Claude Pinard, Monique
Gagnon-Tremblay, Matthias Rioux, Sylvain Simard
At the time this
article was written Claude Pinard was Vice-President of the National Assembly,
Monique Gagnon-Tremblay chaired the Committee on Social Affairs, Matthias Rioux
chaired the Committee on Culture and Sylvain Simard chaired the Committee on Public Finance until October
2000 when he became Minister of Relations with Citizens and Immigration. This
is an unofficial transition of a report tabled in the Quebec National Assembly
in June 2000.
A number of legislators feel there is a need to revive the reform
movement insofar as committee work is concerned. This stems from
dissatisfaction with the role assigned to members in the work of the committees
and the latitude left to them in the organization, progress and follow-up of
orders of reference given committees by the Assembly or undertaken by them on their
own initiative. The member for Matane, Matthias Rioux, spoke out on behalf of
this movement in a letter sent on November 3, 1999 to the Speaker of the Quebec
National Assembly. He expressed disappointment with the overall results of the
parliamentary committees which, notwithstanding some occasional good work, are
hindered in their efforts by a large number of regulatory constraints and
excessive control by party caucuses. As a result of Mr. Rioux’s initiative,
Speaker Jean-Pierre Charbonneau called a meeting of all the chairmen and
vice-chairmen of parliamentary committees a few weeks later to consider
appropriate measures. It was resolved to form a group to review the work of
committees. The group was instructed to prepare a report and to consider what
changes might be made to improve the functioning and performance of committees.
This article presents the conclusion and thirteen proposals for revitalizing
Some worthwhile progress has
been achieved in recent years. The committees are on the right track having
increased their independent activities and they are exercising more effectively
their powers of initiative and surveillance. But this trend is still too recent
and embryonic. In our opinion, it is still necessary to go further and to
revive the spirit of the 1984 reforms. That is why we have formulated a number
of proposals that are designed to make committees even more interesting and
stimulating places of work for the members.
1. Form a Grand Committee
If we want Parliament to again
become the site par excellence for debating the major issues of the day,
we must find a formula that differs from the ones we have come to know.
The members lack a forum where
they can debate among themselves a major issue of interest to the whole of our
society, with esprit de corps and without worrying about the “party
Committees now have difficulty
debating such issues through the adoption of orders of reference. The
particular question before a committee may frequently exceed its particular
competence. Or the program of work assigned to it leaves no time to debate an
issue of such scope.
Yet there are a number of major
issues of public interest that merit being debated each year by members of the
Assembly apart from Government initiatives or concerns of the Opposition.
The idea we are advancing is to
mobilize all the parliamentary committees each year to undertake, together, a
vast order of reference in addition to their other independent activities, and
which would lead in the fall to the holding of a special session in the
National Assembly. The extraordinary nature of this procedure could arouse new
interest among the members and attract media attention.
To ensure that the exercise is effective
and credible, some amendments would be made to the Standing Orders of the
National Assembly, to establish a procedure that would resemble the
- In February of each year, the Speaker of
the National Assembly will call a conference of the chairmen and
vice-chairmen of the standing committees.
- The conference of chairmen and
vice-chairmen will determine the general theme, which will constitute a
general order of reference for all committees during the year and be the subject
of a special debate during a session of the Assembly in the course of the
- A news conference chaired by the Speaker of
the National Assembly, accompanied by the chairmen and vice-chairmen of
the committees, will report the adopted theme and explain what the
committees are going to do.
- Each steering committee will prepare a work
plan and submit it to the committee for determination as to how and from
what perspective it will carry out its order of reference.
- A conference of the chairmen and
vice-chairmen will be called by the Speaker of the National Assembly to
receive the sectoral themes and plan what comes next.
- The sectoral committees will conduct their
proceedings – through a subcommittee where appropriate – and draft their
- A further conference of the chairmen and
vice-chairmen will be called by the Speaker of the National Assembly to
receive the sectoral reports and agree on the overall report.
