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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

 
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The House of Commons is one of three constituent elements of the Parliament of Canada.[112] The other two elements are the Senate and the Sovereign, represented in Canada by the Governor General. The House of Commons is not a department of the Government of Canada, although its administrative structure may be described as generally comparable to that of a government department. One of the privileges of the House is its right to independent regulation of its own internal affairs.[113] The House may voluntarily adopt the administrative policies of the government as its own, but it cannot be compelled to do so, and it is also free to develop new policies and practices.[114]

The House Administration exists to support the activities of Members individually and collectively in their various roles as legislators in the House and in committees, as representatives of their constituents, and as members of their respective party caucuses. As well as serving Members elected for the duration of a Parliament, the Administration also serves the House as an institution.

In 1964, the administrative structure of the House of Commons was the subject of an important review which noted significant changes in the nature, volume and complexity of House services and recommended an administrative reorganization.[115] The origins of the modern administrative structure of the House may be traced to a major comprehensive audit carried out by the Auditor General in 1979 and 1980. In 1978, wishing to support a program of expenditure restraint undertaken by the government, Speaker Jerome asked the Standing Committee on Management and Members’ Services to suggest possible economy measures for the House.[116] Out of this came a recommendation from the Committee for a complete and independent review of the administration of the House.[117]

At the Speaker’s request, the Auditor General reviewed the administration of the House of Commons, submitting an interim report in October 1979 and a final report early in 1981.[118] The Auditor General noted that services to Members were of high quality; however, fundamental weaknesses and a number of significant deficiencies were identified.[119] These findings led to a major realignment of the administrative structure of the House, which has continued to evolve to meet changing circumstances and demands. Another comprehensive audit undertaken by the Auditor General in 1990‑91 found a greatly improved quality of general and financial administration.[120]

The administrative structure of the House is not set out in any single text or piece of legislation. The organization required to support the activities of the House has evolved and developed over the years in response to the needs of an increasingly complex system of government. Provisions for various aspects of the administration are found in legislation,[121] the Standing Orders,[122] by‑laws made by the Board of Internal Economy, internal policy manuals and in the unwritten practices developed over time.

*   Overall Authority of the Speaker

Elected by the Members of the House, the Speaker holds a position of authority and represents the Commons in all its powers, proceedings and dignity.[123] The Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, and spokesperson for the House in its relations with the Senate, the Sovereign and other authorities outside Parliament. When in the Chair, he or she is responsible for regulating debate and preserving order in accordance with the rules of the House.[124]

In addition to the more visible roles as representative of the House and presiding officer in the Chamber, the Speaker is at the head of the administration of the House of Commons and holds extensive responsibilities in that regard. The Speaker is responsible for the overall direction and management of the House of Commons administration,[125] much as a Cabinet Minister is responsible for a department.

The House has a number of unique characteristics that have a direct impact on how it functions and is managed. As part of its corporate rights and privileges, the House of Commons, through the Speaker, holds exclusive jurisdiction over its premises and the people within. The administrative activities of the House are numerous and diverse. All matters of finance and administration are overseen by the Board of Internal Economy, a statutory body of Members of Parliament. The House is accommodated for the most part in heritage buildings, which are recognized national symbols. These and other characteristics inevitably produce a necessarily complex administrative decision‑making process.

*   Board of Internal Economy

The Board of Internal Economy is the governing body of the House of Commons. It has a long statutory history, originating in 1868 with the passage of An Act respecting the internal Economy of the House of Commons, and for other purposes.[126]

Membership

The membership of the Board consists of the Speaker, who acts as its Chair, two Ministers of the Crown (appointed to the Board by the Governor in Council), the Leader of the Opposition or his or her representative, and additional Members appointed in numbers resulting in an overall equality of government and opposition representatives (apart from the Speaker), regardless of the composition of the House of Commons.[127] All recognized opposition parties (i.e., those holding at least 12 seats in the House) are given representation on the Board. The Speaker informs the House of appointments no later than 15 sitting days after they are made.[128] Each member of the Board is required to take an oath or affirmation “of fidelity and secrecy”, administered by the Clerk of the House.[129]

The Clerk of the House is the Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.[130] When Parliament is dissolved, members of the Board retain their functions until they are replaced.[131] This ensures continuity in the administrative leadership of the House; the practice has been that decisions taken by the Board while Parliament is dissolved are confined to those of a housekeeping nature.

