Office of the Clerk
Visitors to the House of Commons and those watching its proceedings on television have surely noticed the officials in black robes sitting at the Table in front of the Speaker’s Chair. These are the Clerks-at-the-Table, non-partisan officials who provide advice to the Speaker and to Members and who record the decisions of the House. At the head of the Table sits the Clerk of the House, the senior permanent official of the House of Commons.
This Web site will provide insight into the role of the Clerk, the manner in which the Clerk is appointed, the long history of the office, as well the administrative structure of the House of Commons. You will also find biographical information about the current Clerk of the House, Ms. Audrey O’Brien.
Roles and Responsibilities
Members are supported in their parliamentary functions by services administered by the Clerk of the House who, as the chief executive of the House administration, reports to the Speaker. The Clerk advises the Speaker and all Members on the interpretation of parliamentary rules, precedents and practices. The Clerk is at the service of all Members, regardless of party affiliation, and must act with impartiality and discretion.
The Clerk is responsible for maintaining records of the proceedings of the House and for keeping custody of these records and other documents in the possession of the House. All decisions of the House are authenticated by signature of the Clerk.
At the beginning of a Parliament, the Clerk administers the oath of allegiance to all duly elected Members as required by the Constitution Act, 1867.
The Clerk acts as Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy, the governing body that has responsibility over all financial and administrative matters respecting the House of Commons. The Clerk also administers an oath to Members joining the Board of Internal Economy.
In addition, the Clerk frequently receives delegations of parliamentary officials from other legislatures and participates in interparliamentary activities.
Clerk's Management Group
The Clerk's Management Group (CMG) is an executive governing body representing all services across the House of Commons. It makes recommendations to the Speaker and the Board of Internal Economy regarding the administration of the House of Commons.
The Clerk's Management Group is chaired by the Clerk and is comprised of the heads of the six service areas:
- The Deputy Clerk (Procedural Services)
- The Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel (Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel)
- The Sergeant-at-Arms (Parliamentary Precinct Services)
- The Chief Information Officer (Information Services)
- The Chief Financial Officer (Finance Services)
- The Chief Human Resources Officer (Human Resources, Corporate Planning and Communications Services)
The CMG is responsible for:
- Setting strategic directions, priorities and expected results for the House of Commons Administration;
- Ensuring that the House of Commons Administration has the financial and human resources necessary to carry out its mandate;
- Reviewing and/or approving all policies pertaining to the House of Commons Administration before they are submitted to the Board of Internal Economy for approval or for information; and
- Ensuring that the House of Commons Administration complies with approved policies and directives.
Appointment of the Clerk of the House of Commons
The Clerk of the House of Commons is appointed by the Governor-in-Council under the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act, though neither the Clerk nor any staff of the House of Commons are technically part of the federal public service. The Clerk is required under the Parliament of Canada Act to swear an oath of allegiance administered by the Speaker of the House.
In 2001, the House agreed to a recommendation contained in the First Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons that provided for a committee review of any proposed appointment of a Clerk of the House of Commons and a subsequent ratification vote by the House.
As a result of this recommendation, the Standing Orders were amended to provide that when the Government intends to appoint a person to the position of Clerk of the House of Commons, the name of the proposed appointee is referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Committee may consider the appointment during a period of not more than thirty days and may report its views to the House.
Following this, a motion to ratify the appointment is put to the House during Routine Proceedings, and is decided without debate or amendment.
This procedure was used for the first time in 2005 when the proposed appointment of Audrey O'Brien was reviewed and recommended by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and was subsequently ratified by the House.
History of the Office
The office of Clerk has a long history in British parliamentary tradition. The first official appointment of a Clerk to the Commons took place in England in 1363, though from much earlier times kings had employed officials to record their decisions and those of their advisors. In the language of the time, the word “clerk” simply indicated a person who could read and write. Thus, the early Clerks of the House were servants of the Crown appointed to assist the Commons with its business. Their duties included reading petitions and bills.
As the Commons gained in stature and recognition, its Clerk became more identified with the institution. In the mid-sixteenth century, Clerks began keeping notes on proceedings in the House, and these evolved into the Journals. Over time, the role of Clerk grew to include advising the Chair and the House on procedural matters.
Today, in addition to duties in the Chamber, the Clerk is the chief executive of the House administration and its senior permanent official.
Since Confederation, 12 Clerks have served the Canadian House of Commons.