other provision of the Rules. Only the Senate itself — properly constituted, with the Speaker in the chair and the mace on the table — can grant such an exemption.
In practice, the motion to establish a Committee of the Whole often sets conditions on its work, which only the Senate — not the committee — can change.
Report and termination of work [xii]
While a Committee of the Whole is sitting, any senator may propose “that the chair do now leave the chair” or “that the chair do now report progress and ask leave to sit again.” These motions must be decided immediately, and cannot be debated or amended. If such a motion is defeated, a similar motion cannot be proposed unless an intermediate proceeding takes place. If the motion for the chair to leave the chair is adopted, it brings an end to the committee’s work. The chair does not report to the Senate, and the bill or other matter is dropped from the Orders of the Day.[xiii]
If the motion for the chair to report progress and ask for leave to sit again is adopted, the Committee of the Whole can continue to sit at a later time if the Senate agrees to the committee’s request.
Once a Committee of the Whole has completed its work, it reports back to the Senate and ceases to exist.