When this article was published Nora S.
Lever was Clerk of the Parliamentary Task Force on North-South Relations.
Barbara Plant Reynolds was with the Research Branch of the Library of
Parliament and was research co-ordinator for the Special Committee on the
Disabled and the Handicapped. Philip Rosen, a lawyer in the Law and Government
Division of the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament, worked with the
Task Force on Regulatory Reform.
When the present committee system of the
House of Commons was established in 1968 Members of Parliament on both sides of
the House held high hopes for a substantial strengthening of their influence
through work on committees which could examine issues of critical national
significance. However, after a flurry of activity early in the 1970s, the
number of meetings related to substantive inquires declined steadily. There is
no shortage of proposals to reform the committee system but no significant
changes have been made since 1968. In the spring of 1980, after extensive
negotiations with opposition parties, the government announced creation of six
parliamentary task forces. Each was given a mandate to investigate a subject of
high priority and to make recommendations at a time when they could have some
influence on government policy. In this article staff members of three of the
task forces outline the way their respective committees approached their work.
Six special committees or task forces were
created and given Orders of Reference which allow them to examine and report
upon the following topics: government regulation, alternative energy supplies,
relationships between developed and developing countries, employment
opportunities in the 1980s, programs for the disabled and the handicapped, and
a national trading corporation.
In addition to the usual powers listed in
the Standing Orders, each of these committees was given the power to hire
supplementary staff, to travel inside or outside Canada, and to make public
interim and final reports even though the House may not be sitting. Each task
force is composed of seven members and, unlike standing or other special
committees, there may be no changes of membership unless specifically agreed to
by the committee.
Generally speaking, the task forces decided
not to undertake extensive research but to concentrate on bringing together
existing information and research. The action-oriented, short term nature of
the task forces does not lend itself to exhaustive research proposals; indeed,
one of the attributes of this approach is its emphasis on consolidating
research prepared by many different sources and analysing the information with
a view to influencing government policy and action on the issue.
Parliamentary Task Force On North-South
All seven members of the Task Force on
North-South Relations exhibited a strong commitment to the subject they were asked
to investigate. The Chairman, Herb Breau, Member of Parliament for Gloucester
(New Brunswick), gave the work of the Task Force top priority. Three others
with long experience in the field of development assistance were appointed to
the committee: Douglas Roche, the Vice-Chairman, Maurice Dupras, (former
Chairman of the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence
when it was engaged in important studies regarding international development)
and Fr. Bob Ogle, who had previous experience with projects in Latin America
and Africa. They were joined by three newer Members of Parliament who
recognized the importance of development problems and expressed a desire to
learn about North-South relations through the study of the committee. These were
Girve Fretz, Doug Frith and Dr. Jim Schroder.
The mandate of the Task Force included
matters related to international trade, energy, food and agricultural
production and development assistance. Such a broad range of issues required an
assessment of information from a wide variety of individuals and organizations.
Briefs were received from many non governmental organizations associated with
foreign aid, from representatives of manufacturers, importers and exporters as
well as from officials of various governmental and international agencies.
The Chairman conducted the study in a non
partisan manner preferring that any decisions taken by the committee should be
arrived at through consensus rather than confrontation. In fact, Mr. Breau was
successful in guiding the committee through its entire schedule of public
meetings, briefings at the United Nations, World Bank and International
Monetary Fund, and the various drafts of its final report in a spirit of
co-operation and unanimity.
The staff attached directly to the Task
Force on North-South Relations numbered six, with additional flexible resources
of the Committees and Private Legislation Branch of the House of Commons
available as necessary. The Clerk of the Committee, working closely with the
Chairman, co-ordinated the efforts of the professional, technical, clerical and
other support staff. She had responsibility for all correspondence; preparation
of meetings with agendas, interpretation, recording, transcription and printing
of' Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence; arranging payment of travel expenses
for members of the Committee and witnesses; contracting for the various
research staff and camera-ready graphics for the report.
Because of previous research assistance to
the Subcommittee on International Development, the Parliamentary Centre for
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade was contracted for similar assistance to the
Task Force. The Centre provided notes and summaries for briefing books and,
along with an official of the Department of External Affairs and a researcher
from the Parliamentary Library prepared issue papers based on testimony
received from witnesses. Drafts of the final report were assessed by the
members of the Task Force and turned over to the Clerk for final editing and
The Task Force on North-South Relations held
fifty-five meetings before its report was tabled in the House of Commons on
Wednesday, December 17, 1980. It was the first task force to complete its major
work before the December 19 deadline specified in its original Order of
Reference. It, like all the other task forces except the Special Committee on
Regulatory Reform, requested and received from the House permission to continue
its study for a few additional months.