- The overall report will be sent to each
member of the Council of Ministers.
- Each minister concerned by the overall
report will be required to reply within a reasonable period, fixed in
- Each steering committee will prepare
questions to be sent to the ministers in anticipation of the special
debate in a full session of the Assembly.
- The questions will be sent to the ministers
within a minimum period preceding the special session of the Assembly.
- In October of each year, the Speaker of the
National Assembly will call a special session of the National Assembly to
hold a plenary debate on the overall report of the committees.
- The Speaker of the National Assembly will
lead the special session and allocate the speaking time to ensure that
each committee has adequate time in which to describe the outcome of its
proceedings and to hear the reactions of the ministers concerned.
2. Reduce the Presence of
Ministers in Committee
The executive is omnipresent in
our parliamentary proceedings. Ministers are usually summoned by any committee
working intheir area of activity. The opposition spokesmen, naturally wish to
defend the views of the opposition. Thus the minister’s presence means that the
debate in committee is polarized between two individuals. We propose to
increase the participation of other members by identifying some orders of
reference where the presence of ministers would be inappropriate, and others in
which it would be optional.
We are convinced that, other
than in exceptional circumstances1, the minister has no place as a
member of a committee when the committee is conducting public consultations,
irrespective of the origin of the order of reference. The minister should be
heard at the outset of the public hearings, in order to describe the major
features of his or her project, or to outline the government’s policy thrust on
the matter being examined by the committee. He should also be heard at the end
of the public hearings, in order to share with the committee members the
conclusions flowing from the hearings. As a general rule, the minister would
therefore no longer be a member, but a witness before the committee. He would
be a preferred witness, however, since he would have the liberty of opening and
closing the deliberations.
We think this approach would
clearly enhance the functions of all committee members, while easing the
perception among some groups that they are deprived of access to the real
When a committee is examining a
public bill of a technical nature2, the minister would no longer be
required to be present through the clause-by-clause consideration. A
parliamentary assistant could provide, as needed, the link between the
committee and the minister. The minister would be required to be present at the
commencement of the committee and its conclusion, for the same reasons referred
We think that if this proposal
is followed, the ministers will feel less inclined to be constantly present in
committee and that the committee members will be more at ease freely debating
3. Affirm the Independence of
In our experience, the
systematic presence of the ministers in committee has resulted in interference
by minister’s offices, house leaders and whips in the most minor aspects of the
organization, procedure and follow-up of meetings. Short-circuited by the political
offices, the committees are not free to determine the resources they need in
order to adequately ready themselves to carry out their orders of reference or
to develop the appropriate conclusions and recommendations in the report on
The chairmen and vice-chairmen
should seek to protect the independence of their committee by involving members
in the decisions concerning the organization of proceedings. The committee or,
by delegation, its steering committee should again become the place where
decisions concerning the organization, procedure and follow-up of proceedings
It is abnormal that the rule
limiting the number of committees that may sit concurrently prevents the
committees from holding a deliberative meeting to plan and organize their work
or to follow up on it. Greater flexibility is required in this regard.
In May 1999, an agreement was
reached among the parliamentary groups to eliminate certain constraints
hindering travel by committee members when they wish to participate in a
representation or training activity approved by the committee’s steering
committee and held outside the National Assembly building. The purpose of the
proposal was essentially to remove such travel from the need for prior
authorization of the Committee on National Assembly or its steering committee.
This constraint, which complicates participation in symposiums and conferences,
was perceived as a major irritant by the members of the committees and an undue
interference of the House Leaders in the legitimate exercise of parliamentary
Notwithstanding the agreement
last spring, no amendment has been made to the standing orders in relation to
travel by committees. This situation should be remedied at the earliest
4. Free Up Time and Space
The agenda of the committees is
dominated by the agenda of the Government House leader. Many orders of
reference or surveillance must be postponed or rescheduled, if not cancelled,
because of priority orders determined by the Government House leader.
