SENATE COMMITTEES FAQ
FAQ provide answers to many of the most commonly asked questions regarding committee work and were developed to help you acquire a better understanding of Senate committees. If you have a particular question that has not been answered or you have a suggestion for additional subjects, please contact the directorate.
Senate Committees Directorate
Chambers Building, Room 1001
40 Elgin Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4
- Types of Committees (PDF)
- Role of the Chair (PDF)
- Steering Committee (PDF)
- In Camera Meetings (PDF)
- Voting in Committee (PDF)
- Orders of Reference (PDF)
- Committee Budgets (PDF)
- Committee Reports (PDF)
- Government Responses (PDF)
- Committee Clerks (PDF)
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF COMMITTEES?
The Senate has found that some of its work can be better performed in committee, thus, the Rules of the Senate provide for different types of committees. The following provides a brief outline of the various committees, their structure and roles.
WHAT IS A STANDING COMMITTEE?
Standing committees are identified in the Rules of the Senate by name and with mandates, and exist for the duration of a session of Parliament. The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration continues to exist throughout periods of prorogation and dissolution of Parliament, pursuant to the Parliament of Canada Act. This is necessitated by its mandate to deal with “all matters of a financial or administrative nature relating to the internal management of the Senate.” The Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators also provides for an intersessional authority composed of the former members of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators from the previous session. The intesessional authority has a limited range of duties during periods of dissolution or prorogation, as outlined in the Code.
There are currently sixteen standing Senate committees. These are as follows:
Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration
Agriculture and Forestry
Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Banking, Trade and Commerce
Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators
National Security and Defence
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources
Fisheries and Oceans
Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Transport and Communications
The number of members, quorum, and the general area of study of each committee are set under rules 12-3(1), 12-3(2), 12-4, 12-6 and 12-7. Committees range from five to fifteen members. Most committees are composed of fourteen members (including the two ex officio members) (1) and require a quorum of four members. Quorum is the minimum number of senators needed to constitute a meeting.
WHAT IS A SPECIAL COMMITTEE? WHAT IS A LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE?
A special committee is established to study either a specific piece of legislation or to undertake a study on a particular issue. Recent examples are the Special Committee on Senate Reform (1st session, 39th Parliament), the Special Committee on Aging (1st and 2nd sessions, 39th Parliament), the Special Committee on the Anti-terrorism Act (1st session, 38th Parliament and 1st session, 39th Parliament) and the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism (1st Session, 41st Parliament). Unlike a standing committee, once a special committee submits its final report to the Senate, it ceases to exist.
The motion adopted by the Senate that establishes a special committee usually sets out the parameters of the committee’s study, from which it may not deviate without permission from the chamber. It will commonly name the members of the committee and the date by which the committee must report, and it will sometimes include other provisions such as the power to travel and to contract professional services.
The Senate may also appoint legislative committees, but these are rarely used. Special committees have been the preferred option in recent years, even to study certain pieces of legislation. Legislative committees are composed of up to twelve members.
WHAT IS THE COMMITTEE OF SELECTION?
Pursuant to Rule 12-1, the Committee of Selection is struck at the beginning of each session, and consists of 9 members. It has two duties: 1) to nominate a senator to serve as Speaker pro tempore; and 2) to nominate senators to serve on the standing and standing joint committees.(2) The Committee of Selection may also, from time to time, propose changes to the membership of committees. In accordance with Rule 12-2(5), it is neither a standing nor a special committee.
WHAT IS A JOINT COMMITTEE?
Joint committees are made up of both senators and members of the House of Commons. They have a proportionate number of members from each house, reflecting their relative sizes. Such committees may be established through the procedural rules of each house (a standing joint committee) or by a motion adopted by each house (a special joint committee). Once senators have been appointed to serve on a joint committee, a message is sent to the House of Commons indicating the Senate members. Similarly, once the House of Commons membership is determined, a message is sent from the House to the Senate. Joint committees have a Senate chair and a House of Commons chair who alternately or jointly preside over meetings. There are two standing joint committees: Scrutiny of Regulations and Library of Parliament.
WHAT IS A SUBCOMMITTEE?
A subcommittee is a smaller committee formed from among the members of a committee and is often created for the purpose of relieving the main committee of a portion of its workload. The most common example is the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, typically referred to as the “steering committee”, used by most committees. (For further details, please see the FAQ entitled Steering Committees).The size of any subcommittee is limited to not more than half the number of members of the main committee, three of whom shall constitute a quorum. There are no ex officiomembers on a subcommittee, although ex officio members are members of the main committee and are counted for the purpose of determining the maximum number of members of the subcommittee.
WHAT IS A COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE?
The Committee of the Whole consists of the entire membership of the Senate and permits all senators to participate at once in a committee while in the chamber. The committee can consider legislation, motions, resolutions and addresses, and is most often formed to deliberate on a bill or other matter before the Senate when expediency is necessary. A Committee of the Whole and its proceedings are less formal than other work done in the chamber and combine elements of procedures followed in the chamber and in other committees.
A Committee of the Whole exists only for the duration of the mandate given to it by motion of the Senate, usually a matter of hours. No notice is required for the motion which transforms the Senate into a Committee of the Whole.
The Speaker of the Senate does not preside over the Committee of the Whole. The Speaker pro tempore is usually chosen to preside, although the task may go to any senator. Witnesses may be invited onto the floor of the Chamber to give testimony. A Minister who is not a member of the Senate may be asked to take part in debate when the Committee of the Whole is considering a bill or any other matter that is the responsibility of their department.
The Rules of the Senate apply in a Committee of the Whole with the following exceptions:
- a senator may speak any number of times;
- each intervention by a senator is limited to ten 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.
Once a Committee of the Whole has completed its work, the chair of the committee reports to the Senate and may either ask for permission to sit again or the committee ceases to exist.
1 The Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators Committee does not have ex officio members.
2 Except for the Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators Committee, whose members are selected by a distinct process under rule 12-27(1) and the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators, subsections 35(4) and (5).
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE COMMITTEE CHAIR?
Senate committees require a presiding officer in order to be properly constituted. For this purpose, Senate committees elect a chair and a deputy chair at their organizational meeting, held pursuant to rule 12-13.(3) Once elected, committee chairs can exercise various powers and authorities according to the Rules of the Senate, by practice and by authority delegated by the committee.
The role of the chair in committee is to preside over meetings, guide deliberations and seek to maintain order and decorum. The committee chair has several other roles outside of committee meetings. These include representing the committee when budget requests are submitted to the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration (Internal Economy Committee), tabling or presenting committee reports in the Senate,(4) moving various motions in the Chamber related to the committee’s work and acting as a spokesperson, if requested by the committee.
HOW IS A COMMITTEE CHAIR SELECTED?
Immediately after the opening of a new session, in accordance with rules 12-1,
12-2(1)(a), 12-2(2), the Committee of Selection is established by the Senate to nominate both a Speaker pro tempore((5) and to report on the membership of the Senate’s committees. Pursuant to rule 12-13, once the membership report has been adopted in the Senate, the Clerk of the Senate calls the organization meetings for all committees.
At the organization meeting, the election of the chair is presided over by the clerk of the committee. Once elected, the chair presides over the election of a deputy chair and the rest of the meeting. Once the chair and deputy chair have been selected, the committee adopts several motions (known as “routine motions”) that confer various powers and authorities on the chair and deputy chair.
WHAT POWERS DOES A COMMITTEE NORMALLY DELEGATE TO THE CHAIR?
Among the routine motions that are adopted at the organization meeting, a committee usually establishes a Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, or “steering committee” which is normally comprised of the chair, the deputy chair and a third member. By practice, the chair of the committee presides over the steering committee. This subcommittee is often delegated the responsibility for scheduling meetings, determining the agenda and selecting witnesses.