The public meetings of the Task Force on
North-South Relations were all held in Ottawa. There was no requirement for
these meetings to be held within the so-called "block system which
ordinarily limits standing committee meetings to only ninety minutes two or
three times a week. With this freedom, the Task Force was able to meet
representatives of organizations and associations located across Canada and in
other parts of the world and could discuss issues for several hours
consecutively with witnesses who travelled long distances to make their
presentations. Longer meetings allowed the members to question witnesses for
more than the usual ten minutes, and discussion was consequently more extensive
and more profound than may ordinarily be the case.
The Task Force on North-South Relations
planned its travel somewhat differently from the other groups. There was a
Special Session of the United Nations on the subject of development in August
which members and staff attended. While in the United States, they travelled to
Washington for briefings by officials of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund. They did not travel across Canada during the study which led up
to their major report in December.
Since their report was tabled in December,
members have been making plans for further involvement in development. Travel
will include countries which represent the varying economic levels of
development: the low income nations such as Bangladesh; the middle income
Philippines where the International Rice Research Institute is located; and the
newly industrializing countries exemplified by Singapore.
Finally, individual members of the Task
Force may travel to major centres across Canada to speak to non governmental
organizations, businessman's associations and the Canadian public about the
urgent problems associated with North-South relations. It is their hope that in
this way they can bring closer to the Canadian people the sense of urgency
which they feel as a result of their own study. With an aroused Canadian public
perhaps the government will be further encouraged to adopt the recommendations
proposed in its report.
The Special Committee on the Disabled and
The Special Committee on the Disabled and
the Handicapped was instructed to evaluate existing government programs for
disabled and handicapped persons and to make suggestions for improving the
quality of these services. The members of the committee were David Smith who
served as Chairman; Walter Dinsdale, Thérèse Killens, Bruce Halliday, Peter
Lang, Neil Young and J. Raymond Chénier.
The first stage of the Special Committee's
work was information gathering. This included two basic elements: briefings and
public hearings. Immediately following its organizational meeting in June 1980,
the committee attended the 1980 World Congress of Rehabilitation International
in Winnipeg. In midsummer it went to Washington and Boston for a thorough
briefing on American federal and state legislation for the handicapped. Later,
the committee travelled to Great Britain. Sweden, France and the Federal
Republic of Germany to examine their policies and programs for the disabled. On
several occasions, committee members visited facilities in Ottawa and
throughout Canada dealing with rehabilitation, technical aids, independent
living and group accommodation.
To review thoroughly the role of the federal
government in this area, the committee held briefing sessions with some
seventeen departments and agencies. Written responses were invited from a wide
number of federal departments and agencies whose mandates included at least one
of the subjects outlined in the Order of Reference. The committee also met with
major corporations such as Bell Canada whose corporate policies greatly affect
At its first meeting the committee decided
that a major component of its examination would be input from interested
groups, individuals and associations throughout Canada. Thus, the committee
actively, sought opinions and comments from disabled persons and their
families, as well as from organizations, agencies and associations involved in
the rehabilitation field. These public regional hearings provided a vehicle
through which those most directly affected by various government programs and
services could make their views known to Parliament.
In announcing the regional hearings, the
Chairman made a commitment to hear from a cross-section of interested parties.
A concerted effort was made to ensure that individuals as well as associations
would be present. At the actual hearings, the Chairman or Vice-Chairman invited
any person in the audience who wished to make comments to do so. Many
individuals took the opportunity to tell of particular concerns to them or to
their families and friends, and these informal and often emotional comments
provided new insights into the difficulties encountered by disabled persons.
Announcements of the committee's schedule of
September hearings were available in June; copies were mailed to hundreds of
organizations, agencies and other interested groups and individuals.
Advertisements appeared in major daily and weekly newspapers in early July and
again immediately before the hearings. Those who wanted to present a written
submission were asked to provide a copy in August. These submissions were
summarized by staff members and made available to the committee prior to the
hearings. The committee also wrote to all provincial governments asking for
either a written or oral submission. Over 600 written submissions were received
by the committee.
