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Hill Life & People

Library of Parliament Committee hasn’t met in 19 months

By Chelsea Nash      

The committee reviews the 'effectiveness, management, and operation' of the library. Members are scratching their heads as to why it hasn't met.

The roof of the Library of Parliament's Centre Block location is seen from below a white marble statue of the young Queen Victoria. Why the committee overseeing the library hasn't met is a mystery to some of its members. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Members of the joint House-Senate committee on the Library of Parliament are frustrated that the committee hasn’t been able to meet even once since the last election in October 2015.

“I’ve been frustrated with it for years,” said Senate Liberal Terry Mercer, of the committee’s infrequent meetings over several Parliaments. In previous sessions, it has met only about a handful of times. But it has not met since May 2015. That means the committee has no joint chairs or vice-chairs.

“Our work is a little more important than people would think,” the Nova Scotia Senator said in an interview.

NDP MP Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Salaberry-Suroît, Que.), the sole NDP member of the committee, said it is losing time to discuss what it needs to. “We’re talking about transparency, and efficiency. We’re here to work, we need to have our tools to make everyone’s work efficient,” she said.

Ms. Quach said the committee needs to start working on a strategic overview for the Library of Parliament, which is due next year. She said because of the increase in ridings last election, and the additional 30 MPs who arrived on the Hill as a result, “the library is in need of more financial resources so it can fulfill its mandate.” She said “we need to know what the budget will be, and what the strategy will be” for the library in the coming years.

Liberal MP Don Rusnak (Thunder Bay-Rainy River, Ont.) who also sits on the committee, said the one issue he considers to be pressing is resources. “That’s an ongoing issue for Parliamentarians, and making sure that the library has the supports they need. It’s pressing, but again, that’s all areas in government,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Library of Parliament said she could not comment on the committee, because it was parliamentary work.

As a standing joint committee, the group’s membership is currently comprised of four Senators and 12 Members of Parliament. Its mandate includes assisting the Speakers of both the House and the Senate, in their capacity “to direct and control the Library of Parliament and its officers and staff.” It also has a mandate to review the “effectiveness, management, and operation” of the library, and to review the appointment of the parliamentary librarian.

Former parliamentary librarian Bill Young said it’s “a shame” the committee hasn’t met since before the Liberals took power.

“I always found the Library Committee to be of great help to me in terms of providing advice about issues and directions, formally and informally,” he said.

Former parliamentary librarian Bill Young said it’s a ‘shame’ the committee hasn’t met yet. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

As librarian, he said he would often chat with the joint chairs, or members of the committee, for advice. Because the library’s role is to provide services to Members and Senators to assist them in fulfilling their duties as Parliamentarians, the committee served as “a great sounding board,” Mr. Young said.

Aside from that, Mr. Young said the committee should be examining how the closure of Centre Block in 2018 for an expected decade of renovations will affect the function of the library. The library’s main branch is in Centre Block but its staff operate in other parliamentary buildings as well, including one location on Sparks Street. 

The current parliamentary librarian, Sonia L’Heureux, is likely coming to the end of her term, Mr. Young said. He served for six years. Ms. L’Heureux was appointed librarian in 2012. It’s the committee’s job to review the appointment of a new one.

The committee could also be advising the Speakers on running an orientation for all the new Senators arriving on Parliament Hill, Mr. Young added, citing the appointment of the new Senators as one of many “significant changes” the committee could help with.

The committee’s past work has included reviewing the library’s budget requests through the estimates process.

Why no meetings?

Mr. Rusnak said while he has “no idea” why the committee hasn’t met yet, he speculated it’s because “there’s a lot of new members in the Senate; it may be a Senate delay.” He said the committee’s first scheduled meeting in February was cancelled because the Senate asked it to be rescheduled, though it hasn’t been rescheduled since.

Ms. Quach said since this Parliament has been working for more than a year now, “we can’t wait until all those Senators are nominated. We need to have all the tools that we are supposed to be given. It’s important for us to be able to fulfil our own mandate,” she said.

The Library of Parliament is responsible for providing Parliamentarians and their staff, as well as committees, associations, delegations, and senior Senate and House of Commons officials, with information and research services. It also provides research and reference services to the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

It regularly issues backgrounders, and digestible summaries of bills, among other things.

Mr. Young said one of the most important functions of the library is conducting the “largest civics program in the country,” by way of the services it offers to the public. The library is responsible for visitor programs and guided tours of the Parliament buildings, as well as classroom materials, including lesson plans, for teachers across the country.

The committee only sat five times over the course of two years during the second session of the 41st Parliament.

Ms. Quach said there had been a meeting scheduled for February, but it was cancelled. Neither she nor any of the other members The Hill Times spoke to knew why there had been no meeting yet. The clerk of the committee, David Gagnon, also said he did not know.

Under Standing Order 106 (1), 10 sitting days after the House adopts a report of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, “the clerk of the House shall convene a meeting of each standing committee whose membership is contained in that report for the purpose of electing a Chair,” as long as 48 hours notice of any such meeting is given.

In the case of a joint committee, both the clerk of the House and the clerk of the Senate would have to agree on a meeting.

“The impact is of course that we haven’t done our work,” Mr. Mercer said.

cnash@hilltimes.com

@chels_nash

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