Another routine motion confers the authority to commit funds and to certify accounts on behalf of the committee to the chair, deputy chair and/or clerk of the committee,(6) and confers co-signing authority to the chair and deputy chair for consultants’ invoices.(7)
The chair is also typically authorized by a routine motion to direct the research staff, on behalf of the committee, on the preparation of briefing materials, reports and other committee documents. In general terms, this means that the chair normally coordinates the work of the research staff, including analysts assigned from the Library of Parliament, as well as any consultants hired by the committee, according to the work plan and/or agenda, as determined by either the committee as a whole or by the steering committee.
WHAT IS THE CHAIR’S ROLE AT COMMITTEE MEETINGS?
The chair presides over the proceedings, meaning that he or she calls the meeting to order and recognizes individual speakers,(8) whether they are committee members, other senators or witnesses. The chair may also be called upon to administer an oath or affirmation, when needed.(9)
The chair convenes committee meetings (once authorized to do so either by the committee or the steering committee), verifies that quorum(10) is present, and ensures that the meeting starts and ends within the committee’s designated time-slot.
The chair is also responsible for maintaining order and decorum during the proceedings. However, it is important to note that committees and their chairs do not have the authority to punish acts of disorder or misconduct. If a committee wishes to have action taken against someone who has disrupted its proceedings, it must report to the Senate, which may impose measures it finds appropriate.(11) In addition, senators who consider that they have been offended in a committee meeting may appeal to the Senate for redress.(12)
WHAT RULINGS CAN BE MADE BY THE COMMITTEE CHAIR?
The chair is responsible for making all rulings on matters of parliamentary procedure in committee. This can include ruling on points of order raised by members, intervening on his or her own initiative to preserve order, determining the procedural admissibility of amendments to bills and putting any questions/motions to a vote.
Any committee member is entitled to raise a point of order to ensure that the Rules of the Senate, as well as accepted practices, are being followed. The chair, as the presiding officer of the committee, has the responsibility of ruling on such points of order and can intervene on his or her own initiative in order to enforce the Rules or maintain order.(13) Once the chair determines that a point of order has been debated sufficiently by the members of the committee,(14) the chair will render a decision.
Any ruling made by the chair is subject to appeal. If the chair’s decision is to be challenged it must be done immediately, by way of a motion that asks if the chair’s ruling should be sustained. If the committee decides (by majority) that the chair’s ruling be sustained, the committee proceeds immediately to its next item of business. If there is a tie vote or a majority of votes are opposed to the motion, the chair’s ruling is overturned.
WHAT IS THE CHAIR’S ROLE WHEN EXAMINING LEGISLATION?
A primary function of Senate committees is the consideration of bills. A committee normally decides to invite witnesses to appear at public hearings. This decision can be made by the committee or may be delegated to its steering committee.
Once witness testimony has concluded, the committee proceeds to a clause-by-clause study of the bill. Amendments may be proposed by committee members. The chair calls each clause of the bill separately and the committee votes on them successively. The chair may ask the members present for leave to deviate from this procedure and instead either consider clauses as a group, or dispense with clause-by-clause consideration altogether.(15)
The committee then adopts the bill with or without amendments and instructs the chair to report the bill back to the Senate. Committees may also report against a bill pursuant to Rule 12-23(5). Such a report recommends that the Senate not proceed further with a bill and must state the reasons. If the report is adopted, the Senate shall not proceed further with the bill.
The chair must initial all amendments on the working copy of the bill(16) and sign the report on the bill. Then either the chair or another designated senator presents the report to the Chamber for further consideration.(17) At this stage, the chair or a designate is called upon to explain the reasons for and effects of any amendments.(18)
CAN THE CHAIR PARTICIPATE IN DEBATES OR VOTES?
Committee members participate in debate on various motions and amendments. While the committee is engaged in debate, the chair keeps a list of speakers and should ensure that every senator who wishes to speak in a debate has an opportunity to do so. Once debate has concluded, the chair puts the question on the motion to a vote. Committee chairs are entitled to debate and to vote like any other member of the committee, although they often choose not to exercise that right. It is also important to note that the chair does not have a casting vote and, therefore, is not permitted to break a tie vote. A tie vote results in the motion being defeated.
Votes can be conducted by voice or the committee clerk may be asked to conduct a “recorded vote” by calling the name of each committee member, starting with the chair. Committee members indicate whether they are in favour or opposed to the motion, or whether they abstain. The clerk announces the result to the committee and the chair declares the motion carried or defeated.
DEPUTY CHAIRS AND ACTING CHAIRS:
WHAT ARE THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE DEPUTY CHAIR?
The deputy chair of a committee, usually from a recognized party other than that of the chair, serves as a replacement by presiding over meetings when the chair is unable to preside. The deputy chair is also normally selected to be a member of the steering committee. The deputy chair may also be conferred the authority to commit funds and to certify accounts, as determined by the committee in its routine motions. The deputy chair is also required to co-sign all invoices submitted for payment by any consultants and/or personnel that are hired by the committee.(19)
In essence, the deputy chair normally exercises the powers of the chair when the chair is absent, unless the position of the chair is vacant.
WHAT IS AN ACTING CHAIR?
If the committee chair and deputy chair are both absent and unable to preside, an acting chair is chosen. Often the chair may propose an acting chair, with the committee’s consent, in advance of any absence. If an acting chair has not been selected in advance, the clerk of the committee, after advising the committee of the chair’s and deputy chair’s absences, presides over the election of an acting chair at the beginning of the committee meeting.
An acting chair has all of the powers and duties of the chair while presiding over the meeting,(20) but has no authority to convene meetings or preside when the office of the chair is vacant. The power of the acting chair only lasts until the chair is able to resume his or her duties,(21) or until the position of the chair becomes vacant.
HOW CAN THE CHAIR BECOME VACANT?
The office of the chair can become vacant due to membership changes, resignation, retirements, illness or death. If that occurs, the committee ceases to be duly constituted. Therefore the committee clerk must preside over the election of a new chair at the first opportunity.
3 In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
4 See rule 12-22(2).
5 The Speaker pro tempore is, in essence, a deputy speaker who presides over sittings of the Senate when the Speaker is absent from the Chamber or is unable to perform duties in the chair (see rule 2-4(2)).
6 See sections 7 and 8 of chapter 3:06, of the Senate Administrative Rules.
7 See Fifth Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Administration and Budgets, adopted (as amended) by the Senate on May 8, 2008.
8 Because debate in committees tends to be more informal than in the Senate, by practice committees do not impose time limits on interventions, nor do they address questions through the chair (See rule 6-1, mutatis mutandis, a senator desiring to speak addresses the rest of the senators in the Chamber).
9 In accordance with sub-section 10 (3) of the Parliament of Canada Act, which empowers committees to administer an oath to witnesses. The oath or affirmation may be administered by the chair or clerk of a committee.
10 Most committees also adopt a routine motion empowering the committee to meet with reduced quorum, within certain constraints.
11 See O’Brien and Bosc, p. 1048.
12 See rule 2-9(2).
13 See rules 2-1(1), 2-6(1) and 2-6(2).
14 It is important to note that the chair cannot participate in the debate on a point of order on which he or she is required to render a decision (see rule 2-3).
15 See rule 12-20(3) which states that a committee cannot dispense with clause-by-clause consideration of a bill without leave of the members present.
16 See rule 12-23(6).
17 See rule 12-22(2).
18 See rule 12-23(4) which states: “The Senator presenting a committee report recommending amendments shall explain the purpose and effect of each amendment.”
19 See Fifth Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Administration and Budgets, adopted (as amended) by the Senate on May 8, 2008.
20 See O’Brien and Bosc, p. 1033.
21 See rule 2-4(2).
WHAT IS A STEERING COMMITTEE?
The Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, more commonly known as the “steering committee,” is generally delegated the responsibility of planning the work of the main committee. The main committee chooses whether or not to establish a steering committee. It is almost always established at the main committee’s first meeting (see rule 12-13(22) - the organization meeting) by the adoption of the following motion:
That the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be composed of the chair, the deputy chair, and one other member of the committee, to be designated after usual consultation.
It is important to note that subcommittees do not have steering committees. The responsibilities normally delegated to the steering committee are usually performed by the chair and deputy chair of the subcommittee.
WHO ARE THE MEMBERS?
As stated in the motion above, membership of the steering committee typically consists of the chair, deputy chair and one additional senator. The third member is normally a member of the majority party in the Senate who is selected following the “usual consultation” (i.e., by the whip of the majority party in consultation with the majority member who is either the chair or deputy chair). Committees are usually non-specific in the designation of the third member to allow a certain degree of flexibility, so that if the third member is unavailable, the subcommittee will be able to continue to operate with the selection of a different senator, following the same usual consultation as set out above. Alternatively, as some committees have done, they may choose to specify the third member of the steering committee by name in the motion. Membership of the steering committee can be changed by a motion in the main committee at any time.
Most steering committees have three members, as this is the minimum number to meet the requirement for quorum as stipulated in rule 12-12(3). Further, rule 12-12(2) states that a subcommittee “shall be composed of not more than half the membership of the committee”. Thus for a committee with 14 members (including the two ex officio members), the steering committee may be composed of up to seven members.
Those participating at a meeting include the members of the steering committee and the clerk. The committee’s analyst is also often present at these meetings. Some steering committees allow other personnel to attend meetings, such as senators’ staff, communication officers, consultants and others. Such attendance is at the discretion of the steering committee. No one other than the members of the steering committee and the clerk have a right to attend such meetings, including other senators.(23)
WHAT ARE ITS MAIN POWERS?
The motion establishing the steering committee will usually grant it the following powers:
That the subcommittee be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the committee with respect to its agenda, to invite witnesses, and to schedule hearings.
Thus, the powers granted to the steering committee by this motion are limited to making decisions relating to the committee’s agenda, the witnesses the committee will invite to appear and the scheduling of the committee’s meetings. It is important to remember that the steering committee only possesses the powers that are conferred on it by the main committee. In addition, all decisions that are made by the steering committee can be reviewed by the main committee. It is advisable for a steering committee to report to the main committee the decisions it has made (see rule 12-12(6)).
WHAT OTHER POWERS DOES IT HAVE?
While the powers granted to a steering committee vary from one committee to another, a steering committee will generally be granted the following powers at the committee’s organization meeting.
A. Research Staff
It should be noted that the following motion regarding research staff grants authority to its steering committee only with respect to retaining the services of outside experts.
That the committee ask the Library of Parliament to assign analysts to the committee;
That the chair be authorized to seek authority from the Senate to engage the services of such counsel and technical, clerical, and other personnel as may be necessary for the purpose of the committee’s examination and consideration of such bills, subject-matters of bills, and estimates as are referred to it;
That the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be authorized to retain the services of such experts as may be required by the work of the committee; and
That the chair, on behalf of the committee, direct the research staff in the preparation of studies, analyses, summaries, and draft reports.
The first paragraph of the motion concerns the formal request of the committee for the Library to assign research staff to the committee. The second paragraph authorizes the chair to seek permission to hire external staff if necessary for the examination of bills, subject matter of bills, and estimates, pursuant to section 1(2) of chapter 3:06 of the Senate Administrative Rules. The third paragraph delegates the steering committee the authority to make determinations on hiring outside personnel. The final paragraph of the motion authorizes the chair to direct the work of research staff. It should be noted that in exercising these functions, the chair acts on behalf of the entire committee.
That the committee empower the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure to designate, as required, one or more members of the committee and/or such staff as may be necessary to travel on assignment on behalf of the committee.
The above motion delegates to the steering committee the power to authorize committee members and any committee staff to travel on assignment (i.e., public hearings, fact-finding missions, or attendance at conferences) on behalf of the committee.
C. Senators Attendance Policy
That the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be authorized to:
- determine whether any member of the committee is on "official business" for the purposes of paragraph 8(3)(a) of the Senators Attendance Policy, published in the Journals of the Senate on Wednesday, June 3, 1998; and
- consider any member of the committee to be on "official business" if that member is: (a) attending an event or meeting related to the work of the committee; or (b) making a presentation related to the work of the committee.
The first paragraph in this motion authorizes the steering committee to make the determination required by paragraph 8(3)(a) of the Attendance Policy on behalf of the committee. The second paragraph outlines the specific instances in which the steering committee may determine that a member of the committee is on “official business”.(24)
D. Communications and Media Coverage
That the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be empowered to direct communications officer(s) assigned to the committee in the development of communications plans where appropriate and to request the services of the Senate Communications Directorate for the purposes of their development and implementation;
That the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be empowered to allow coverage by electronic media of its public proceedings with the least possible disruption of its hearings at its discretion.
The first paragraph of the foregoing motion authorizes the steering committee to request the services of the Senate’s Communications Directorate and to direct assigned communications staff in the development of communications plans and tools as required.
Rule 14-7(2) authorizes the recording and audio broadcasting of Senate committee proceedings, but only through the use of audio facilities that are installed for that purpose. In addition, any committee may give authorization for the video broadcasting of committee proceedings, including videotaping by journalists and private film crews, as well as the camera crews employed by the Senate. This authority is normally delegated to the steering committee by way of the motion above.
It should be noted that this list of powers is not exhaustive; a main committee can decide to grant additional powers or more limited powers to a steering committee. As such, these powers can be modified at any time by the main committee by way of motion.
IS A STEERING COMMITTEE ALLOWED TO MEET IN CAMERA?
Unlike standing committees which are only allowed to meet in camera to deal with specific items (see rules 12-15(1) and 12-15(2)), rule 12-12(5) permits a subcommittee to choose, at its discretion, to meet in camera, and no public notice needs to be issued for the meeting.
Proceedings of a steering committee are customarily of an informal, collegial nature. The minutes of a steering committee meeting are confidential and are not to be made public, reflecting the in camera nature of such meetings. Key decisions made by the steering committee should, however, be reported to the members of the main committee.
While some steering committees have regularly scheduled meetings, they have the flexibility to meet when they choose.
22 In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
23 See Speaker`s Ruling, June 7, 1999.
24 See Senators Attendance Policy, paragraph 8(3)(a): 8 (3) For the purposes of being included in attendance to business under paragraph 2(d), "official business" means business that a Senator conducts that could only have been conducted on a sitting day, that required the Senator to be absent from the sitting and that (a) was authorized by the Senate or a committee of the Senate,
WHAT DOES “IN CAMERA” MEAN?
An in camera meeting is one from which the public is excluded. The purpose of such meetings "is to allow members to feel free to negotiate, discuss, deliberate and, sometimes, compromise without the glare of publicity, which might add to the difficulties of agreeing to reports when it is desirable that these proceedings be treated in confidence."(25)
WHEN CAN A COMMITTEE MEET IN CAMERA?
Rule 12-16(1)(26) allows committees to meet in camera only when the agenda deals with one of the following items:
- wages, salaries and other employee benefits;
- contracts and contract negotiations;
- labour relations and personnel matters; and
- a draft agenda or draft report.
All portions of a committee’s meeting not dealing with one of the above subjects must be in public. However, even when dealing with these matters, a committee is not obliged to meet in camera and may choose to meet in public.
