Many different types of committees function within Canada's political structure. These committees vary greatly in size, power and function. Some committees create policy, others assess and alter policy before it becomes law, while others evaluate laws once they come into force and recommend beneficial changes. Below are brief definitions of some types of committees and methods of locating information on them.
The federal Cabinet is the first committee of the nation. In Cabinet, ideas for new policies are discussed and approved by the Prime Minister and Departmental Ministers. When a new policy is determined, the Minister responsible for that area is responsible for having the appropriate legislation drafted. Before new legislation is introduced in the House it is reexamined by Cabinet.
Locating Cabinet Material
Few Cabinet documents are available to the public. Some information can be accessed through the Access Register (CA1 TB - 83A12 ) under the Access to Information Act, and through House of Commons Journals (CA1 X 2 - J53)
Standing Committees exist in both the House of Commons and Senate. Number of Standing Committees in either House vary between eighteen and twenty-five. For a list of the current committees, click on the link:
House of Commons List of Committees
Membership on Standing Committees is proportional to the number of seats each party holds in the House.
All public bills, except those dealing with the raising or expenditure of money, are referred to the appropriate Standing Committee. When in Committee, bills are thoroughly studied. Bills or issues which are politically sensitive or narrow in scope are sometimes referred to a Sub-Committee within a Standing Committee. For example, currently the Senate Committee for Aboriginal Peoples has established a sub-committee on Aboriginal Economic Development in relation to Northern National Parks.
As well as discussing new legislation, Standing Committees also evaluate amendments to bills and review annually Departmental spending Estimates.
Locating Standing Committee Materials
- For information on current committees, click on the appropriate link:
House of Commons List of Committees
- Unbound Wednesday editions of Debates (CA1 X 1 -D23 (MILLS Gov Pubs)) list all current Standing Committees and their members.
- Each edition of a Standing Committee's Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence lists the Committee chairman and members inside the front cover.
- Canadian Government Programs and Services, a CCH loose-leaf service (JL 71 .C65 (MILLS Bookstacks)) lists Commons Standing Committee chairmen and vice-chairmen.
- House of Commons Debates Index (CA1 X 1 -D23 (MILLS Gov Pubs)) lists any reference to Standing Committee activity made in the House under the name of the specific committee.
- House of Commons Journals (CA1 X 2 -J53 (MILLS Gov Pubs)) and Senate Journals (CA1 Y 2 -J79 (MILLS Gov Pubs)) list membership changes to Committees, Orders in Council relevant to Committees, etc. See Index to Journals published at the conclusion of each Parliament.
- Standing Committee Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence and special reports can be found in MORRIS as an author under "Canada. Parliament. House of Commons (Senate). Standing Committee...".
Special Committees are appointed by an Order in Council to examine a specific subject. The subjects which are assigned to Special Committees are usually narrow in scope. When the study is completed and a final report is submitted to the House, the Special Committee is disbanded. Below are listed some Special Committees and the titles of the Final reports they produced.
- Special Committee on Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society, 1983-84, produced a final report titled Equality Now.
- Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act, July 15, 1999.
Sometimes the final reports of Special Committees become known by the name of the Committee's chairman. For example:
- Report of the Special Committee on Indian Self-Government is known as the Penner Report after Chairman Keith Penner.
- Report of the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution is known as the Fraser Report after Chairman Paul Fraser.
Locating Special Committee Materials
- The same sources can be consulted to find Special Committee materials as Standing Committee materials.
- In catalogues and bibliographies be sure to also check under the Committee chairman's name and the title of the Committee's final report.
Joint Committees are made up of Members from both Houses. There are three Joint Committees and they deal with matters of mutual interest to both Houses. They are:
- Library of Parliament
- Official Languages
- Scrutiny of Regulations
Locating Joint Committee Materials
- List of Joint Committees – current joint committee information is available online
- Membership of the Committees – current joint committee member are listed online
Special Joint Committees are formed from Members from both Houses and investigate issues such as the Constitution, Senate reform, immigration, pension plans, etc. Like House of Commons and Senate Special Committees, Special Joint Committees publish final reports then disband.
Locating Special Joint Committee Materials
- Special Joint Committee Members are listed in Wednesday's Hansard.
- Materials can be found in the MORRIS author search under "Canada. Parliament. Special Joint Committee...".
The government established Permanent Commissions to enforce and monitor specific Acts. For example, the Canadian Grain Commission is responsible for the Canadian Grain Act, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission is responsible for the Canadian Human Rights Act. These Commissions are composed largely of civil servants not elected members and function on a continual basis.
Locating Permanent Commissions Materials
- A fairly comprehensive yet historical list of Permanent Commissions can be found in Canadian Government Programs and Services (JL 71 .C65 (MILLS Bookstacks)) under "Commissions, Boards and Councils."
- The Government of Canada Telephone Directory - National Capital Region (CA1 IF G52) (INNIS Gov Pubs) provides information on the structure of Permanent Commissions as well as names and addresses of officials.
- MICROLOG by Micromedia provides an extensive annual collection of materials published by Permanent Commission. See name of Commission in "Main Entry Section" of MICROLOG (CA7 MC -M31 (MILLS Gov Pubs - Quick Reference)). Search online through Canadian Research Index.
There are two types of Commissions of Inquiry: Royal Commissions and Task Forces. Royal Commissions are established by an Order in Council under the Inquiries Act. Royal Commissions are composed of both elected and non-elected persons. Royal Commissions produce final reports then disband. By establishing a Royal Commission a Government is usually binding itself to take some kind of action on the issue.
Locating Royal Commission Materials
- Canada Year Book 1936 lists all Royal Commissions both federally and provincially from 1881 to 1936. Canada Year Book (CA1 BS11 -C202 (MILLS Gov Pubs)) subsequent to 1936 continue to provide annual lists of Royal Commissions. After 2001, only available electronically.
- Olga Bishop in Chapter 9 of Canadian Official Publications (Z 1373.3 .B57 (MILLS Reference)) provides a chronological list of Royal Commissions between 1967 and 1979.
- Federal Royal Commissions in Canada 1867-1966: A Checklist by G.F. Henderson (Z 1373 .H4 (MILLS Reference)) is an excellent source list. The Department has the corresponding set of Royal Commission documents produced by Micromedia (Orange Filing Cabinets).
- Ontario Royal Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry 1867-1978 (CA2ON YL -80O56 (MILLS Gov Pubs)) provide a comprehensive list of Ontario Royal Commissions.
- Material can now be found online. For example the Royal Commission On Renewing and Strengthening Our Place in Canada website has full-text reports online.
- The Virtual Library has selected full-text Royal Commissions online
Task Forces are not regarded to be as powerful or influential as Royal Commissions. For example, their mandates and budgets are not nearly as large. Task Forces can be established by Orders in Council and deal with matters of national importance, the Task Force on Canadian Unity in 1979 being an example of this. Also, Task Forces can be created by Ministers to deal with matters of Departmental interest. The Task Force on Micro-Electronics and Employment 1982 was established by Minister of Labour Charles Caccia.
Locating Task Force Materials
- The methods for retrieving Task Force materials are similar to those of locating Royal Commission (See point 1, 2, 4 above)
- Task Force final reports have titles which do not always match the title of the Task Force. For example final report of the Task Force on Microelectronics and Employment is titled In the Chips: Opportunities, People, Partnerships.
- MICROLOG by Micromedia is an excellent source for final reports from both federal and provincial Task Forces (CA7 MC -M31 (MILLS Gov Pubs; current edition in MILLS Gov Pubs - Quick Reference)). Search online through Canadian Research Index.