The constraints on the number of
committees that may sit concurrently and the number of rooms available
compromise the planning and regular holding of committee meetings. But it is
imperative that the National Assembly free up more time for this type of work.
We think the number of days
scheduled on the parliamentary calendar and the overall number of members
available to sit in the Assembly and in committees are sufficient to allow the
maximum number of committees authorized to meet concurrently in or out of the
session to be increased by one committee. This is especially so since the rules
governing the composition of the committees and the quorum have been loosened,
reducing the number of members who must be present in committee.
Indeed, if five committees were
to end up sitting concurrently out of session, the maximum number of members
concerned would be 50, out of a total of approximately 90 committee members.
The minimum number in compliance with committee quorums would be 20 members.
However, to promote the exercise
of the power of initiative and surveillance, the additional committee we are
proposing could fulfill only orders derived from its own initiative, and not
orders of the Assembly.
Since the National Assembly now
has only four committee rooms at its disposal, a new room will eventually have
to be arranged with all the necessary equipment and staff. We think the cost of
this reorganization is justified in view of the increase in initiative and
surveillance activities. Since the number of rooms is now sufficient to hold an
additional committee during a session and since it is in such a period that the
need is most acute, it would no doubt be wise to wait and see how the trend develops
in an inter-session period before setting up a fifth room.
5. Use Specialized
To free up time and facilitate
the concurrent accomplishment of a large number of activities, the committees
would benefit greatly from using subcommittees more often. This has been
possible since 1984, but the committees have not used it, either because the
procedure for forming subcommittees is complicated – it requires a decision by
a double majority – or through simple lack of knowledge of its existence. Some
argue as well that they are uneasy about excluding certain members in the
exercise of particular functions. However, the general committee rules apply to
subcommittees: there is nothing to prevent replacements or the possibility of
requesting consent to participate in the proceedings.
There are many advantages to
using a subcommittee. It is a safety valve that allows a committee to pursue
its priority proceedings without being overloaded with its other obligations.
It promotes the participation of those members who are most affected by the
order under consideration. Because they are fewer in number, the members of a
subcommittee have an opportunity to conduct more detailed work.
Finally – and this is its
greatest advantage, in our view – the subcommittee formula can be used to
develop specialization among a small number of members in certain relatively
technical functions. The experience of the Committee on Public Administration
over the last three years has shown that specialization increases their participation
and interest in the orders in question. Why not draw on this example for the
implementation of recurrent and specialized parliamentary orders of
We think the subcommittee
formula should be systematically employed for certain parliamentary orders of
surveillance, including the surveillance of public bodies, consideration of
regulations and accountability of government ministries for their
administrative management. However, to provide greater flexibility and promote
the implementation of this type of order, the decision to form a subcommittee
should be taken by a simple majority, and not according to the present
This would mean that each
committee would be asked to form three subcommittees, which would have a quasi-permanent
character and would carry out their surveillance functions on a continuing
basis. Constituted for the duration of a session, they would be required from
time to time to report to the committee that constituted them. They could, for
example, recommend, that the committee hold consultations on a problem they
have identified in the course of their proceedings.
6. Give More Content to
The Standing Orders provide that
when there is a general consultation the committee shall hold a deliberative
meeting to determine, in light of the submissions received, whether it is
appropriate to hold public hearings and, for this purpose, to choose such
organizations and persons as it wishes to hear.3
The Standing Orders also provide
that the committee may decide, in a deliberative meeting, to hold special
consultations by inviting the views of persons and organizations that have
expertise or experience specific to a field it is examining. The meeting shall
determine the list of witnesses and the order and duration of the hearings.4
These procedures are not
actually adhered to when a committee receives an order from the Assembly. In
the case of a general consultation, the selection of witnesses is made by way
of negotiations among the House Leaders, after consultation with the office of
the responsible minister5 and the Opposition spokesperson (and the
independent member if he is a member of the committee).
