A31. Committee of the Whole House (CWH) is the fourth stage of the five-stage law-making process.
CWH is often called “clause-by-clause examination”. (Each bill is divided into numbered parts. I prefer to call each part a “section”, but they can also be called a “clause”.) This is in contrast to second reading, which is “debate in principle”.
In CWH, the MLAs move through the bill one clause at a time. Any MLA may propose an amendment to any clause.
There is a 20-hour time limit on CWH for any one bill. The maximum is reached only on the most controversial bills, when the opposition parties are aiming for maximum delay.
At first glance, CWH looks like a regular sitting of the House. It meets in the legislative chamber at Province House and all MLAs can attend. But there are a couple of noticeable differences from a normal session:
- Because CWH is a committee, the Speaker leaves the chair. CWH is chaired by the deputy speaker—or any other MLA to whom the deputy speaker delegates the job—who sits at the table in front of the Speaker’s dais.
- An MLA can speak more than once.
The focus of CWH is on amendments. Sometimes the government will propose amendments to its own bill, and these amendments are always adopted because the government has a majority. The opposition proposes amendments too, but these amendments are rarely adopted.
There is one other quirk I want to mention. The very first part of every bill is the title, so that is where CWH debate starts. The debate “on title” can sometimes go on for hours. But the MLAs aren’t really debating the title of the bill. When this happens, it means the opposition is trying to delay as much as possible, and the title is as good a place as any to do it.