Committees regularly invite individuals, experts, groups and organizations, lobbyists, public servants and ministers of the Crown to appear before them in order to receive information relevant to the study currently under consideration. Individuals or groups interested in a study being carried out by a committee may make a request to appear before that committee, by contacting the clerk.
Participating in a Senate committee study
What is a Senate committee?
A committee performs work referred to it by the Senate through an order of reference. Committees study proposed legislation or bills, government expenditures (the estimates), and conduct special studies. When a committee has completed its work, or a part thereof, it presents its findings, recommendations or decisions in the form of a report to the Senate.
Committee work is important because it gives senators an opportunity to examine in detail the subject under review. This examination process usually includes hearings, which allow senators to question groups and individuals on their views.
There are two types of committees: standing committees permanently established by the Rules of the Senate and special committees appointed to study a specific order of reference. Committees can establish subcommittees as necessary. In addition, the Senate and the House of Commons can create standing joint committees or special joint committees.
Senate committees usually have from 9 to 15 members. Committee membership generally reflects the standings of the political parties in the Senate itself.
What is an order of reference?
An order of reference is the parliamentary term for a task delegated to a committee by the Senate. A committee's order of reference may be as all-encompassing as: (i) a major investigation into a broad policy issue; (ii) the detailed study of proposed legislation after second reading; or, (iii) the study of a specific subject matter such as the pre-study of a bill. The committee is bound by the terms of its order of reference, which sets the mandate of the committee and, in the case of special studies, the date it must report back to the Senate. Committees often have more than one order of reference at a time.
When a standing committee receives an order of reference, it is authorized to invite representatives from organizations or persons to submit briefs or to testify before it. While much of the work of committees in done in Ottawa, committees may seek permission to travel for the purpose of holding hearings outside Ottawa.
Who is your contact person?
The clerk of the committee is responsible for providing procedural advice and performing administrative duties for the committee. The clerk takes directions from members of the committee in conducting their work.
The clerk is a permanent employee of the Senate and is strictly non-partisan. He or in she is knowledgeable about procedure and administrative policies and is the person to whom you should direct any questions.
How to obtain information about a Senate committee or one of its studies?
To obtain information about a committee, it is recommended to contact the clerk ofthe committee or to visit the committee’s website (www.parl.gc.ca). It is possible for an individual to request that they be added to the committee’s electronic mailing list to receive meeting notices and unrevised transcripts of the meetings. Such a request may be made through the clerk of the committee.
An individual or organization can make a request to appear before a committee on a particular study and/or may submit written evidence.
How do you participate in a committee's study?
Submitting written evidence
Anyone wishing to submit written evidence may do so in either official language. However, briefs are normally only circulated to members after they have been translated. Therefore, if appearing before a committee, any written material should be sent electronically to the clerk of the committee at least one week in advance of the presentation so that sufficient time is available for any translation and distribution. Written evidence is made available to the public.
The following are general guidelines as to form and content:
- may be submitted in either English or French;
- witnesses from federal government departments and agencies are required to submit their briefs in both official languages;
- clearly indicate the name and address of the person, association or organization submitting the information;
- provide a summary of the main points;
- should be as succinct as possible while setting out factual information that substantiates the views expressed; (written evidence should generally not exceed 10 pages and in cases where this is not feasible, an executive summary should be provided);
- recommendations should be as specific as possible, particularly when proposing amendments to legislation;
- numbered endnotes are preferred to footnotes;
- logos, graphs, tables and diagrams should be in black ink as other colours may not photocopy well;
- any separate photographs accompanying the submission should be in black and white and on glossy paper.
Appearing before a committee
Committees regularly invite individuals, experts, groups and organizations, lobbyists, public servants and ministers of the Crown to appear before them in order to receive information relevant to the study currently under consideration. Individuals or groups interested in a study being carried out by a committee may make a request to appear before that committee.
Witnesses are selected based on a number of criteria, including the knowledge or interest of the witnesses and the amount of time available for the committee to conduct its work. Often, committees are unable to hear the testimony of all those who wish to appear. As stated above, committees will receive written briefs from any and all interested parties.
Once the committee decides who will be invited to give evidence, the clerk will contact them, giving the date, time and place of the meeting.
What can you expect at a committee meeting?
As the Senate has adopted Scent-Free Work Environment Guidelines, witnesses are requested to refrain from using scented products.
Upon arrival at the committee room, it is suggested that witnesses introduce themselves to the committee clerk. The clerk will explain the format and answer any questions the witness may have.
At the outset of the meeting, the chair indicates the order in which witnesses will be heard and introduces the witnesses to the committee. The chair is a senator elected from among the members of the committee to preside over its meetings. The chair maintains order and decorum, recognizes members to speak, and rules on questions of procedure.
Presentations by witnesses should be kept short as per the guidelines provided in the confirmation of appearance. After the oral evidence, a question and answer period will follow with the members of the committee. Each committee sets its own guidelines for questioning witnesses.
All witnesses have the right to address any committee in either official language. The proceedings may be televised and, as an added service, closed captioning may be provided for the hearing-impaired public. To create an accurate record, the interpreters and parliamentary reporters request that witnesses speak clearly and at a reasonable speed, particularly when reading from briefs, quotations and other documents.
What can you expect after a committee meeting?
Following the appearance of a witness, the clerk will send a copy of the unrevised transcripts of their testimony and will asked for any minor editorial corrections to the unrevised transcript of their testimony, in order to better ensure the accuracy of the verbatim records. These corrections should be submitted within 48 hours of thereceipt of the transcripts of the meeting.
Witnesses are also sent a web-based witness survey to provide feedback on their experience as a witness and the services they received.
Are witnesses eligible for reimbursement of expenses?
Under some circumstances, a committee may agree to pay for reasonable travelling and living expenses. A witness wishing to seek such financial assistance must consult with the clerk of the committee prior to his or appearance, as travel expense claims are subject to the approval of the committee.
Are there facilities for the disabled?
All parliamentary buildings have entrances adapted for the disabled. All committee rooms are also fully accessible. Washrooms in all Senate-occupied buildings can accommodate wheelchairs. Please note that for security reasons, vehicular access to Parliament Hill is restricted. Witnesses requiring vehicular access should advise the clerk as early as possible to make the necessary arrangements; in such cases parking spots are also available. If a witness requires further information, the clerk should be consulted.
Layout of a committee room
6. Room attendant
Map showing entrances to Senate buildings
- Making sure you are heard and understood (transcription, interpretation and closed captioning)
- Hotels within walking distance of Parliament Hill
- PowerPoint Presentations for Televised Committees