In practice, the final order of
the hearings is established outside the framework of the committee and sent
directly to the chairman, the vice-chairman and the clerk without any member
being consulted. Usually, all of the groups that have sent a submission are
heard, irrespective of the degree of repetition or redundancy that this may
In the case of special
consultations, the practice for several years has been that the list of
witnesses to be heard is appended to the motion of referral prepared by the
Government House leader and adopted by the Assembly. The motion even goes so
far as to specify the order and duration of the hearings and their detailed
schedule, while authorizing the committee’s steering committee to make the
necessary arrangements in the event of scheduling conflicts.
For example, a committee that
wished to add some groups to the list voted by the Assembly could do so only
through an order of initiative, adopted by a double majority, and which would
not have priority over the initial order.
The present practice has the
advantage of being effective, since it is easier to reach an agreement with a
limited number of decision-makers. It is also fair, since representatives of
all the parties are usually involved in the decision.
However, it is illegitimate,
because the members of the committee are excluded from the decision-making,
although the suggestion to the broader community and the groups to be heard is
that the committee has in fact exercised its power to select the witnesses and
to organize the proceedings. In fact, this practice effectively negates the
transfer of authority made in 1984 between the Government House leader and the
Is there not some means of
maintaining the effectiveness of the decision-making process while respecting
the jurisdiction of members of the Assembly? We propose that the chairmen and
vice-chairmen adopt a procedure that is more respectful of the committee
members and the Standing Orders provisions.
In the case of general
consultations, the steering committee of a committee that has received an order
from the Assembly should have a synthesis of the submissions prepared as they
are received and forward it to all committee members with the list of
registered organizations. Should our recommendation that ministers be excluded
from the public consultations not be adopted, it would be appropriate to
require the minister, who is a member of a committee for the purpose of a
public consultation, to supply its members with a synthesis of the submissions
received. After all, since it is the minister who requests the consultation, and
it is the Assembly that bears the costs of the consultation, the members should
quite naturally have the necessary tools to do their work – particularly when
the synthesis is prepared by the ministry officials and is available.
The steering committee might
also ask the committee members to send it the names of groups or individuals to
hear within the time limit it establishes (e.g. at least seven days before the
date scheduled for the commencement of the hearings). The members might get
ideas in this regard from the synthesis of submissions supplied to them.
On the basis of the committee
members’ suggestions, the chairman and vice-chairman might discuss and decide
in the steering committee on the selection of witnesses and the order and
duration of the hearings. The steering committee would then communicate its
decision to the committee members and House Leaders. Should an impasse develop
in the steering committee, the chairman would convene a full meeting in
accordance with the Standing Orders.
The Government House leader
would then determine the calendar of public hearings on the basis of the
selections made by the steering committee or the committee as a whole. The
chairman would then convene the committee upon notice by the Government House
The same procedure could apply
to special consultations in so far as the National Assembly gives the committee
the latitude to determine the list of witnesses, as the Standing Order
This procedure is flexible
enough not to prejudice the smooth running of the consultations. It requires no
amendment to the present rules.
In addition, the persons and
organizations who have been heard in committee expect that their testimony will
be taken into consideration and that, if possible, it will have an impact on
Although they have had the
authority to do so since 19846, committees that have carried out
orders for general or special consultations at the request of the Assembly do
not as a general rule take a position on the issue they have examined through
the adoption of conclusions or recommendations.
Some people think the period of
one clear day given to any committee to agree on its conclusions and
recommendations is too short. Others think it is the responsible minister’s task
to draw his or her own conclusions and determine the appropriate measures
(bill, allocation of resources, etc.).