In order to visit as many locations as
possible, the committee divided into two Subcommittees, each headed by a
Vice-chairman. These Subcommittees travelled to eighteen cities and towns and
heard over four hundred witnesses. Individuals, disabled, consumer groups,
voluntary associations, professional associations, rehabilitation institutes,
provincial governments, municipalities and agencies were among those who
appeared. The committee decided not to record verbatim evidence for publication
but extensive notes were prepared by the staff. Those making deputations were
asked not to read their submission, but rather to summarize the key points.
There was a heavy emphasis throughout the regional hearings on informal
dialogue about the major problems facing disabled persons and about possible
Accessibility is a key issue in the whole
question of encouraging the full participation of disabled persons in society,
and ensuring accessibility to the committee's proceedings was an important
aspect of its work. The committee endeavoured to choose meeting places that were
accessible to individuals with mobility problems. To enable deaf and
hearing-impaired persons to participate in the regional meetings, sign
interpreters accompanied the Subcommittees and translated all meetings into
sign language. These interpreters were made available through the assistance of
the Department of the Secretary of State. When the first report was issued
copies were available on cassette for blind and visually-impaired persons. The
committee did receive some criticism, however, that letters and newspaper
advertisements announcing the hearings were not accessible to blind and
visually-impaired persons, and that radio advertisements would have overcome
The total staff attached to the committee
numbered twenty-three including support staff, although it must be pointed out
that not all staff were fulltime. For example, the committee employed a legal
adviser from the University of Calgary for a one week period. The Clerk of the
Committee acted as chief of staff, co-ordinating administrative, procedural,
logistical and financial matters. The director of the Rehabilitation Bureau of
the Department of National Health and Welfare acted as a special adviser,
providing the committee with technical expertise on the subject matter. A
senior research officer from the Library of Parliament served as the research
co-ordinator, supervising research staff and co-ordinating the preparation and
writing of the report. The national co-ordinator of the Coalition of the
Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH), the national organization
of disabled consumers, acted as an adviser, providing both technical expertise
and input from disabled consumers.
Additional staff members were hired or
seconded from government departments including specialists in the areas of
mental health, mental retardation, communications and native population. A
lawyer from the research branch of the Library of Parliament was also attached
to the committee.
In December 1980 the committee asked for and
received authorization to continue until the end of the current session. The
year 1981 has been designated as International Year of Disabled Persons, and
during this year Parliament will continue to focus upon the needs of disabled
persons. The Committee therefore asked for a renewed mandate in order to report
on progress in the public and private sectors in encouraging full participation
of disabled persons in society.
The Task Force on Regulatory Reform
The Parliamentary Task Force on Regulatory
Reform was established by the House of Commons on Friday, May 23. 1980. Its
Order of Reference required it to examine and report upon government
regulations in order to minimize the burden on the private sector, including:
the objectives, effectiveness and economic impact, and expanding scope of such
regulations; alternative techniques for achieving regulatory objectives; and
ways by which overlap of federal and provincial jurisdictions may be
The seven members of the House of Commons
appointed to the Task Force were James Peterson, Chairman, Douglas Anguish,
David Berger, Charles Cook, Howard Crosby, Pierre Deniger, and Russell
The Task Force engaged the services of three
consultants two of them had previously worked for the Economic Council of
Canada on its Regulatory Reference and the third was the former director of the
Consumers Association of Canada's Regulated Industries Programme. As was the
case of all task forces the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament
provided it with professional staff. In the latter stages, the Task Force was
assisted by a Parliamentary Intern.
Because of the highly technical and
frequently legalistic nature of the subject matter being considered, Task Force
members made great use of the staff resources at its disposal during the preparatory
stages of its work, during the public hearings and in the drafting of its
report. All of the staff members and all but one of the Task Force members were
lawyers. Only one Task Force member had direct professional experience with
regulation and regulatory agencies. All staff members had some degree of
expertise and experience in different aspects of the subject matter being
studied. Despite their heavy reliance on staff, the members of the Task Force
determined the pace and nature of their inquiry. This was done through the
issuance of instructions by the members of the Task Force to staff who carried
them out and reported back on their fulfillment.
