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Point of Order - Committee Order of Reference

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, I would like to rise on a point of order seeking clarification on remarks made by Senator Tannas regarding the process and procedure surrounding orders of reference to our Senate committees.

As Senator Tannas stated, committees are the masters of their own domains, and as such, the Senate, as a whole, should not be charged with delegating them work. I admit the proper process and procedure surrounding orders of reference is one that lacks clarity. I had been informed of different processes by different people and would like to seek your sage counsel on this matter. I was respectful of this process, as I did seek guidance and was advised to act in the way that I have.

In the Rules of the Senate of Canada, under the heading Orders of Reference to Committees, rule 12-8(1) states:

Any bill, message, petition, inquiry, paper or other matter may be referred to any committee as the Senate may order.

I take this to mean that it is well within the purview of the Senate to delegate and refer matters of study to Senate committees, including via the rubric of motions, as I am attempting to do with Motion No. 17.

As a final point of clarification, I would like to reply to Senator Tannas’ statement that it was unusual for me to bring forward an order of reference in the Senate for a committee of which I am a member. I would like to clarify that when I introduced Motion No. 17 in this chamber on October 27, 2020, committees had not been reconstituted, and as such, I was not a member of any committee. This fact can be seen through the wording of the motion itself when it says, in part, that the study should be undertaken “when and if the committee is formed.”

I had put this order of reference forward at that time as a matter of prudence to allow the Energy Committee to undertake a critical study while it had a clear agenda prior to receiving legislation. Again, this was indicated during my speech on this matter.

It had been stated by other senators that people who are not committee members should not do an order of reference for that committee, and that if the committee was referred an order of reference, the committee did not need to consider it. I am also aware that there were other orders of reference made by non-committee members around the same time.

Does an order of reference take precedence over non-government, internal items of study? That is, that committees are their own masters?

With that, Your Honour, I would like to request your ruling on this to provide myself and the chamber clarification on who has the authority to refer matters to committee for study and when that authority is permissible to act on. Thank you.

Hon. Scott Tannas: Thank you to Senator McCallum for raising this.

By way of clarification for you, Your Honour, what I said was that I have reservations about this relatively new initiative to have the chamber attempt to dictate to committees. I have only been in the Senate for eight years, so maybe there are prior initiatives that were done like this, but I’ve only ever noticed it in the last few months.

I went on to say that I accept that we have passed this. In no way did I want to imply that Senator McCallum did not have a right to make this motion and that it’s out of order for the Senate to decide on this one way or another, to accept Senator McCallum’s motion or not.

To the extent that you need to rule on this, Your Honour, I would side with Senator McCallum on the fact that it is within the Senate’s purview to do what she is requesting, should they decide. Thank you.

Hon. Leo Housakos: Thank you, Senator McCallum, for bringing this point up because over the last little while, I’ve heard a number of colleagues rise on this issue and muddy the waters on rules that are clear and, more importantly, practices in addition to procedures that are crystal clear.

Senate committees serve at the pleasure of the Senate of Canada. Members serve at the pleasure of the Senate of Canada. There is only one ultimate authority in this institution, and that is the Senate Chamber. I’ve said this in the past to those who care to listen to my point of view; that’s why all orders of reference that are brought to the chamber need to be approved before a committee begins a study and before a committee, of course, receives a bill.

Obviously, for organizational reasons and for basic functioning, the chamber has always been flexible in terms of dates and timelines and always understands that with the sequence of work being done, there is a lot of discretion given to steering and ultimately given to the committee. A simple example is that committees cannot even meet outside of Senate times unless they have approval of the Senate. I can go on and on in terms of all the different green lights that a committee would require.

A budget for a study cannot be unilaterally approved by a committee without it coming to the Senate of Canada for approval. Travel expenses cannot be incurred. Witness expenses cannot be incurred. Absolutely very little can be done without the acquiescing and direction of the Senate of Canada.

Like I said, Senator McCallum, confusion has been brought upon by a number of colleagues, and unfortunately, a number of experienced colleagues who have brought into question that principle. As you appropriately pointed out, there are clear rules in our procedures of the institution.

Thank you, Senator McCallum, for bringing this up. I wholeheartedly reinforce and support the arguments brought up by the senator, and of course, I leave it to our more than capable Speaker to rule on this point of order. Thank you, colleagues.

Speaker’s Ruling

The Hon. the Speaker: Thank you, Senator Housakos. Does any other senator wish to enter the debate?

Honourable senators, these were useful interventions. I do not believe that I need to take this under advisement. Both Senator Housakos and Senator Tannas have agreed with Senator McCallum, that the ultimate authority is the Senate itself. After matters have been brought to the Senate’s attention, it can debate and decide whether or not, as a whole, it wishes to give instructions to a committee.

So your point is well taken, Senator McCallum, and I don’t believe I need to take it under advisement.

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