Chair

Meetings of the Board of Internal Economy are chaired by the Speaker of the House. Five members, including the Speaker, constitute a quorum.[132] In the event of the death, disability or absence of the Speaker, five members of the Board constitute a quorum; one must be a Minister. The members present then designate one of their number to chair the meeting.[133]

Mandate and Authority

The powers and authority of the Board flow from provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. Under the Parliament of Canada Act, the Board has legal authority to “act on all financial and administrative matters respecting the House of Commons, its premises, its services and its staff; and the Members of the House of Commons”.[134] The Board examines and approves the annual budget estimates of the House before the Speaker transmits them to the President of the Treasury Board, who will then lay them before the House with the estimates of the government.[135] All sums of money voted for the House by Parliament are released by order of the Board. In other words, the Board of Internal Economy manages all operating and administrative expenses of the House, including employee salaries and amounts payable to Members (i.e., their sessional allowances, and travel and communications costs). In administrative matters, the Board is responsible for managing the premises, services and staff of the House as well as those goods, services and premises made available to Members to carry out their parliamentary functions.

Pursuant to the Standing Orders of the House, the Board approves and controls the budgetary expenditures of the committees of the House of Commons, and must cause to be tabled an annual financial report outlining the expenses incurred by each committee.[136] The rules further require that when the Board has reached a decision concerning any budget presented to it, the Speaker shall lay upon the Table the record of the Board’s decision.[137]

In accordance with the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Board is deemed to be the employer of the staff of the House of Commons, as defined in the Act (the chief exception being Members’ staff, who are deemed to be employed by the Members).[138] As employer, the Board approves rates of pay for unrepresented employees and authorizes officials of the House to negotiate the renewal of the collective agreements of unionized employees and ratifies such agreements.

Pursuant to the Standing Orders, two members of the Board, one government representative and one opposition representative, are designated to be responsible for answering any questions pertaining to the administration of the House which may be put during Question Period.[139] These spokespersons may also respond to points of order in the House on behalf of the Board.[140]

By-laws and Decisions of the Board

The Board is authorized by the Parliament of Canada Act to make by-laws governing Members’ use of the funds, goods, services and premises made available to them. When the Board makes a by-law, it must be tabled in the House within 30 days of its making, or deposited with the Clerk if the House is not sitting.[141]

The Standing Orders require the Speaker to table at the beginning of each new session of Parliament a report of decisions of the Board of Internal Economy for the previous session.[142] Early in the Thirty‑Fifth Parliament (1994‑97), a new practice was instituted whereby records of the Board’s decisions (typically in the form of minutes) are tabled in the House as soon as they have been approved by the Board.[143]

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*   Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Some of the duties of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also deal with the administration of the House. The Committee’s mandate includes, among other things, reviewing and reporting to the House and to the Board of Internal Economy on issues concerning the management of the House and the provision of services and facilities to Members.[144] Moreover, the Committee reviews the effectiveness and management of operations under the joint control of the House of Commons and the Senate, radio and television broadcasting of proceedings of the House and its committees, and matters relating to the election of Members.[145]

In addition, the Committee considers the budgetary estimates of the House of Commons[146] as well as the main estimates of Elections Canada, and the annual report of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner pertaining to activities in relation to Members of Parliament.[147]

*   Office of the Clerk of the House

Members are supported in their parliamentary functions by services administered by the Clerk of the House[148] who, as the chief executive of the House Administration, reports to the Speaker. The Clerk is appointed by Order in Council, following the referral of the name of the proposed appointee to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the ratification of the appointment by the House.[149] The Clerk is the senior permanent official of the House. The Clerk advises and supports the Speaker, the House and its committees in all procedural and administrative matters, and acts as Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.[150] The staff and administration of the House come under the control of the Clerk.[151] The Standing Orders establishing the procedural and administrative functions of the Clerk have changed little since Confederation; however, the responsibilities of the office have evolved considerably as the administrative apparatus of the House has become more complex.

