Tuesday: Finance Minister Questioned on Spending Plans

Tuesday: Finance Minister Questioned on Spending Plans

UPDATED May 22, 2018 10:02amET

Finance Minister Bill Morneau spends tonight fielding several hours worth of questions from MPs about his department’s spending estimates and priorities for the coming year.

Those Finance Canada estimates (the highest of any federal department or agency at nearly $94 billion — with $71 billion used for transfer payments) include several components of fiscal policy:

  • billions of dollars in health and social transfers to the provinces and territories
  • billions of dollars in equalization payments and other fiscal arrangements with the provinces and territories
  • debt management

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.

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

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen is scheduled for questions on Thursday night.

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 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 today on Parliament Hill:


Bill C-76

Debate continues on the elections bill at second reading — with a time allocation motion expected from the government.

CPAC In Focus: Government Seeks Changes to Spending, Voting Process

Meanwhile, Stéphane Perreault, the acting chief electoral officer nominated to take on the permanent job, testifies at the Commons procedure committee. LIVE ONLINE at 11am ET / 8am PT


C-49 and the Senate

MPs vote this afternoon on a government motion to reject further Senate changes to its transportation bill (C-49).


Net Neutrality

MPs have more debate on a motion in support of net neutrality.

Here’s the text of the motion as tabled by Liberal MP John Oliver:

That the House:

(a) recognize that the Internet has thrived due to net neutrality principles of openness, transparency, freedom, and innovation;

(b) recognize that Canada has strong net neutrality rules in place that are grounded in the Telecommunications Act and enforced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC);

(c) recognize that preserving an open Internet and the free flow of information is vital for the freedom of expression and diversity, education, entrepreneurship, innovation, Canadian democracy, and the future economic and social prosperity of Canadians;

(d) express its firm support for net neutrality and the continued preservation of an open Internet, free from unjust discrimination and interference; and

(e) call on the government to include net neutrality as a guiding principle of the upcoming Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act reviews in order to explore opportunities to further enshrine in legislation the principles of neutrality in the provision and carriage of all telecommunications services.

Court action is ongoing in the United States following the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to repeal “net neutrality” rules that stop Internet providers from slowing access to certain sites or services.

Last week the U.S. Senate voted in favour of overturning the FCC plan, though the measure would also have to pass the House of Representatives and avoid a presidential veto.

-Andrew Thomson