A survey carried out in 1994 by
the Secrétariat des commissions indicates that groups which have
participated in general and special consultations of committees of the National
Assembly are for the most part sceptical as to the influence their contribution
may have had on the decision-making process, although they consider the
exercise useful.7 Some symposiums held recently on this issue indicate
dissatisfaction among participants as to the follow-up given to public
Just as a committee should
prepare a synthesis of the submissions received, it should also have a
synthesis of its deliberations and include this in its report, not only out of
respect for the groups it has heard but in order to leave a concrete record of
its proceedings other than the simple transcript of the hearings.
From this perspective, and with
a view to promoting the exercise of the committees’ power of recommendation,
the time given the committees in which to formulate their recommendations
should be extended to 15 clear days.
7. Examine Draft Regulations
during Clause-by-clause Consideration of Public Bills
For several years now, members
have observed that bills implementing a new government initiative essentially
consist of a statement of principles accompanied by general provisions. A bill
usually includes a section authorizing the government to enact regulations for
the application of the Act.
The Committee is of the opinion
that a large number of bills are prepared in excessive haste and that the
National Assembly does not take the necessary time to conduct an adequate
assessment of their impact. Members should be able to monitor the process both
before and after a bill is adopted and implemented.
Some members of the Assembly
suggested some time ago that a bill not be adopted during the first quarter in
which it was tabled, so as to give more time to members and the broader
community to debate it and assess it on its merits.
While subscribing to this
proposal, we think the members should also be involved in the preparation of
the regulations resulting from the adoption of the bill. Indeed, in the review
committee’s opinion, members should have at their disposal all pertinent
statutes and regulations so as to provide enlightened consent when enacting
legislation – especially in view of the belief of most members that the real
legislative authority lies in the capacity to flesh out the statute through regulations.
There is no reason to think that
bills and regulations could not be drafted concurrently; in reality, this is
generally the case and it should be in all circumstances, irrespective of
whatever amendments may be made to a bill during its consideration in the
Some people argue that when a
bill is being considered by the Assembly, the minister will not always know
whether regulations will be required later in order to specify the procedure
for implementing the legislation. Not infrequently, therefore, the enabling
authority in a bill is so vague and broad that it leaves substantial discretion
to the government.
When the members agree to give
the government an enabling authority, they should not simply give it a blank
cheque. Committee members should scrutinize the nature and scope of the
provisions empowering the government to enact regulations. And they should
ascertain that the regulatory provisions under the Act are needed for the
implementation of the legislation and are consistent in their language with the
generally recognized criteria.
We recommend that the Act and
the Standing Orders of the National Assembly be amended to provide that
a bill cannot proceed through all stages of the legislative process without a
review in committee of the proposed regulations implementing the bill. This
does not mean submitting a draft regulation for approval by the members, since
that is a prerogative of the government. Rather, it means exercising genuine
parliamentary surveillance of the delegated legislation by requiring that the
minister and his officials who have prepared the draft regulation explain the
scope and meaning of the delegated statutory powers and the way in which they
will be exercised.
The committee members are aware that
this imposes an additional constraint on the government and that the
legislative process may be delayed as a result. However, they are convinced
that this approach is needed in order to ensure valid parliamentary
surveillance over delegated legislation. In our opinion, this type of
constraint will in the end mean that the government will in future submit to
the Assembly bills that are more complete and more developed, while allowing
the members to exercise a bit more upstream surveillance over the preparation
of major government reforms, as recommended by the Public Protector
8. Consider Existing
Although they have the authority
to examine regulations and draft regulations on their own initiative,
committees, as we noted earlier, have generally overlooked this function.
The adoption of the preceding
recommendation would generalize the consideration of draft regulations. The
committees would have to ensure that the regulations ultimately enacted by the
government are essentially consistent with the version examined in committee
prior to the adoption of the bill.
The multiplicity and complexity
of government regulation have led a number of governments, including Quebec’s,
to attempt to simplify the relationship between government and citizens through
embarking on a deregulation process. Why not involve members of the legislature
in this process?
Clearly, the members have a duty
to adequately supervise the government’s exercise of its regulatory authority.
The committees can no longer ignore this function.