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.[152] The Standing Orders also require the Clerk to provide the Speaker, prior to each sitting of the House, with the official agenda for the day’s proceedings, published under the title Order Paper and Notice Paper.[153] This rule has traditionally been interpreted to mean that the Speaker must be in possession of the current Order Paper and Notice Paper in order for the day’s proceedings to begin.

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. The Clerk also administers an oath to Members joining the Board of Internal Economy.[154] In addition, the Clerk is responsible for administering the oath of allegiance to all employees of the House Administration.[155]

Reporting to the Clerk are senior officials who are responsible for the various organizational units of the House Administration:

*       the Deputy Clerk,[156] responsible for providing procedural services to the House of Commons and its committees;

*       the Sergeant-at-Arms,[157] responsible for providing services pertaining to security[158] and accommodation matters and for providing food services;

*       the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel,[159] responsible for providing legal counsel services to the Speaker, the Board of Internal Economy, Members, the Clerk and officials of the House of Commons Administration along with legal and legislative counsel services to Members and committees of the House of Commons;

*       the Chief Information Officer/Executive Director, Information Services, responsible for providing information management and information technology, multimedia, publishing and printing services to the House of Commons;

*       the Chief Financial Officer, responsible for providing services pertaining to financial management as well as material and resource information management to the House of Commons; and

*       the Director General, Human Resources and Corporate Planning Services, responsible for providing human resources and corporate planning services to the House of Commons.

Along with the Clerk of the House, the Deputy Clerk, the Sergeant‑at‑Arms, and the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel also have duties in the Chamber when the House is sitting.

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[112] Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 17.

[113] Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 183‑5. See also Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[114] An example would be the House‑wide program of environmental awareness and conservation, known as “Greening the Hill”, established in 1990 by Speaker Fraser, well in advance of other such initiatives in the public sector.

[115] Sixth Report of the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented to the House on May 20, 1964 (Journals, pp. 331‑7).

[116] For a description of the administrative review, see comments of Speaker Jerome in Debates, November 1, 1979, pp. 841‑3.

[117] See the exchange of correspondence between the Speaker of the House and the Auditor General, tabled on November 1, 1979 (Journals, p. 162) and printed by Order of the House (Journals, November 2, 1979, p. 168) as an Appendix to the Debates (pp. 922‑6).

[118] The interim report was tabled in the House (Journals, November 1 and 2, 1979, pp. 162, 168) and a summary report appeared as Chapter 5 of the Auditor General’s report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1980 (tabled in the House on December 11, 1980 (Journals, p. 840)). The full audit report was filed as an exhibit with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Minutes of Proceedings, February 10, 1981, Issue No. 21, p. 3).

[119] Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1980, par. 5.8 to 5.10.

[120] Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Audit of the House of Commons Administration, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, November 1991, p. 9, tabled on November 21, 1991 (Journals, p. 703, Debates, pp. 5158‑9).

[121] See, for example, Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1; Salaries Act, R.S. 1985, c. S‑3; Official Languages Act, R.S. 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.); Canada Post Corporation Act, R.S. 1985, c. C‑10, s. 35.

[122] See, for example, Standing Orders 107, 121 and 148 to 159.

[123] May, 23rd ed., p. 218.

[124] For further information on the role of the Speaker, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.

[125] See the Report of the House of Commons to Canadians, tabled each spring by the Speaker and posted on the Parliament of Canada Web site (www.parl.gc.ca), for budgetary and staffing figures.

[126] S.C. 1868, c. 27.