If a committee wishes to hold in camera meetings in circumstances other than those provided for in the Rules (e.g., because of the sensitive nature of some of the evidence), it must seek special permission from the Senate.(27)
The restrictions on committees meeting in camera pursuant to rule 12-16(1) do not apply to subcommittees, and Subcommittees on Agenda and Procedure (“steering committees”) nearly always choose to meet in camera.
WHO MAY ATTEND AN IN CAMERA MEETING?
Rule 12-14 provides that a senator cannot be excluded from a meeting of a main committee, whether it is in public or in camera. The same is not true of subcommittees as non-members of subcommittees can be excluded from meetings by a decision to that effect by the subcommittee.(28)
Committee staff generally remains in attendance during in camera meetings. Committee staff includes the clerk, the analyst, the communications officer, interpreters, reporters (if the committee adopts a motion to have a transcript of the in camera meeting), consultants, pages and the console operator. While the committee may choose to exclude some committee staff, the clerk may not be excluded as the clerk is required to keep the official record of the committee’s proceedings.
Political staff, or any individual, may remain if the committee adopts a motion to allow them to remain. Such a motion can be adopted on a case-by-case basis or as a more permanent operating procedure of the committee which would apply to all future meetings of that committee. The latter generally allow each committee member to have one staff person present, unless there is a decision for a particular meeting to exclude all staff.
ARE IN CAMERA MEETINGS CONFIDENTIAL?
The deliberations during an in camera meeting are confidential and are not to be made public. Any departure from confidentiality should only be by explicit committee decision.(29) Breach of confidentiality by anyone present could lead to a question of privilege being raised in the Senate. Documents considered during in camera meetings, in particular draft reports, are also to be kept confidential.
ARE TRANSCRIPTS KEPT OF IN CAMERA MEETINGS?
In camera meetings are not usually transcribed, nor are they typically recorded. A committee may pass a motion that the meeting be recorded and/or transcribed. Such motions generally address issues such as why the transcripts or recordings are being made; where they will be stored; who will have access to them; whether they will be distributed to members; how and how long they will be stored; and when they will be destroyed and by whom.(30) If transcripts are kept, they are confidential and should be treated in a similar manner to confidential draft reports.
WHO CAN SEE THE MINUTES OF AN IN CAMERA MEETING?
Minutes of certain in camera meetings are publicly available. In addition to the normal information as to when and where the committee met, who was present and what order of reference was considered, the minutes of in camera meetings will also indicate for what purpose it is meeting in camera by referencing the appropriate subsection of rule 12-16(1). Minutes of in camera meetings do not include all the information that would be included in the minutes of public meetings. In particular, only text of motions adopted during an in camera meeting are included in the minutes. Further, the mover of the motion and the names of those who voted for and against, as well as those who abstained, are not recorded in the minutes.(31)
In contrast to those of the main committee, minutes of subcommittees, such as the steering committee, are usually not made public, but are kept for the information of steering committee members.
25 See Beauchesne, 6th ed., §850(2).
26 In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
27 See, for example, the Second Report of the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, presented to and adopted by the Senate on June 23, 1994 (Journals, p. 481). Also see Second Report of the Special Senate Committee on Security and Intelligence, presented to the Senate on May 5, 1998 (Journals, p. 617) and adopted on May 7, 1998 (Journals, p. 642).
28 See Speaker’s Ruling, June 7, 1999, sustained by the Senate on appeal.
29 See Beauchesne, 6th ed., §851
30 See Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules, and Orders, presented to the Senate on April 13, 2000 and adopted on June 27, 2000.
31 See O’Brien and Bosc, p. 1077, note 661.
WHAT IS A DIVISION?
A division, more commonly referred to as a vote, divides members of a committee into three groups: yeas, nays and abstentions. It is the formal expression of opinion for the purpose of reaching a decision on a question before a committee. Such a decision is needed when a motion is moved in committee. Once debate has concluded, the chair will ask whether the committee agrees with the motion. The motion may deal with matters such as whether the clause of a bill shall carry, whether the chair’s ruling is to be sustained, or any other matter moved by a member of the committee.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT WAYS OF VOTING?
Three types of divisions which may occur in committee are:
- a voice vote: a vote held without recording individual senators’ votes or the number of yeas, nays or abstentions. Opposition to a voice vote may be registered by a member of the committee by stating “on division” when the question is put;
- a vote by show of hands: a vote by show of hands is recorded in the minutes by indicating the number, but not the names, of the members who voted for or against a motion or those who abstained;
- a recorded division: a vote where the names of those voting for and against a motion, or any abstentions, are registered in the minutes of proceedings of a committee.
In the case of an in camera meeting, the only thing noted in the committee’s minutes is the fact that a motion was adopted, since a record must be kept of the committee’s decisions. To ensure the confidentiality of such meetings, the number voting for or against a motion and their names are not recorded. The committee can decide, however, to have such information included in its minutes.
ARE VOTES IN COMMITTEE A REGULAR OCCURENCE?
Votes in Senate committees remain the exception, rather than the rule. Most often, decisions made in committee are made by consensus. When divisions do occur, they are often done informally, by one of the two first methods set out above. In cases where there may be any doubt with respect to the outcome of a vote, a member may ask for the more formal recorded division.
WHEN ARE VOTES TAKEN?
While senators are summoned to the chamber by division bells, there is no similar procedure in committee. Once debate on a motion is completed and the committee is ready for the question, the chair will seek the position of those members who are present at that time. On non-debatable motions, the chair will put the question as soon as it is proposed. “Putting the question” occurs when the chair reads the motion and asks whether members of the committee wish to adopt it. No decision can be made by a committee unless a quorum is present.
WHO CAN VOTE?
Only members of the committee, including the ex officiomembers, may vote. While non-members may participate in committee meetings, they are not empowered to move a motion or to vote. It must be noted that the chair can vote with other senators, but does not have a tie-breaking vote (“casting vote”).
WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR TAKING A VOTE?
Committee decisions are most often done informally and are usually initially taken by voice vote (the chair asks “Shall the motion carry?” or other words of similar effect) and he or she makes a judgement as to the result. Senators may find it helpful for the chair to clearly recapitulate the wording of the actual motion to be voted upon. The use of votes by a show of hands is also sometimes used. However, it should be noted that this method has sometimes led to confusion in the past, as it can be difficult to properly count the votes for and against a motion, especially if non-member senators are present and mistakenly participate in the vote.
If any member of the committee requests a roll call vote or the chair decides that this is the proper way of functioning, the procedure is as follows:
- The clerk of the committee calls members’ names, beginning with the chair, and then proceeds in alphabetical order for the other members of the committee;
- Senators state whether they vote for the motion, against it or abstain;
- At the end of the vote, the clerk reads the results (Yeas/Pour: ___; Nays/Contre: ____; Abstentions/Abstentions: ___.);
- Based on the results, the chair will announce the motion either carried or defeated.
In the event of a tie vote, the motion is defeated.(32) Because of this rule, all motions must be stated in the positive. For example, shall the motion carry? Shall the chair’s ruling be sustained? Shall clause X carry?
32 See rule 9-1of the Rules of the Senate.
WHAT IS AN ORDER OF REFERENCE?
An order of reference is a decision of the Senate empowering a committee to undertake the study of an issue, bill or other matter. It establishes the scope of the study and may also confer other powers the committee needs to conduct the study. Rule 12-9(1)(33) empowers standing and standing joint committees to “inquire into and report upon such matters as may be referred to them by the Senate.” Furthermore, rule 12-8(1) allows the Senate to refer any residual matter such as a message, petition, inquiry, paper or other matter to any committee.
DOES A COMMITTEE NEED AN ORDER OF REFERENCE? DON’T THE RULES GIVE THEM A STANDING MANDATE?
For the most part, committees require an order of reference in order to carry out their work. While the Rules establish mandates for committees, they serve as guidelines as to the type of matters that may be referred to each committee, and do not provide any authority in and of themselves.
