Parliamentary affairs

Legislative process

Considering legislation is one of the key elements of parliamentary debate. Much of the time in the House of Commons and Senate revolves around debating proposed laws.

In order to become law, a bill must be agreed to in the same form by both the House of Commons and the Senate. A bill can be introduced in the House of Commons or the Senate, but a bill that spends public funds or imposes a tax must be introduced in the House of Commons.

The process for the passage of a bill is similar in both the House of Commons and the Senate. Normally the procedure is as follows:

Once the bill has been passed by one House of Parliament, it is sent to the other House where it follows the same process. If either the Senate or the House of Commons amends a bill already passed by the other House, the amendments must be considered and agreed to by the other House as well. The bill must be passed in the same form in both Houses before it can be presented for Royal Assent.

Royal Assent is the point at which the bill becomes law or an Act of Parliament. Royal Assent is granted by the Governor General or one of their deputies.

Bills can be introduced by either the Government, by Members of Parliament (MPs) or Senators who are not part of Cabinet. These types of bills are known as Private Members’ Bills, when introduced by MPs, and Private Senator's Public bills, when introduced by Senators. All bills must follow the same process to become law, although the rules for Private Members’ Business are complex and vary in both the House of Commons and the Senate. Although Private Members’ Business is an important aspect of the daily Parliamentary agenda, it is important to note that the majority of time allocated in Parliament for debate is reserved for consideration of Government-proposed legislation.

Supporting the Minister in the legislative process

Legislation itself is drafted by legislative drafters at the Department of Justice, in consultation with officials from the Environment Portfolio, based on drafting instructions provided for in a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC).

Once legislation is ready for introduction in the House of Commons, the Minister is supported by the Portfolio. The Environment Portfolio, through the Parliamentary Affairs Unit at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), prepares the necessary information as the bill moves through the legislative process. This includes documents such as:

As with all of the Minister’s parliamentary engagement, departmental support for the Minister in the legislative process is carried out in close coordination with the Minister’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs.

Order Paper and Notice Paper

The Order Paper and Notice Paper is a two-part document published each sitting day in both the House of Commons and the Senate. The Order Paper is the complete and authoritative agenda of all items of business that may be considered by both Houses of Parliament. The Notice Paper contains all items for which notice has been given. This means that the items are put on notice to be added to the Parliamentary agenda. Together, these documents contain virtually all items of business that are before the House or Senate or that may be brought before the House or Senate. Printed copies are distributed in the morning in the Chamber. The electronic version is usually made available on the Parliament of Canada website the previous evening.

Question Period

Question Period (QP) is a 45-minute period held each day in the House of Commons which gives Opposition and Government "backbench" MPs (i.e. those who are not Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries) the opportunity to ask the Government questions and hold it to account.

The Minister’s participation in QP is supported by the Environment Portfolio, through ECCC’s Parliamentary Affairs Unit. The Unit coordinates the preparation of QP cards which contain a proposed response to an anticipated question as well as background information for the Minister. The Privy Council Office may also request QP cards from the Department in order to support the Prime Minister.

QP also takes place in the Senate with the Government Representative to the Senate typically responding to questions from Senators. A procedural pilot project was recently launched requiring Ministers to attend QP in the Senate to respond to questions directly from Senators, with one Minister appearing per week. The new process allows Senators to exercise their parliamentary due diligence by posing questions directly to a Minister instead of to the Government Representative in the Senate.

Late show

A "late show", also known as adjournment proceedings, is a follow-up to QP that occurs during the end of a House of Commons sitting day. An MP who wishes to receive more information following a response given to their question or who is not satisfied with the response to their question during QP can ask for the matter to be raised again during the adjournment proceedings. Each day, except Fridays, the Speaker will choose which MPs are selected to participate in Late Shows. If the matter is selected, the MP will deliver a four-minute preamble and question followed by a four-minute response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister. Afterwards, they each have an additional minute to complete their arguments.

Parliamentary committee system

Parliamentary committees are important elements of the parliamentary process. Both the House of Commons and the Senate have committees that help support Parliament's work.

Although the rules and organization of committees differ slightly between the House and Senate, committees serve the same basic function in enabling detailed examination of complex matters more easily completed in committees, rather than in the full assembly of the House or the Senate. This includes detailed study of legislation, examination of the estimates, or of a subject matter related to the committee's mandate. The committee structure allows for more direct engagement with Canadians during the examination of issues and helps MPs and Senators develop expertise on various subject areas.

Committees are made of all members from all parties. Party representation on committees is roughly proportional to the party standings in the House or the Senate.

The primary committees related to the work of the Environment Portfolio are the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI), and the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV). ENVI studies the programs and legislation of ECCC, Parks Canada Agency and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) as well as reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. ENEV examines legislation and studies issues related to energy, the environment and natural resources generally, including: mines and natural resources, other than fisheries and forestry; pipelines, transmission lines and energy transportation; environmental affairs; and other energy-related matters. Occasionally Portfolio-related issues will also be examined by other committees of the House of Commons or the Senate, or by a Joint Committee.

The Portfolio, through ECCC’s Parliamentary Affairs Unit, monitors all committee activity and provides updates and information on Portfolio-related business. The Parliamentary Affairs Unit also works closely with the Portfolio and the Minister’s office to ensure that the Minister is well supported for any committee appearances (for example on legislation or on the Estimates) by providing the necessary briefing material on the subject matter the Minister is expected to discuss, as well as strategic and procedural advice on committee procedures and rules. The DM or other Senior Officials may also appear with the Minister in order to provide on-site support.

Written questions

MPs and Senators may pose written questions to the Government seeking detailed or technical information on any matter of interest to them. The Government is required to provide a response to a written question. MPs can request that a response be tabled within 45 calendar days. While there is no deadline for providing a response to questions from Senators, the Privy Council Office asks departments to respect the 45 calendar day deadline. In the House of Commons, if a response is not provided within 45 days, the Minister may be deemed to be in contempt of Parliament and the issue may be referred to the appropriate committee. The Portfolio, through the Parliamentary Affairs Unit, prepares responses to written questions for the Minister’s consideration.

Petitions

Petitions are formal requests made to Parliament by Canadians, which are tabled in the House of Commons by an MP. As with written questions, the Government is required to provide a response to any petition tabled in the House of Commons within 45 days. Failure to do so can result in the Minister being deemed to be in contempt of Parliament and the issue may be referred to the appropriate committee. The Portfolio, through the Parliamentary Affairs Unit, prepares responses to written questions for the Minister’s consideration.

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