[127] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P-1, s. 50(2). Until November 1997, when these provisions came into effect (Bill C‑13, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (composition of the Board of Internal Economy) received Royal Assent on November 27, 1997), the Deputy Speaker was automatically a member of the Board of Internal Economy. Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands), who was Deputy Speaker at the time, was subsequently appointed to the Board as one of the government’s representatives (Journals, December 11, 1997, p. 391). His successor, Bob Kilger (Stormont–Dundas–Charlottenburgh), was also appointed to the Board (Journals, January 31, 2001, p. 17). Subsequent Deputy Speakers have not been appointed.

[128] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 50(4). See, for example, Journals, April 4, 2006, p. 12 (appointment of several members at the beginning of a Parliament); February 1, 2005, p. 373 (appointment of one member to replace another).

[129] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 50(5). The text is set out as Form 3 of the Schedule to the Act.

[130] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 51.

[131] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 53.

[132] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52(1).

[133] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52(2).

[134] R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.3.

[135] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.4.

[136] Standing Order 121.

[137] Standing Order 148(2).

[138] R.S. 1985, c. 33 (2nd Supp.), ss. 3 and 4(2). The Board of Internal Economy issues guidelines to Members in connection with their role as employers.

[139] Standing Order 37(2). See, for example, Debates, May 30, 2001, p. 4400. See also Chapter 11, “Questions”.

[140] On November 20, 2002, a point of order was raised regarding a breach in security which had occurred on Parliament Hill the previous day. The point of order pertained to the responsibilities of the Board of Internal Economy. The Speaker declined to respond on behalf of the Board, stating that the Board had designated spokespersons (Debates, p. 1662). The next day, the Member designated by the Board responded to the point of order (Debates, November 21, 2002, pp. 1743‑4).

[141] R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.5(3).

[142] Standing Order 148(1).

[143] Debates, February 17, 1994, p. 1507.

[144] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(i).

[145] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(ii), (v) and (vi). For further information on this Committee, see Chapter 20, “Committees”.

[146] Standing Order 81(4). See, for example, statements of the Speaker in appearances before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Evidence, April 14, 2005, Meeting No. 29; May 11, 2006, Meeting No. 6.

[147] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vii).

[148] Since Confederation, 12 Clerks have served the House of Commons (see Appendix 9, “Clerks of the House of Commons Since 1867”). 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 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. During the tumultuous sittings of the Long Parliament (1640‑53), the role of Clerk grew to include advising the Chair and the House on procedural matters (Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., pp. 134‑5). For a historical account, see Marsden, P., The Officers of the Commons 1363‑1978, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1979.

[149] Standing Order 111.1. This Standing Order was established following the adoption of the Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons on October 4, 2001 (Journals, pp. 691-3), par. 42 to 44. Audrey O’Brien was the first Clerk of the House appointed pursuant to Standing Order 111.1 (Journals, September 30, 2005, p. 1068; Order Paper and Notice Paper, October 5, 2005, p. III; Journals, October 6, 2005, p. 1121; October 7, 2005, p. 1152).

[150] Occasionally, in appreciation of their service to the House, former Clerks have been designated as Honourary Officers of the House, and granted an entrée to the Chamber and a seat at the Table. See, for example, the designations of Robert Marleau (Journals, September 18, 2000, p. 1906) and William Corbett (Journals, October 7, 2005, p. 1152) as Honourary Officers. This honour has also been extended to a former Member of Parliament in recognition of his long service to the House. See the designation of Stanley Knowles (Journals, March 13, 1984, p. 244).

[151] Standing Order 151.

[152] Standing Order 151.

[153] Standing Order 152.

[154] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 50(5).

[155] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 49(1). This section of the Act also requires the Clerk to swear the oath before the Speaker of the House.