However, three committees are empowered by the Rules of the Senate to act on their own initiative without a prior order of reference from the Senate. The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration may consider, act on, interpret and determine all financial and administrative matters concerning the internal administration of the Senate, subject to the Senate Administrative Rules.(34) The Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament is empowered to propose amendments to the Rules for consideration by the Senate, and to consider the orders and customs of the Senate and privileges of Parliament.(35) Finally, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators is authorized on its own initiative to exercise general direction over the Senate Ethics Officer and to be responsible for all matters relating to the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators.(36)
All other committees receive their mandates from orders of reference adopted in the Chamber. No committee may undertake the consideration of a bill or a special study prior to the Senate adopting an order of reference authorizing it to do so.
WHAT MAY A COMMITTEE STUDY?
In accordance with rules 12-9(1) and 12-9(2), a committee may study any matter referred to it by the Senate. This could include bills or the subject matter of bills, the Estimates or a special study. Normally, however, the Senate will only refer matters to a committee that fall within the general mandate set out for the committee in the Rules. It should be noted that, unlike House of Commons committees, the mandates of Senate committees are not structured to focus on one government department. As such, a particular issue may find itself falling within the general mandate of more than one committee. In such cases, the Senate will ultimately decide which committee should conduct a study. While government estimates may be referred to any Senate committee they are most commonly referred to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.(37)
The scope of special studies varies greatly from one subject matter to another. Some orders of reference are fairly broad giving the committee added flexibility in relation to the scope of the study, while others are very narrow.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS TO INITIATE AN ORDER OF REFERENCE? CAN ANY SENATOR PROPOSE AN ORDER OF REFERENCE?
Orders of reference are proposed by motion in the chamber. Motions in the chamber authorizing a committee to undertake a special study are substantive motions and may only be moved after one day’s notice.
Typically, such a motion will be put forward by the chair or deputy chair of the committee, following discussion with the members of the committee concerning their agenda. Proposals may be put forward by members of the committee or other senators, with the committee making a determination as to its priorities and seeking an order of reference accordingly. However, any senator may put forward a motion to refer an issue to committee. Like any motion, it would be debated, voted upon and, if adopted, would serve as an order of reference to the committee.
With respect to bills, upon having received second reading, a motion is put forward by the bill’s sponsor to refer it to a particular committee. At times, a committee is given an order of reference to study the subject matter(38) of a bill, rather than the bill itself. Furthermore, rule 10-11(1) also allows for the subject matter of a bill that is before the House of Commons to be referred to a committee for consideration prior to the bill having received first reading in the Senate. This is done by motion as with a special study.
DO COMMITTEES HAVE DEADLINES FOR COMPLETING AN ORDER OF REFERENCE?
Depending on the nature of the order of reference, a committee may indeed have a deadline for the conclusion of its work. Normally in the case of special studies, the order of reference will include a reporting deadline. Once the date has passed, the committee is no longer seized of the matter. If necessary, a committee may seek an extension to their reporting deadline prior to its passing. However, there have been times when a deadline has passed and the committee neither requested an extension, nor sought a new order of reference.
In the case of bills, there is not normally a deadline given but rule 12-23(1) imposes an obligation to report the bill.
DO ORDERS OF REFERENCES SURVIVE THE END OF A SESSION? WHAT HAPPENS IF A COMMITTEE WANTS TO CONTINUE A STUDY AFTER PROROGATION OR DISSOLUTION?
All orders of reference die upon prorogation or dissolution. It should be noted, however, that both the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration and the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators can exercise an inter-sessional authority that allows them to carry out their work between sessions or parliaments. They are, however, limited in their work to those issues they are authorized to examine on their own initiative.
When a committee is unable to report due to prorogation or dissolution and it wishes to resume its study in the subsequent session or parliament, it must obtain a new order of reference. Normally, a motion in this respect will include an order referring the work conducted on the issue in previous sessions to the committee, so they need not redo work already completed.
33 In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
34 See rule 12-7(1)
35 See rule 12-7(2).
36 See rules 12-7(16).
37 It must be noted that the committee only reviews the Estimates and does not adopt them.
38 See Beauchesne’s, 6th ed., p. 201-202 and see also O’Brien and Bosc, p. 751.
WHY DOES A SENATE COMMITTEE NEED A BUDGET?
A committee is empowered to inquire into and report upon such matters as are referred to it by the Senate.(39) Committees study bills, the subject matter of bills, the Estimates and/or conduct special studies. Committees can incur a variety of expenses in the course of their work on any of these matters.
No committee may incur expenses or commit funds chargeable to it until it has a budget adopted by the Senate. Every fiscal year, committees produce budgets that outline their estimated funding requirements. Once adopted by the Senate, committee budgets form the financial framework by which expenditures are monitored by the committee, committee clerk, the Senate Administration and the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration (Internal Economy Committee).
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BUDGETS?
There are two types of budgets for Senate committees:
- A legislative budget is adopted to pay for expenses relating to the examination of legislation: bills, the subject matter of bills or Estimates. Such a budget covers expenses that are expected to be incurred in the course of a committee’s study of all legislation that might be considered in that fiscal year.(40)
- A special study budget, covers expenses related to a committee’s work on a special study. Each special study requires a separate budget, so a committee may adopt several special study budgets in accordance with the number of studies for which it may receive an order of reference. Each special study budget covers expenses that are expected to be incurred by the committee for that special study during a particular fiscal year.(41)
WHAT IS EMERGENCY FUNDING?
If a committee needs to incur expenses or commit funds on an urgent basis and is unable to obtain a budget quickly enough at the start of a new session or fiscal year, committees may also submit a request for emergency funds. A request for emergency funds is considered to be a request for an advance of funds on a future budget.
HOW DOES A COMMITTEE ACQUIRE THE FUNDS NEEDED TO FULFIL ITS MANDATE?
For the purposes of budgets, there are two types of orders of reference that a committee may receive: an order of reference to consider a bill, the subject matter of a bill, or Estimates (legislation), or an order of reference to carry out a special study. This distinction is important since the Senate Administrative Rules (SARS) set out different steps to follow in each case. Pursuant to the SARS, a committee may adopt either a legislative budget(42) or a special study budget.(43)
The process for obtaining a legislative budget begins with discussions within the committee of possible legislation that it may receive for consideration. Based on these discussions the committee clerk prepares a legislative budget application,(44) which is typically reviewed by the chair and/or members of the steering committee. The committee must receive authorization from the Senate for the power to hire or to travel, before adopting its budget, if it intends to request any funds for either purpose.(45) The budget is then considered by the committee and may be adopted with or without amendment. The adopted version of the budget is then submitted to the Internal Economy Committee for its review. Sometimes, the committee chair is asked to appear before the Internal Economy Committee to discuss their committee’s budget application.
After its review, the Internal Economy Committee (or its designated subcommittee) will then decide on a recommended release of funds. The chair of the Internal Economy Committee (or a senator designated by the chair) presents a budget report to the Senate containing the recommended release of funds for a given committee’s legislative work.(46)
The budget process for a special study budget resembles that for a legislative budget in some, but not all, respects. First, the Senate adopts an order of reference for a special study for a specific Senate committee. That committee, once organized, meets to discuss its plans and gives instructions to the committee clerk to prepare a draft budget proposal based on these plans,(47) which is typically reviewed by the chair and/or members of the steering committee. The committee then considers the budget proposal and may adopt it as presented or may amend the budget application and adopt a modified version. The adopted version of the budget is then submitted to the Internal Economy Committee for review. Typically for special study budget applications, the committee chair is asked to appear before the Internal Economy Committee to discuss their committee’s budget application.
