Inside Politics

Oliver and Valcourt to undergo late-night House grilling

According to the Notice Paper, the Official Opposition has come to a decision on which departmental estimates deserve extended-hours consideration in the Chamber: 

April 30, 2013 -- Mr. Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition) -- That, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), all Votes under NATURAL RESOURCES and all Votes under INDIAN AFFAIRS AND NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, be referred to Committees of the Whole.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and newly installed Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, come on down! You've been selected for the annual spring ritual known as Committee of the Whole, a  test of endurance, relevance and patience for both the ministers chosen to take part, and the opposition members tasked with conducting the ensuing interrogation.  

Last year, National Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Environment Minister Peter Kent topped the NDP target list. 

But what, I(at least a few of) you ask, is committee of the whole? 

For the answer to that question, allow me to steal shamelessly from last year's post on this very subject: 

AFTER HOURS OVERSIGHT PARTY IN THE CHAMBER, that's what. 

Every year, the opposition gets the chance to bypass the usual committee review and send the main estimates for two departments to Committee of the Whole, which is ... well, basically, the House of Commons, only with the Mace tucked under the Table and the Deputy Speaker -- in this case, New Democrat MP Joe Comartin -- in charge. 

Over the course of two sessions -- which are typically, but not automatically, held on consecutive nights -- the relevant ministers will present themselves in the Chamber, and proceed to spend the next four hours fielding queries on their respective departments' main estimate requests for the next fiscal year.  

The format is more like a committee meeting than a regular House sitting: 10 minutes allowed for statements, and 15 minute slots for MPs. Given the broad scope of subject at hand, members are generally given considerable leeway to question the ministers on a wide range of issues -- subject, of course, to the decision of the chair. 

Given the reluctance amongst many current cabinet minister to submit themselves to committee for more than an hour at a time, this could get interesting. 

In any case, the Standing Orders require that these particular debates must take place by May 31 -- so stay tuned for for more information. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

 


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