PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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19. Committees of the Whole House

There is as little sense of reality in appointing a committee of sixty members as there is in having a Committee of the Whole of 265: it is hopeless to expect a committee of such size to accomplish any useful work.

W.F. Dawson
(Procedure in the Canadian House of Commons, p. 209)

A

Committee of the Whole is the entire membership of the House of Commons sitting as a committee. [1]  Each time the House resolves itself into a Committee of the Whole to deliberate on a specific matter, a new committee is created. Once that committee has completed its business, it ceases to exist. Over the span of a session, many Committees of the Whole can be created on an ad hoc basis.

A meeting of a Committee of the Whole is held in the Chamber itself and presided over by the Deputy Speaker, as Chairman of Committees of the Whole, or by the Deputy Chairman [2]  or Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole. Whoever is presiding sits at the Table, in the Clerk’s chair, while the Speaker’s chair remains vacant; the Mace is removed from the top of the Table to signal that the House itself is no longer in session. The Mace rests on the lower brackets at the end of the Table during the entire time that the House sits as a Committee of the Whole.

“The function of a Committee of the Whole is deliberation, not enquiry”. [3]  Unlike standing committees which have the authority to initiate studies of continuing concern to the House, a Committee of the Whole may only consider questions and bills which the House decides should be dealt with in that forum. At one time, the House sat frequently as a Committee of the Whole to examine the Estimates, [4] appropriation bills [5] and all taxation bills [6] at the committee stage. In addition, most bills that had received a second reading were referred to a Committee of the Whole for consideration and review. Today, although the Standing Orders still provide for a Committee of the Whole to examine appropriation bills [7]  and, from time to time, by special order or unanimous consent, other bills which are referred to a Committee of the Whole for consideration, the House spends little time sitting as a Committee of the Whole. [8]  Indeed, the expeditious passage of legislation is now the predominant reason for the House resolving into a Committee of the Whole. [9] 

Since the membership of a Committee of the Whole is identical to that of the House, one might expect the rules in both forums to be the same. While there are similarities, the rules in a Committee of the Whole are less formal than those which apply when the House is in session and the Speaker is in the Chair. For example, Members may speak more than once on any item. [10]  This chapter will examine the role of Committees of the Whole and discuss the rules and practices pertaining to proceedings in a Committee of the Whole.


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