Before going public with its study, the Task
Force held a number of in camera meetings to determine what it should include
within its mandate and how its mission should be accomplished. As part of this
task, the staff prepared a briefing book for members which set out the general
issues to be looked at in the area of regulatory reform and alternative approaches
which had been proposed for their resolution. The Task Force decided that it
wished to provoke discussion on a number of specific issues rather than on
questions of general principle. To do this it decided to publish a
"Discussion Paper" upon which witnesses appearing at its public
hearings would be asked to focus.
The "Discussion Paper" was
released at a press conference held in Ottawa on Thursday, August 7, 1980. The
document was made up of twenty-eight suggestions. These were postulated reforms
in the regulatory, process which were not necessarily endorsed by the Task
Force. They were accompanied in the "Discussion Paper by a review of the
implications of each and a series of questions meant to elicit comments,
reactions and brief's from both the public and private sectors.
After its release, the "Discussion
Paper was distributed to about three thousand government departments, federal
and provincial, regulatory agencies, private sector groups, public interest
groups, specialists in the field and individuals. This technique led to the
receipt by the Task Force of numerous written brief's and submissions from both
the public and private sectors.
The Task Force began hearings in
mid-September, 1980 and completed them towards the end of November 1980. To
help prepare members of the Task Force for the public hearings, staff prepared
briefing books with appropriate background material and documentation for each
Suggestion contained in the "Discussion Paper". In addition, the
staff also prepared a briefing note on each witness appearing before it. This
document contained an analysis of each submission and a suggested line of
questioning which clarified and amplified the written brief. So that
questioning during the public hearings would be effective, the members of the
Task Force divided the subject matters among themselves to eliminate
duplication and to elicit as much information as possible. The bulk of
questioning of witnesses was, of course, carried by the Task Force members, but
the staff at times also posed supplementary questions. This technique worked
quite effectively since the purpose of the hearings was to get as much expert
opinion and information as possible no matter how it was done.
The Task Force met its December 19, 1980
deadline by tabling its report on that day. Although the report focussed on the
process of the development and evaluation of regulatory schemes and the
operation of regulatory agencies, it also gave considerable importance to the
role of Parliament and its committees in the control of the regulatory process.
Some Members of Parliament consider the task
force approach to be an experiment in the committee system. Others argue that
since no procedural reform was required to establish them the task forces are
not really different from special committees of the past. Both views may be
correct. The small membership and the suspension of the ordinary substitution
rule were key elements in the success of these committees. The type of subject
matter referred to the committees also affected their output. The government
referred matters of policy before taking a stand of its own. Government members
did not feel obliged to support an established policy. Members of the
opposition did not feel obliged to criticize. The opportunity existed for a non
partisan approach to each study. The result was a change in attitude on the
part of members which made these task forces work so effectively within the
The task force approach can also provide an
opportunity to bring Parliament to the people. A heavy emphasis on public
hearings stressed the role of public participation in the policymaking process.
For many individuals who appeared before these committees, it was their first
opportunity to meet parliamentarians and to present their views. Such an
experience reinforces the concept of participatory democracy for all concerned.
Finally, although the task forces added
considerably to the normal load carried by members of' the House of Commons,
the experience appears to have been a valuable one which many feel may provide
a model to be utilized in any future parliamentary reform. The following
observation in the report of the Task Force on Regulatory Reform could probably
be applied to all these committees:
We consider our own "process" of
working together to have been worthwhile and productive. In analyzing why, a
number of factors emerge:
- The smaller number of members (seven versus the usual twenty) gave
each member the opportunity, to develop and pursue a line of questioning.
- We were able to extend our hours and times of sitting, as we were
not subject to the usual restriction of five meetings every two weeks.
- The complexity of the issues meant each member had to develop
expertise and play an important role.
- The short deadline focused our time and energy.
- Precluding substitution of Members enhanced the non partisan nature
of our work, and obviated the need for new Members to "catch up. We
do not feel our own work suffered when all Members could not attend
meetings or hearings. Permitting even one Member to hear evidence also
Suggestions for Further Reading
Report of The Task Force on Regulatory
Reform, document tabled in the House of Commons on December 19, 1980.
Report of the Task Force on North South
Relations. document tabled in the House of Commons on December 17. 1980.
Report of the Special Committee on the
Disabled and the Handicapped, document tabled in the House of Commons on
February 16. 198 1.
Conference of American and Canadian
Legislative Clerks. Saskatchewan, 1980 (see particularly the remarks by C.B.
Koester at pp 5056).