The committee recommends that
the National Assembly look to the experience of other parliamentary bodies in
Canada and abroad for ideas on how to clarify the consideration of regulations
and make this an effective form of monitoring. For example, the Standing
Orders of the House of Commons set out 13 criteria as a basis for
supervision of delegated legislation by the Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of
Regulations. The Legislative Assembly of Ontario has identified nine criteria to
serve as guidelines for the review of regulations in committee.8
Generally speaking, in the other
parliaments this function has been assigned to a specialized parliamentary
committee. In view of the previous recommendation, we think it is preferable that
each committee develop some expertise in the review of regulations so as to be
in a better position to assess the scope and impact of the bills that it has an
obligation to consider clause-by-clause.
With the help of competent staff
and adequate resources (such as, for example, access to a team of independent
lawyers or the use of analytical grids and other relevant working tools, while
relying as needed on the expertise of independent agencies), the committees
could do some very useful work from the citizens’ standpoint in identifying
obsolescent, unreasonable or unnecessarily complex regulations.
To guarantee the effectiveness
of this function, the committee also recommends that the National Assembly look
to the present procedure for supervising public agencies: the committees should
have an obligation to review at least one existing regulation annually.
9. Demand a Response From the
Government to a Committee’s Recommendations
Under the present rules, a
committee report containing recommendations is considered by the Assembly
within fifteen days of being tabled. The Government House leader determines the
time when the two-hour debate in the Assembly will be held. No amendments to
the report can be entertained, and no decision results from the Assembly’s
As we suggested earlier, a
committee that has made some recommendations addressed to a minister should
invite him or her to participate in the limited debate on consideration of the
Although this suggestion is very
attractive, it is by no means certain that the ministers will gracefully agree
to commit themselves so quickly and publicly on the proposals made by a
The necessary parliamentary
oversight requires that we go further. The tabling in the National Assembly of
a report containing the recommendations of a parliamentary committee is not an
insignificant act. It represents the legitimate expression of the opinion of
the citizens’ elected representatives, and should thus be given respect and
consideration by the government.
In the committee’s opinion,
therefore, the government must have an obligation to reply formally to the
report of a committee that contains recommendations when the committee so
demands. Within this perspective, the review committee supports and adopts the
proposal contained in the April 1998 parliamentary reform paper of the Speaker
of the National Assembly.10
The Standing Orders should be
amended to include a general rule that would require the government to respond within
a prescribed period to a parliamentary committee report containing
recommendations. The review committee considers that a 60-day period is
reasonable. Where it involves a report containing recommendations pursuant to a
consultation on a public bill, the period should be 15 days.
10. Reporting by Government
With the creation of the
Committee on Public Administration, the administrative accountability of deputy
ministers and chief executive officers of public bodies has become a part of
everyday life. The formula has been so successful that the government has
proposed to incorporate it in its proposed reform of the central government
administration through Bill 82, the Public Administration Act, assented
to on May 31, 2000.
The Act provides that government
ministries and budget-funded bodies will be obliged to table in the National
Assembly, through their responsible minister, an annual management report on
the results achieved in relation to the objectives set out in their strategic
plan and their annual expenditure management plan, which are likewise rendered
mandatory by the Act.
The government bill stipulates
that the competent parliamentary committee shall hear the deputy ministers and
the chief executive officers, as well as the minister if he considers it
appropriate, at least once a year in order to examine their administrative
The review committee is of the
opinion that the Act’s provisions will substantially increase the work of the
National Assembly. It would be appropriate for a working group of the National
Assembly to consider at an early opportunity the appropriate measures to cover
the parliamentary aspects of its implementation. The Standing Orders of the
National Assembly will clearly need to be amended to reflect the provisions
of the Act.
In our view, the Committee on
Public Administration cannot, by itself, fulfill all the requirements of the
new legislation. To respond effectively to the objectives set down in section
29 of the Act, all committees will have to become involved.