After its review, the Internal Economy Committee (or its designated subcommittee) will then decide on a recommended allocation of funds. Next, the budget application, along with the recommended release of funds, is returned to the committee requesting the funds. This recommendation, more commonly referred to as Appendix B, provides a summary of the recommended release approved by the Internal Economy Committee.
The committee chair, or a senator designated by the chair, then presents the special study budget report to the Senate containing the committee’s request for any additional powers (e.g. power to hire and/or to travel) that are required, as well as the annexes containing the original detailed budget application and the Internal Economy Committee’s recommended release of funds (Appendix B).
WHO APPROVES COMMITTEE BUDGETS?
Chapter 3:06 of the SARS describes the financial rules and procedures governing the approval process for the budgets of Senate committees. The SARS provide the guidelines to be followed by Senate committees to request, seek approval of and expend funds. They also outline the role and responsibilities of the Internal Economy Committee with respect to the review and application process for these funds by individual Senate committees.
In the case of legislative budgets, it is the Internal Economy Committee that presents a report recommending the release of funds to the Senate. For special study budgets, the Internal Economy Committee provides its recommendations in the form of an appendix (Appendix B) which is returned to the committee requesting the funds and is appended to the committee’s special study budget report. This budget report is presented in the Senate by the committee chair (or another designated senator).
The Senate may adopt, amend or reject both types of budget reports. The budget reports adopted by the Senate list the total amount of funds that the committee may spend, divided by general expenses and then by activity. Each of these is further sub-divided into three broad categories (Professional and Other Services, Transportation, Accommodation and Living Expenses and All Other Expenses) for that fiscal year.
WHO MONITORS COMMITTEE BUDGETS?
A committee normally adopts certain routine motions at its organization meeting that confer powers and authorities regarding its financial operations. These motions delegate financial commitment authority,(48) as well as the power to certify accounts for payment,(49) on behalf of the committee. These delegations of authority are typically to the chair, the deputy chair and the committee clerk.
The chair and/or deputy chair, the steering committee and/or the whole committee can provide instructions to the committee clerk on the preparation of the draft budget. They may also instruct the clerk on the need to hire consultants(50) and/or other goods and services, as per the adopted committee budget. The chair and deputy chair are also required to certify certain accounts.(51)
The committee clerk acts as the chief financial administrator for all committee activities. Using the approved budget as a guide, the committee clerk keeps a detailed working budget with the approved allotments for the fiscal year, with a running tally of committed and expended funds.
The Senate Administration is empowered by the SARS to monitor committee expenditures(52) and instructs the Clerk of the Senate to report any expenses not contained in a committee’s budget to the Internal Economy Committee.(53) In addition, the Senate Administration is required to provide regular financial reports to Internal Economy with financial statements for all committees.
Since 2014 and at least annually, the Internal Economy Committee tables in the Senate the post-activity expenditure reports of Senate committees.(54)
WHAT HAPPENS IF A COMMITTEE’S BUDGETARY ALLOTMENT RUNS OUT?
If a committee believes that it requires more funds than those released to it for a particular fiscal year, it may submit a supplementary budget to the Internal Economy Committee. Supplementary budgets are, depending on the order of reference to which they correspond, treated in the same way as either legislative or special study budgets.
WHAT HAPPENS TO A COMMITTEE’S ALLOTMENT OF FUNDS WHEN THERE IS A PROROGATION OR DISSOLUTION?
If there is either prorogation or dissolution, the committee ceases to exist, its orders of reference die and, therefore, all related budgets lapse. Once the committee is reconstituted in a new parliamentary session, it may begin the process of requesting a new legislative and/or special study budget for the new session.
39 See rules 12-9(1) and 12-9(2). In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
40 A committee may submit a supplementary legislative budget to cover any additional or unanticipated costs, if required.
41 However, the budget is to contain a general estimate of the total cost of a special study if it is expected to cover multiple fiscal years. A committee may submit a supplementary special study budget to cover any additional or unanticipated costs, if required.
42 Section 1(1) and (2), chapter 3:06 of the Senate Administrative Rules (SARS).
43 Section 2(1) and (2), chapter 3:06 of the SARS.
44 See section 3 of chapter 3:06 of the SARS: “Committee budgets and reports shall be in a form approved by the Internal Economy Committee [2004-05-06]”.
45 Pursuant to section 1 (2), chapter 3:06 of the SARS, this power must be obtained prior to the committee’s adoption of their legislative budget.
46 Recommendations for the release of funds for several committees may be contained in a single report of the Internal Economy Committee.
47 Some discussions may occur informally even before a special study is approved by the Senate, but formal direction and the adoption of a budget application can only occur after the order of reference has been adopted by the Senate.
48 See section 7, chapter 3:06 of the SARS.
49 See section 8, chapter 3:06 of the SARS.
50 The power to hire and/or to travel must be obtained from the Senate prior to a committee’s adoption of its legislative budget (see section 1(2), chapter 3:06 of the SARS). For special study budgets, the power to hire and/or to travel is requested in the special study budget report presented to the Senate for adoption.
51 With respect to the hiring of consultants on contract, the Internal Economy Committee has further clarified that all requests for contracts be signed off by both the chair and deputy chair of the committee and that all invoices for consultants be signed off by both the chair and deputy chair of the committee prior to payment and that any disputes be resolved in public by the full committee (see Fifth Report of the Subcommittee on the Review of Committee Budgets, adopted, as amended, by the Internal Economy Committee on May 8, 2008).
52 See section 10, chapter 3:06 of the SARS.
53 See section 10 (1), chapter 3:06 of the SARS.
WHEN DO COMMITTEES ISSUE REPORTS?
Once a committee has finished its hearings on a bill, special study or other matter, a report is prepared to make its findings and recommendations known to the Senate. The report must be adopted by the committee before it can be presented or tabled in the Senate.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF COMMITTEE REPORTS?
Committee reports are either substantive or administrative in nature. Substantive reports are any reports on matters such as bills, the subject matter of bills, government estimates or special studies. Administrative reports deal with matters such as budget applications, which request the power to incur expenses, and may include requests for other powers such as the power to hire professional services and/or travel.
HOW DO COMMITTEES REPORT BILLS?
When examining a bill, a committee may report the bill without amendment, without amendment but with observations, or with amendment(s) (also with or without observations). Observations are comments made by a committee on a bill without making an amendment to the bill itself. The observations may be those of the majority but may also include those of the minority. If a committee has proposed amendments to a bill, these are considered by the Senate during report stage. If no amendments are proposed, the report is deemed adopted and the bill proceeds directly to third reading in the Chamber.
Rule 12-23(5)(55) also allows a committee to present a report that recommends that the Senate not proceed further with the legislation. If such a report is adopted by the Senate, the bill is dropped from the Order Paper.
HOW DO COMMITTEES REPORT ON SPECIAL STUDIES?
A report on a special study may either be interim or final. Reports on special studies are usually lengthy and include the findings of the committee on the issue being studied, as well as its recommendations. Given the impact that these reports may have, committee members attempt to build a consensus on the analysis and recommendations to be included in the report. Rule 12-22(1) states that a report shall contain the conclusions agreed to by the majority. Occasionally, such a consensus is not possible and, as a result, a report may also include the opinion of a minority of the members. The tabling of a separate minority report, as such, is not allowed in Senate practice, so a committee must agree to include minority opinions in its report or append them to it.(56)
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “RECOMMENDATIONS”, “OBSERVATIONS” AND “AMENDMENTS” IN A COMMITTEE REPORT?
In their reports on special studies, committees make recommendations that a particular course of action be followed. If the Senate adopts such a report, the recommendations become those of the Senate. These recommendations, while not binding on the government, have often influenced government policy.