[156] From time to time since Confederation, the Clerk of the House has been assisted by a Deputy Clerk and one or more Clerks Assistant, who act as Table Officers. Table Officers are part of a corps of procedural staff, trained by means of an established career structure which provides experience in a variety of procedural fields. See Koester, C.S., “The Clerkship as a Profession: An Account of the Development of the Concept in the Canadian House of Commons 1980‑1986”, The Table, Vol. LVII, 1989, pp. 35‑43. The appointment to the position of Deputy Clerk has been made by Order in Council. See, for example, the appointments of Mary Anne Griffith (Journals, September 18, 1987, p. 1485), Camille Montpetit (Canada Gazette, Part I, November 7, 1998, p. 3036; Journals, February 11, 1999, p. 1498), William Corbett (Canada Gazette, Part I, October 30, 1999, p. 3126), Audrey O’Brien (Canada Gazette, Part I, July 15, 2000, p. 2212) and Marc Bosc (Canada Gazette, Part I, October 29, 2005, p. 3454). Appointments to the position of Clerk Assistant have been made at various times either by the Speaker (see, for example, the appointments of John George Bourinot (Journals, February 17, 1879, p. 8, Debates, cols. 5‑6) and Arthur Beauchesne (Journals, February 15, 1916, pp. 79‑80; February 17, 1916, p. 85)), or by Order in Council (see, for example, the appointments of Charles Beverley Koester (Journals, October 14, 1975, p. 754), Philip A.C. Laundy (Journals, March 4, 1983, p. 5672), Robert Marleau (Journals, March 4, 1983, p. 5672), Mary Anne Griffith (Journals, January 21, 1985, p. 224), Audrey O’Brien (Canada Gazette, Part I, January 15, 2000, p. 64), Marc Bosc (Canada Gazette, Part I, July 15, 2000, p. 2212) and Marie-Andrée Lajoie (Canada Gazette, Part I, October 29, 2005, p. 3454)).

[157] The office of Sergeant‑at‑Arms originated in the early years of the British Parliament, when mace‑bearing members of the Royal bodyguard were assigned to attend the Speaker at sittings of the House of Commons. With the Sergeant‑at‑Arms and the Mace, the House could exercise its powers of arrest, trial and imprisonment and pursue its lengthy struggle to establish its rights and privileges. For a detailed history of the office, see Marsden. The Sergeant‑at‑Arms also assists the Clerk in performing certain ceremonial functions. The ceremonial role of the Sergeant‑at‑Arms entails accompanying the Speaker, as Mace bearer in the Speaker’s Parade to and from the Chamber, in the parade to the Senate Chamber for the reading of the Speech from the Throne, and for Royal Assent ceremonies. When engaged in ceremonial functions and when attending sittings of the House, the Sergeant‑at‑Arms is attired formally in black tailcoat and cocked hat, with a sword signifying the authority of the office. In 1849, when rioters entered the Parliament Building in Montreal, the Sergeant‑at‑Arms reportedly drew his sword while attempting to protect the Mace (Beauchesne, Canada’s Parliament Building: The Senate and House of Commons, Ottawa, pp. 56‑7). The appointment to the position of Sergeant-at-Arms has been made by Order in Council. See, for example, the appointments of Lt. Col. David Currie (Debates, January 14, 1960, p. 5), Maj. Gen. Gaston Cloutier (Debates, May 4, 1978, p. 5139) and Kevin Vickers (Debates, September 18, 2006, p. 2892). See Appendix 11, “Sergeants‑at‑Arms of the House of Commons Since 1867”.

[158] This includes personal security for the Prime Minister in the precinct of Parliament and maintaining order in the Chamber and all the parliamentary buildings as well as the protection and security of Members, employees, visitors and property within the House precinct. Prior to the creation of the House of Commons Security Services in 1920, security was the responsibility of the Dominion Police (which in 1920 was merged with the Royal North West Mounted Police to create a new national force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). For further information, see Canada, House of Commons, Security Services Directorate, History of the House of Commons Security Services 1920‑1995, Ottawa, 1995.

[159] The Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel has also traditionally been a Table Officer and, like the Deputy Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms, is also an Order-in-Council appointee. At present, the Deputy Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel is a Table Officer as well. See Appendix 10, “Law Clerks of the House of Commons Since 1867”.

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