Main Estimates: An Evening of Questions for Freeland

Main Estimates: An Evening of Questions for Freeland

May 17, 2017 UPDATED 9:30amET

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland faces several hours of questioning in the House of Commons tonight as MPs consider her department’s estimates and priorities for the coming year.

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Ministers or their parliamentary secretaries appear for up to four hours during such sessions. Each year the Official Opposition chooses two departments for such a review in Committee of the Whole. They must be held by May 31, according to House of Commons Procedure and Practice.

►Quizzing the Ministers

The ministerial sessions stem from a standing order adopted by the House in 2001, allowing the Opposition to choose two federal departments or agencies for review by a Committee of the Whole.

According to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, the new custom would permit “a more meaningful examination of government estimates” and confirm “the financial oversight role of the House of Commons.”

The corresponding minister or parliamentary secretary sits in the front row of the government benches and prepares to act as a witness. Outsiders are almost never allowed to walk beyond the Bar of the House, but in this case a small number of department officials are permitted to sit near the minister to provide advice.

  • The first round of speakers begins with the Official Opposition, than the government, than the Liberals.
  • Each MP has 15 minutes to speak and ask questions. There’s a five-minute minimum for the latter category.
  • MPs need unanimous consent to split their time with a colleague.
  • The minister’s response is expected to be equal to or less than the question’s time.

About Committees of the Whole

Committees of the Whole date back to the 1500s and the creation of the committee system in England’s Parliament. Major bills were debated in a less restrictive forum than formal proceedings of the House of Commons overseen by a Speaker. Canadian legislatures adopted the custom with little change until 1968, when the current system of standing committees was established.

Today, the House of Commons switches to this less formal setting on rare occasions. One notable example was the 2008 official apology to residential school victims. Sitting in a Committee of the Whole allowed First Nations representatives to sit on the floor of the Commons and deliver remarks after the prime minister and opposition leaders spoke.

The Speaker leaves their customary chair and moves to the Clerk’s seat at the main table on the Commons floor. MPs can speak more often than  a normal House debate.

A time allocation motion is expected from the government on Bill C-4 and the consideration of Senate amendments.

MPs vote on two private member’s bills at second reading: C-291 and C-322. They also have more debate on a Liberal MP’s motion for a “National Seniors’ Strategy.”

In committee:

-Andrew Thomson