Committees sometimes append “observations” to reports on bills to ensure that issues identified, insights gained and commitments made during hearings are not lost even though the committee does not wish to propose amendments to a bill. Such observations are non-binding suggestions from the committee. The only way to make changes to a bill is through amendments.
WHEN DO COMMITTEES REPORT TO THE SENATE?
Orders of reference for special studies generally include the date by which the committee must table its final report in the Senate. Committees may only be granted an extension by the Senate. Orders of reference for legislation typically do not include a specific date by which a committee must report the bill back to the Senate. However, rule 12-23(1) requires that any bill sent to committee for consideration be reported back to the Senate. In some cases, the Senate may decide to order the committee to report the bill by a certain date.
Committees report to the Senate under Routine Proceedings when the Speaker calls “Presenting or Tabling Reports from Committees.”
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “TABLING” AND “PRESENTING” A REPORT?
Reports that require a decision by the Senate, such as those dealing with bills and budgets, must be “presented.” Presented reports are read aloud in the Senate by a table officer and are published in the Senate Journals and Debates.
Reports that are for the information only of the Senate and, therefore, do not require a decision of the Senate, such as special study reports, are tabled. These reports are not read aloud and are not published in the Journals or Debates. However, a motion may be moved to have a tabled report considered and/or adopted by the Senate.
ARE COMMITTEE REPORTS CONFIDENTIAL BEFORE THEY ARE TABLED OR PRESENTED?
Committee reports are confidential until they are presented or tabled in the Senate. As it is the Senate that orders a committee to undertake a study, the Senate is entitled to be informed first of the results of the study. The disclosure of a confidential committee report or part of a committee report prior to being tabled or presented in the Senate constitutes a breach of parliamentary privilege and may lead to a question of privilege in the Senate.(57)
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE HAS BEEN AN ALLEGED BREACH OF CONFIDENTIALITY?
When dealing with such a disclosure, the committee concerned examines the circumstances surrounding the unauthorized disclosure, as set-out in Appendix IV of the Rules of the Senate. The committee is expected to report the alleged breach to the Senate and to advise that it is commencing an inquiry into the matter. When undertaking an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the alleged breach, the committee is expected not only to attempt to determine the source of the breach but also to address the issue of the seriousness and implications (actual or potential) of the unauthorized disclosure.
Such an investigation does not preclude any senator from raising a question of privilege in the Senate regarding the breach.(58) However, the substance of the question of privilege is not dealt with by the Senate until after the committee completes its investigation, even if the Speaker finds that a prima facie case exists. The question of privilege will not be prejudiced by awaiting results of the committee’s investigation. Thus, while a question of privilege is to be raised at the first opportunity, individual Senators would be able to raise questions of privilege in relation to the leak upon the tabling of the committee report. In addition, if a committee decides not to investigate a leak, any senator can raise a question of privilege at the earliest opportunity after the committee has determined not to proceed. Whatever action is taken on a question of privilege regarding a leaked committee report, if the committee’s tabled report discloses that a breach has occurred and that it has caused substantial damage to the operation of the committee or the Senate as a whole, the matter is normally referred to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament for further consideration.
IS THE GOVERNMENT REQUIRED TO RESPOND TO A REPORT?
The Rules allow the Senate to request that the Government provide a complete and detailed response to a report of a committee adopted by the Senate. (For further details, please see the FAQ entitled Government Responses).
55 In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
56 See O’Brien and Bosc, p. 448, and Senate Procedure in Practice, p. 205.
57 See Beauchesne’s, 6th ed., p. 241-242 and Senate Procedure in Practice, pp. 207-8.
58 See Rules of the Senate, Appendix IV (d).
WHAT IS A GOVERNMENT RESPONSE?
In 2003, a process was established by which the Senate may request a comprehensive government response to reports of select committees that have been adopted by the Senate.
Rule 12-24(59) provides that:
(2) When the Senate requests a Government response, the Clerk shall communicate the request and send a copy of the report to the Leader of the Government and to each minister expressly identified in the request.
(3) The Leader of the Government shall table the Government’s response no later than 150 calendar days after the request was adopted, or provide an explanation why the response has not been provided.
(4) The report and either the Government’s response or the explanation why there is no response shall be deemed referred to the relevant committee when either is tabled or provided.
(5) If, 150 calendar days after the request was adopted, the Government has neither tabled its response nor provided an explanation why there is no response, then the report and the absence of a response or an explanation shall be deemed referred to the relevant committee.
This process applies to standing and special, but not joint, committees.(60) There are a number of ways that a request for a response from the government may be initiated.
HOW ARE GOVERNMENT RESPONSES REQUESTED?
A. Combined Adoption and Request for Response
One method of making such a request is for the motion for the adoption of the report to contain the request. In this case, the steps are as follows:
- The report is, by motion, placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration at a future sitting in the normal manner.
- During consideration of the report, its adoption is moved, with the motion for adoption clearly indicating that a response from the government is requested. The wording for such a motion should be: “That the (NUMBER) report of the Standing Senate Committee on (COMMITTEE NAME) entitled: (REPORT NAME), tabled in the Senate on (DATE OF TABLING), be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 12-24(1), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the Minister of ________ being identified as the minister responsible[, in consultation with the Minister(s) of _________,] for responding to the report.
- If the motion is adopted, the 150 calendar days (including weekends and holidays) begin running.
- The Clerk of the Senate immediately communicates the request and sends a copy of the report to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and any other ministers expressly identified in the motion as being responsible for responding to the report.
- Within the 150 calendar days of the adoption of the motion, the Leader of the Government in the Senate shall either table the government’s response or give an explanation in the Senate for not doing so.
- One hundred fifty days (150) after the adoption of the report, the original report and the government response or the explanation of the Government Leader for the absence of a response, or the absence of such response or explanation are deemed referred to the originating committee.
B. Request for Response Following Adoption of Report
Alternatively, the request for a government response could be made as a separate and distinct motion, but this can only be done after the adoption of the report. In this case, the process would be as follows:
- The report, upon being presented or tabled, is, by motion, placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration at a future sitting.
- During consideration of the report, its adoption is moved and, eventually, agreed upon.
- At some future point, a motion is moved, after two days’ notice,(61) or sooner with leave, to request a response from the government. Suggested wording is: “That pursuant to rule 12-24(1), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government to the (NUMBER) report of the Standing Senate Committee on (COMMITTEE NAME) entitled: (REPORT NAME), adopted by the Senate on (DATE OF ADOPTION), with the Minister of _____ being identified as minister responsible [, in consultation with the Minister(s) of_____,] for responding to the report.”
- If the motion is adopted, the 150 calendar days (including weekends and holidays) begin running.
- The Clerk of the Senate immediately communicates the request and sends a copy of the report to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and any other minister(s) expressly identified in the motion as being responsible for responding to the report.
- Within the 150 calendar days of the adoption of the motion, the Leader of the Government in the Senate shall either table the government’s response or give an explanation for not doing so in the Senate.
- One hundred fifty days (150) after the adoption of the report, the original report and the government response or the explanation of the Government Leader for the absence of a response, or the absence of such response or explanation are deemed referred to the originating committee.
C. Request Contained within Report
Finally, the request for a comprehensive government response can be contained within the report itself. In this case, rule 12-24 should be specifically invoked in the text of the request, and the designated ministers identified. The request is of no force or effect until such time as the report is adopted by the Senate. Consequently, those reading the report without the benefit of the relevant Journals, would not be able to determine if a request had in fact been made, or from when the 150 days are to be measured. Notwithstanding this concern, should a committee wish to pursue this option, the process would be as follows:
- The report containing a request for a response invoking rule 12-24 and identifying the responsible minister(s) is placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration at a future sitting in the normal manner.(62)
- At some point during consideration of the report, its adoption is moved.
