Most members of Parliament, as well as many Canadians, believe that the House of Commons should play a more direct role in policy making. This is particularly evident in the standing committee system, where MPS consider a successful committee to be one that has a direct influence on government policy. However, these policy-making expectations conflict with the reality of both the highly partisan Canadian House and the structure of the Westminster style of cabinet government and obscure the roles of scrutiny and education, which committees do perform effectively. Through a case study of the standing committee on finance and its 1989 investigation of the government's GST technical paper, we see that committee members tend to focus solely on policy making. By contrast, the government and many interest groups use the committee more as a public forum, often to communicate with each other. The real effect of committee members on policy-making is difficult to gauge and is intertwined with the committee's public-forum role. In an age of public disillusionment with Parliament and politicians, the gap between expectations and reality must be reconciled; however, this requires work on both sides. Governments and parties could relax their hold on committee members and actively seek out areas where committees can play a role in the policy-making process. In turn, committees must reconcile themselves to the reality of the Westminster system and be realistic in their policy-making expectations.

Additional Metadata
Journal Canadian Public Administration
Citation
Malloy, J. (1996). Reconciling expectations and reality in House of Commons committees: The case of the 1989 GST inquiry. Canadian Public Administration, 39(3), 314–335.