The new legislation means that
the committees must have sufficient resources to perform this new function. At
present, the Committee on Public Administration works closely with the Auditor
General in its accountability proceedings. Will the Auditor General be
available for the other committees? Furthermore, the research necessitated by
the Committee on Public Administration amounts to 1.5 person-years. The other
committees will have to be provided with a sufficient number of research staff.
11. Resources Available to
Parliamentary committees lack
sufficient access to qualified and stable research staff to fulfill their
present functions adequately. If, in addition, the parliamentary initiative and
surveillance work is to be intensified and additional content is to be put into
the committee reports, as we are proposing, further resources will have to be
assigned to them.
In our view, each committee
should, at a minimum, have a full-time accredited research officer in addition
to a clerk.
The research officer would not
only do the syntheses we are proposing for the public consultations, but would
concretely support the committee members in the preparation of the committee’s
work in accordance with the priorities set by its steering committee. The
researcher would also be required to brief the committee on various issues that
could thereby serve to define possible initiative and surveillance orders.
For example, the research
officer could perform the following duties:
- do research assignments at the request of
the committee or its steering committee;
- provide the committee with briefing notes,
documentation and media reviews on some topics selected by the steering
- monitor and analyze draft regulations published
in the Gazette officielle;
- draft quick-reference cards on the
policies, activities and management of public bodies;
- analyze the annual management reports of
the government ministries, public bodies and independent service units
from the perspective of administrative accountability of the government
- do research and analysis concerning the
recurrent orders of reference contained in certain Acts;
- monitor and analyze current developments
within the committee’s jurisdiction;
- participate in the drafting of committee
- synthesize submissions that are received;
- synthesize and analyze the views expressed
in the course of public hearings;
- assist the committee in the formulation of
its conclusions and recommendations; and
- participate in drafting the committee’s
We propose to introduce greater
flexibility in the financial rules so the committees are not deprived of the
financial resources they need to do their work, in light of the complexity of
the decision-making process. We are also of the view that the House Leaders
should not interfere in the financial autonomy of the parliamentary committees.
If there must be supervision, we would prefer that it be exercised by the
Speaker of the National Assembly, who is the guardian of the parliamentary
rights and privileges.
Incidentally, it is the Speaker
who is responsible by law for the preparation of the estimates approved by the
Office of the National Assembly. In addition to being the chairman of the
Office, the Speaker directs and administers the Assembly’s departments. He is
therefore the right person to assess the needs in human and financial resources
of the committees and to ensure that the Office exercises its power of
surveillance and control.
Consequently, the committee
proposes to amend the rules to have the Office of the National Assembly
allocate an overall budget for all committees, rather than a budget for each of
The committees might, in the context
of an overall budget, make expenditures in accordance with their needs of up to
$25,000. Beyond that threshold, the Speaker’s authorization would be necessary
in order to allocate additional funds to a committee from the funding available
in the overall budget. If these amounts were to be exhausted during a fiscal
year, the Speaker could prepare supplementary estimates and submit them to the
Office, as the present legislation and regulations provide.
The Speaker would be given a
monthly statement of committees’ expenditures by the Directorate of the
Secrétariat des commissions, for the purpose of monitoring those expenditures.
12. Qualification and
Compensation of Committee Members
The eleven major proposals made
so far would result in a substantial increase in the work load of the committee
Members will need support in
order to acquire and develop knowledge and skills in the area of parliamentary
surveillance. Furthermore, because of the large number and diversity of the
duties and activities performed by members in a year of work, they should be
better informed about their role and the tools available to them. They should
be regularly reminded of the powers and capacities of committees to fulfill
their important function of surveillance of the acts of the government, its
ministers and its agencies.
These objectives likewise apply
to chairmen and vice-chairmen, who should update their knowledge of the duties
they perform not only by law as committee members but as organizers and
coordinators of the proceedings and, in some instances, as referees of the
From this perspective, we
propose that the National Assembly organize and provide interested members and
committee chairmen and vice-chairmen with a one-day update session on parliamentary
knowledge and skills each year in the form of a “Lac-à-l’épaule” retreat or
some other form of meeting that would focus on information sharing and
situational reconstruction of typical committee experiences.
