Pursuant to House of Commons Standing Order 108(1), standing committees may consider any matter referred to them by the House of Commons or whose study is required by law. Standing committees may report to the House and are authorized to call witnesses, require that records and documents be produced and can delegate their powers to subcommittees. Standing committees may sit when the House is sitting or when it has adjourned, and may sit jointly with other standing committees.
The Standing Committee on Official Languages is not attached to a specific department. According to Standing Order 108(3)(f), the mandate of the Official Languages Committee is as follows:
… shall include, among other matters, the review of and report on official languages policies and programs, including Reports of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which shall be deemed permanently referred to the Committee immediately after they are laid upon the Table.
Moreover, Section 88 of the Official Languages Act stipulates that:
The administration of this Act, any regulations and directives made under this Act and the reports of the Commissioner, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Canadian Heritage made under this Act shall be reviewed on a permanent basis by such committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament as may be designated or established for that purpose.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages currently holds this mandate. The Commissioner of Official Languages’ reports are automatically sent to the Committee after having been presented to the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate, pursuant to section 69 of the Official Languages Act.
The Special Joint Committee on Official Languages was the first parliamentary committee responsible for studying official languages issues. In May 1980, it was mandated to study the annual reports of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
In its Fifth Report, presented on 23 April 1983, the Special Joint Committee recommended the creation of a standing joint committee on official languages. This committee was initially formed in the spring of 1984 and was known as the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages Policy and Programs. In November 1986, it became the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.
Further to a Senate decision to no longer take part in the proceedings of the Joint Committee, the House of Commons established its first Standing Committee on Official Languages in May 1991. This committee met infrequently over the next three years. On 17 March 1994, at the start of the 35th Parliament, the Joint Committee was re established and met during every session until June 2002.
In the fall of 2002, the Senate decided once again to withdraw from the Joint Committee and created its own standing committee on 10 October. The House of Commons then followed suit, creating its Standing Committee on Official Languages on 21 November 2002.
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee and as such will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the Committee. They are part of the Committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analyst works individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the Committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) are available to assist Members who are not in Cabinet in the preparation of private Members’ bills or of amendments to Government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, Members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the Committee Stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the Report Stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once bill is sent to Committee, the clerk of the Committee provides the name of the Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the Members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the Committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from Members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to Committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee concerning any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide Members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of Report Stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the Members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages conducted several studies during the first and second sessions of the 41st Parliament. The major reports published by the Committee are summarized below:
From October 2011 to October 2012, the Committee conducted an evaluation of the Roadmap for Canada's Linguistic Duality 2008-2013: Acting for the Future to assess the work accomplished since its implementation. Following its evaluation, the Committee tabled a report in the House of Commons containing recommendations to guide the Government of Canada in developing its next strategy for official languages.
From October 2012 to March 2013, the Committee conducted a study on linguistic duality during the 150th anniversary celebrations of Canadian Confederation in 2017. With the 150th anniversary of Confederation approaching, the Committee was interested in determining what the Government of Canada can do to ensure that linguistic duality is an integral part of the celebrations. The Committee's report for this study contains a series of recommendations to support the federal government in promoting Canada's linguistic duality and contributing to the vitality of official language minority communities.
In March and April 2013, the Committee considered Bill C-419, An Act respecting language skills. This enactment provides that persons appointed to certain key positions reporting to Parliament, including officers of Parliament, must be able to speak and understand both official languages. The Committee reported to the House of Commons with certain amendments to the bill. The Language Skill Act received Royal Assent in June 2013.
From November 2013 to February 2014, the Committee conducted a study on second official language immersion programs in Canada. The Committee examined the measures taken by the federal government to improve the delivery of French second language education programs in terms of access, capacity, waiting lists, best practices and efficiencies. The Committee reported to the House of Commons with recommendations.
The Committee also reported to the House of Commons on a study that included 23 meetings between February 2014 and February 2015 on the economic situation of Canada’s official language minority communities. The Committee’s report provides an overview of the economic situation of Canada’s official language minority communities and the federal government’s initiatives to promote the economic development of these communities. The Committee made various recommendations to build sustainable and growing economies in official language minority communities.
In 2015, the Committee undertook a study of Government of Canada programs designed to promote francophone immigration to francophone minority communities in Canada. The Committee's report examines the impact of francophone immigration on the growth and development of these communities and looks at the impact of federal programs designed to recruit, welcome and integrate francophone immigrants into francophone minority communities.
Lastly, during the last two parliamentary sessions, the Committee also conducted several studies that did not lead to reports to the House of Commons, including a study on CBC/Radio-Canada’s programming following recent budget cuts and a study on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s obligations under the Official Languages Act.