Thursday: Immigration Minister Faces Questions in House

Thursday: Immigration Minister Faces Questions in House

May 24, 2018 6amET

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen defends his department’s estimates and plan for the coming fiscal year tonight in the House of Commons.

Each fiscal year the Official Opposition chooses two departments for such a review in Committee of the Whole. They must be held by May 31; Finance Minister Bill Morneau was questioned earlier this week.

Ministers or their parliamentary secretaries appear in the House of Commons chamber for up to four hours.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a $700-million spending increase planned for 2018-19. Nearly $290 million of that is for “the entry of top talent and to support family reunification and protection of refugees; this also includes funding for settlement supports for all newcomers as well as health benefits for eligible persons.

This spring’s federal budget called for $173 million for border security and processing resources over the next two years, a response to the influx of irregular migrants crossing the Canada-U.S. border away from official ports of entry.

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, then the government, then the NDP.
  • 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.


Also in the House of Commons today:

Debate is scheduled to begin this morning on Bill C-75, the government’s justice reform legislation that includes changes to the jury selection process.

MPs also reconsider a motion on rural crime from Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a study on rural crime in Canada and consider factors, including but not limited to:

(i) current rural crime rates and trends,

(ii) existing RCMP and other policing resources and policies in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, particularly in relation to population density, policing geographic area, and staff shortages,

(iii) current partnerships with provincial, municipal, and Indigenous police forces,

(iv) possible recommendations to improve rural crime prevention and to curb emerging crime rates, and that the Committee report its findings to the House within six months of the adoption of this motion.

Quebec MP Christine Moore is seeking three additions on Indigenous police forces, the judicial system in rural areas, and victim support.


On the committee front this morning:

  • The testimony about legalized cannabis continues at the Senate social affairs committee. Pharmacists, the B.C. Compassion Club Society, and Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana are on the witness list. LIVE ONLINE at 10:30am ET / 7:30am PT
  • Nada Seeman, the government’s nominee to head FINTRAC – Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada – appears at the Commons finance committee. LIVE ONLINE at 8:45am ET / 5:45am PT

-Andrew Thomson