FAQ | What happens in Senate committees?

28 February 2008

Senate committees are study groups of about 12 to 15 senators. They have three basic tasks: to approve or amend legislation; to investigate policy matters and make recommendations, and to examine the Government’s spending proposals, called the Estimates.

Committees are at the core of work in the Senate. They study specific bills and investigate issues referred by the Senate. Each permanent or standing committee has its own area of expertise, such as: foreign affairs; banking, trade and commerce; legal and constitutional affairs; aboriginal peoples; transport and communications; and social affairs, science and technology. It may be a commentary on our times that the Senate’s busiest committee handles legal and constitutional affairs.

Committees hold hearings to gather all the facts relating to legislative change. They arrange for ministers, government officials, experts, organisations and individual citizens to appear and answer questions. They call for papers and records to be produced. The Senate may authorise committees to hold their hearings in any location in Canada. At the end of its study, a committee submits its amendments to the Senate for consideration, or recommends that a bill be passed without change.

When doing investigative work, Senate committees are very much like royal commissions, except in two respects: Senate committees complete the work in less time, and they are less expensive.