Finally, from the perspective of
stimulating interest in their duties and encouraging them to put more effort
into them along the lines expressed earlier, we think the remuneration paid to
the members, chairmen and vice-chairmen of standing committees should be
increased. In our view the members should be directly involved in the process
of analyzing and determining the desirable level of compensation of committee
13. A Follow-up Committee
Throughout its review process,
this working committee has sought to remain modest and realistic in its
proposals, knowing how difficult and demanding it is to get an institution as
big as the National Assembly to evolve, and how unpredictable the results can
sometimes be. The idea was to come up with a better response to the needs of
the Assembly’s members, the expectations and new requirements of the community
and the challenges facing us as we begin a new millennium.
In some cases our solutions to
the problems we identified point toward unexplored areas; an example is the
major parliamentary debate to be held annually in the form of the Grand
Committee. Other leads could, in the long run, produce a real change in culture
that could to some degree restore a balance among our institutions and alter
external perceptions of the work of the Assembly.
The vast majority of the
proposals we are making are simply an elementary application of the spirit and
letter of the current provisions of the Standing Orders of the National
Assembly as they have existed for over 16 years, and which should have been
implemented in full from the beginning.
Overall, these proposals
essentially mean loosening the reins somewhat in order to promote the work of
initiative and surveillance by the Assembly through a reduction in the present
constraints and irritants and through an increase in the resources placed at
the disposal of the parliamentary committees.
It is our conviction that
interested members are indeed available to serve in parliamentary committees.
The status quo is simply not acceptable any more, for it discourages the
members from investing new energy in the committees.
It is noteworthy, from a
rereading of the various reports – Forget (1977), Vaugeois (1982),
Vaugeois-French (1983), Guay (1983) and Charbonneau (1998)11 – that
many of the problems identified over 20 years ago continue to exist in regard
to the independence of the committees in the exercise of their initiative and
surveillance powers. The review committee strongly hopes that this paper will
help clear the way in the near future to a parliamentary reform that will allow
the committees and their members to fully and usefully perform their duties.
That is why we are making a
thirteenth and final proposal: that the Speaker of the National Assembly have the
responsibility to bring together each year all of the committee chairmen and
vice-chairmen, outside the framework of the Committee on the National Assembly,
to discuss the best practices in committee and resolve the difficulties they
encounter in carrying out their orders.
exception could be signified by a motion of derogation from the general rule.
2. Taxation bills and bills that correct some minor aspects of current
legislation are examples of orders of reference that would not necessitate the
constant presence of the minister in committee.
3. Standing Orders of the National Assembly, sections 166 to 169.
4. Standing Orders of the National Assembly, sections 170 to 173.
5. It should be noted that the motion to refer a matter to committee, which is
made by the Government House leader, usually provides that the minister is a
member of the committee for the duration of the order.
6. Standing Orders of the National Assembly, section 176.
7. National Assembly, La réforme parlementaire 10 ans après (Secrétariat
des commissions: March 1995), pp. 176-88.
8. See appendix to this report.
9. Standing Orders of the National Assembly, sections 94 and 95.
10. National Assembly of Québec, Réforme parlementaire proposée par le
Président de l'Assemblée nationale (April 1998), Theme 6, page 7.
11. Forget, Claude, Démocratiser le Parlement (October 1977), 83 pages;
Vaugeois, Denis, L'Assemblée nationale en devenir: Pour un meilleur
équilibre de nos constitutions (January 28, 1982), 202 pages; Assemblée
nationale, Le contrôle parlementaire de la législation déléguée (July
1983); Assemblée nationale, Mémoire sur la réforme parlementaire présenté
par le Président de l’Assemblée,June 22, 1983.