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Skip Navigation LinksParliamentary Scrutiny

Once limited to budget considerations, the watch-dog role over the Government played by the Members of the National Assembly has grown along with the responsibilities of the State.

The means used to carry out this role are numerous and belong essentially to the opposition parties. MNAs make use of them both in the House and in parliamentary committee.

Scrutiny Exercised in the House

Question Period

Question Period—the period for oral questions and answers—takes place at every sitting of the Assembly and is undoubtedly the most exciting aspect of parliamentary scrutiny.

For 45 minutes, ministers must answer the numerous questions asked of them by opposition Members. The questions must be on subjects of public interest and be under a minister’s or the Government’s responsibility; they must deal with matters of urgency or current interest.

Debates upon Adjournment

An MNA who is not satisfied with the answers he or she receives may obtain a brief debate at 6 p.m. on Tuesday or Thursday. The debate may not exceed 12 minutes.

No more than three such debates may be held per sitting. There are no debates upon adjournment during extended hours of meeting

Written Questions

Questions not important or urgent enough to justify an immediate answer must be asked in writing, as must questions that require research. Written questions are placed on the Order Paper and the answers to them are tabled in the House.

Debate on the Opening Speech of the Session

Formerly called the inaugural message, the opening speech is made by the Premier at the start of each new session.  In it, the Premier outlines the Government’s general policy for the coming parliamentary session, then proposes that the policy be adopted by the Assembly.
 
The duration of the debate on the opening speech is 25 hours, during which the MNAs may voice their views on the Government’s policy or on any other subject. A want of confidence motion or a motion stating a grievance may also be introduced.

The debate ends by a vote on any and all such motions, and finally by a vote on the Government’s general policy.

Debate on the Budget Speech

The reading of the budget speech in the House by the Finance Minister is an important stage in the budget process of the State.

While consideration of the estimates of expenditure lays bare the Government’s spending program, the budget speech announces the fiscal measures and borrowing that are to finance the spending. The budget speech also sets forth the Government’s new economic policies.

The debate on the budget speech lasts 25 hours—15 in the House and 10 in the Committee on Public Finance. In the Assembly, each MNA is entitled to speak on any subject whatever, and may introduce a want of confidence motion or a motion stating a grievance.

The debate ends by a vote on any and all such motions, and finally by a vote on the Government’s budgetary policy.

Scrutiny Exercised in Committee

The tools placed at the disposal of MNAs who sit on parliamentary committees are used to scrutinize the actions of the Administration rather than those of the Government.

Interpellation

By having a notice placed on the Order Paper, any opposition MNA may interpellate (i.e., request an explanation from) a minister on any matter of general interest under that minister’s responsibility. The minister responds on Friday morning, during the sitting of the committee concerned.

Interpellations are not permitted during extended hours of meeting and are otherwise limited to one interpellation per week.

Examination of Financial Commitments

Financial commitments are defined as grants and contracts of $25,000 or more accorded by the Government. Their examination by the Committee on Public Administration ensures that the amounts allocated by the Assembly to the Government are in fact spent in accordance with the rules of sound management. The Committee determines, on its own initiative, the financial commitments it wishes to study in more depth.

Consideration of the Estimates

Consideration of the estimates of expenditure normally follows the budget speech; the Government requests that the Assembly authorize it to spend the amounts it needs to finance its departments and bodies for the coming year.

Once the budget has been tabled, the Assembly may approve, before April 1, one quarter of the estimates provided for in it. Payments may therefore be made as early as the beginning of each new fiscal year, i.e., on April 1.

The debate on the estimates continues in committee for a maximum of 200 hours, with each committee examining the estimates of the departments and bodies under its purview.

More on the areas of competence of parliamentary committees

Consideration of estimates may not exceed 20 hours per government department or body. The debate may focus on the amounts spent during the preceding fiscal period or, equally, on allocations for the period about to begin.

Once the estimates have been studied in committee, the Assembly votes on the reports of the various committees and on the resulting appropriations bill.

Oversight of Public Bodies and Accountability

Each committee must examine annually the policy directions, activities and management of at least one public body subject to its power of surveillance. Boards, commissions, state corporations, offices and administrative tribunals may all be subject to a rigorous examination by the members of a committee.

As a result of both the Act respecting the accountability of deputy ministers and chief executive officers of public bodies (in force from 1993 to 2000) and the current Public Administration Act (in force since May 30, 2000), there is now a greater emphasis on scrutinizing the Administration. All government departments and public bodies must render an account of their management to the MNAs.

This particular role offers a prime opportunity for MNAs to increase their influence. An MNA from the party in power is not bound to support the Government when hearing public administrators in committee. Rather, he or she must seek to defend the interests of the public by casting a watchful and independent eye on the quality of management exercised.

 
 

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