- If the report is adopted, the 150 calendar days (including weekends and holidays) begin running.
- The Clerk of the Senate immediately communicates the request and sends a copy of the report to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and any other ministers expressly identified in the report as being responsible for responding to the report.
- Within the 150 calendar days of the adoption of the report, the Leader of the Government in the Senate shall either table the response for the government or give an explanation in the Senate for not doing so.
- One hundred fifty days (150) after the adoption of the report, the original report and the government response or the explanation of the Government Leader for the absence of a response, or the absence of such response or explanation are deemed referred to the originating committee.
HOW IS A GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TABLED?
Within 150 days of the request, the Government Leader shall either table the government’s response in the Senate or give an explanation for not having done so. In accordance with rule 14-1(6), the response may be “back door” tabled with the Clerk of the Senate. Where a request has been made, the report of the select committee and the response of the government or the explanation of the Government Leader for the absence of a response, or the absence of such response or explanation, are deemed to be referred to the select committee 150 calendar days after the adoption of the report. The 150 days limit must be respected whether the Senate is sitting at that time or not, provided that Parliament is not prorogued or dissolved. If the Senate is not sitting at the end of the 150 days, the response would therefore have to be “back door” tabled with the Clerk. Unlike the House of Commons, the Clerk of the Senate accepts documents in periods of extended adjournments provided Parliament had not been prorogued or dissolved.
A government response is only deemed referred 150 calendar days after the date of adoption of the report, irrespective of when the response was tabled.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF PROROGATION AND DISSOLUTION ON REQUESTS FOR GOVERNMENT RESPONSES?
As with all Senate business, a prorogation or dissolution of Parliament ends the government’s obligation to table a response to a report.(63)
In the case of a report that was adopted in a past session or past Parliament and to which a response is still desired in the new session, the request for a response must be renewed by motion, even if this step was not done during the session that the report in question was tabled or presented.(64) After the motion is adopted, the government would then have another 150 days in which to respond. This procedure differs significantly from that in the House of Commons, where the request for a government response is considered to be an order for the production of papers which, by their procedures, survives prorogations.(65)
It should be noted that the government has the option of tabling, on its own initiative, under rule 14-1(1), a response to a committee report from a previous session. This occurred several times during the 2nd Session of the 39th Parliament. Those responses were not automatically referred to committee, although a motion to that effect could have been adopted by the Senate.
59 In this document, all references to rules are to the Rules of the Senate.
60 See rule 12-24(1).
61 See rule 5-6(1)(c).
62 This request should be included on its own page, immediately after the preliminary pages, but before the body of the report, and should appear as follows, “Pursuant to rule 12-24(1) the Senate requests a complete and detailed response from the government to this report, with the minister(s) of _____ being identified as minister(s) responsible for responding to the report.”
63 See Speaker’s Ruling, December 11, 2007.
64 See Speaker’s Ruling, February 19, 2004.
65 See O’Brien and Bosc, p. 1075.
WHO IS THE COMMITTEE CLERK?
The clerk acts as the chief information, procedural and financial officer of a committee. The clerk is a non-partisan employee of the Senate who serves all members of the committee equally, no matter their political affiliation, in both official languages. The clerk is assigned to a particular committee by the Committees Directorate.
What are the clerk’s key roles?
The committee clerk has many roles:
- procedural advisor;
- business coordinator;
- recording secretary;
- chief financial and administrative officer;
- information officer;
- record keeper.
WITH WHOM DOES THE CLERK WORK?
The committee clerk works with an administrative assistant to ensure that all the needs of a committee are met. The clerk’s office acts as a hub for services that are required for the proper functioning of a committee. The clerk works with other staff such as analysts, consultants and communications officers. Together, they contribute to accomplishing the committee’s plans, activities and objectives. Clerks also cooperate with the legislative support services to ensure that interpretation is provided and that reporting and broadcasting are available when necessary. They liaise with other service providers as needed, for example catering services or printing services.
IN WHAT WAY DOES THE CLERK PROVIDE PROCEDURAL ADVICE?
The clerk advises the chair and other members of the committee regarding procedural questions before a committee. These questions may deal with matters such as the acceptability of a motion or an amendment, how to summon a reluctant witness, or the holding of votes, for example. The clerk’s role is to provide advice, in confidence, regardless of which senator or senator’s office is asking. In the end, it is for the chair, and, ultimately the committee, to decide on procedural questions before the committee.
In providing advice to the chair and other committee members, the clerk relies, among others, on the Rules of the Senate, parliamentary authorities, and parliamentary practice and jurisprudence.
WHAT ARE THE COMMITTEE CLERK’S DUTIES AS A COMMITTEE BUSINESS COORDINATOR?
The clerk manages relations and correspondence with all interested parties and potential witnesses. In addition, the clerk ensures that briefs and other documents are translated and distributed to committee members. The clerk also prepares the meetings according to the schedule established by the committee or steering committee, arranges for the appearance of witnesses, issues public notices of the committee’s meetings and informs the necessary support services. The committee clerk is also responsible for formatting, publishing and distributing reports adopted by the committee. When the committee travels, the clerk is responsible for all the logistics, such as transportation and accommodations.
HOW IS THE COMMITTEE CLERK A "RECORDING SECRETARY?"
The clerk attends all public and in camera meetings of the committee and records the minutes of proceedings. These minutes serve as the official record and accurately document those present, the length of the meeting, the witnesses heard and the decisions of the committee.
The committee clerk is also responsible for overseeing the publishing of committee issues containing the minutes of proceedings, witness testimony, changes to the membership, adopted reports, etc...
WHAT TASKS DOES THE CLERK PERFORM AS A FINANCIAL OFFICER?
The committee clerk is responsible for the financial aspects of the committee’s activities including preparing the committee’s budget, certifying invoices, monitoring the committee’s expenses and helping to prepare post-activity expenditure reports.
As a general rule, the clerk has the authority to commit funds on behalf of the committee in accordance with the delegation of power at the committee’s organizational meeting.(66) This provides the clerk with the authority to commit funds to allow the committee to conduct its work.
Throughout the fiscal year, the committee clerk receives invoices, obtains the necessary approvals when required, certifies accounts(67) and works in close collaboration with the Finance and Procurement Directorate to ensure that all committee expenses are properly requisitioned, disbursed and processed. The clerk certifies the expense claims submitted by the witnesses who appeared before the committee.
The clerk monitors the committee’s finances by keeping a detailed, up-to-date account of its expenses and commitments. The clerk reconciles this information with that of the Finance Directorate, and obtains the necessary clarifications or corrections, as needed. At the conclusion of each fiscal year, the clerk verifies activity expenditure reports, fills in objectives and accomplishments for each activity and arranges for signatures by the chair and deputy chair.
HOW DOES THE COMMITTEE CLERK ACT AS AN INFORMATION OFFICER?
The committee clerk provides factual information to the general public, the media and interested parties on such matters as the committee’s activities, its membership, its past and future meetings, its reports, its work plan, etc. The clerk replies to requests made by telephone, mail, fax or email, and also sends interested parties copies of committee reports, on request.
If a meeting is televised, the clerk, together with the committee’s communications officer and analyst, drafts the on-screen textual information used to assist viewers in understanding the work of the committee, the study in progress generally and information about the witnesses.
WHAT IS THE COMMITTEE CLERK'S ROLE IN TERMS OF COMMITTEE RECORD KEEPER?
The clerk keeps all committee-related documents including internal and external correspondence, minutes of proceedings, briefs, reports, and research material provided by Library of Parliament analysts, hired consultants or people interested in the committee’s business. At the end of a parliamentary session, the clerk archives this information.
66 See section 7, chapter 3:06, of the Senate Administrative Rules.
67 See section 8, chapter 3:06, of the Senate Administrative Rules.