Making a presentation to a standing committee: frequently asked questions
- What is a legislative committee?
- How do I meet with a committee as a witness?
- What does a presentation consist of?
- How can I make my presentation more effective?
- What are my rights and responsibilities as a witness?
- Where will the meeting take place? Will it be held in public?
- Will the meeting be recorded?
- Who is the Chair?
- Who is the Committee Clerk?
- Can I provide input to a committee even if I don’t want to make a presentation in a meeting?
- What happens after I’ve given my presentation to the committee?
What is a legislative committee?
Legislative committees are sub-groups of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island that are created to examine certain areas of public life according to their mandate. Their mandates are usually reflected in their titles; the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries, for example, is mandated to examine issues related to agriculture and fisheries. Each committee consists of seven or eight Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who are elected to represent Islanders in the provincial legislature. The work of standing committees is ongoing, and they exist as long as the General Assembly (i.e., the period between general elections) lasts. Special committees are sometimes formed to examine a narrower area of interest, and cease to exist once they make their final report to the Legislative Assembly. A full list of current Legislative Assembly committees and their mandates is available at assembly.pe.ca/legcommittees.
Committees examine policy proposals, review government operations, take public input on issues related to their mandate, and ensure that taxpayer’s money is spent responsibly. As part of their work, committees often hear from people who have expertise or input on the topic at hand. These people are formally known as witnesses; they may also be referred to as presenters. Witnesses come from all walks of life. They may be government ministers, departmental officials, business owners, leaders of community organizations, or simply members of the public with a particular interest in the issue being examined.
Committees submit written reports of their activities to the Legislative Assembly (also known as the House) during the Assembly’s spring and/or fall sitting. These reports indicate the issues the committee has examined and the witnesses it has heard from. Committees may make recommendations for changes to laws or policies, for actions by government, or for actions by individuals and organizations external to government. The Legislative Assembly may adopt, reject or amend the committee’s report, or direct the committee to study matters further. Committees may not direct the spending of public funds or otherwise recommend action not related to their mandates.
How do I meet with a committee as a witness?
You may be contacted by the Committee Clerk, or via letter from the committee, because the committee has identified you as someone it wishes to hear from on a particular issue.
You may see or hear a notice from a committee in the newspaper, online, on the radio or on TV calling for input from the general public on a particular issue, and decide to get in touch in order to provide your views.
You may wish to provide your views on an issue relevant to the mandate of a particular committee and, on your own initiative, get in touch with the Committee Clerk to request the opportunity to make a presentation to the committee.
Ultimately, the committee decides which witnesses it will hear from. Witness appearances at committee meetings are arranged in advance by the Committee Clerk.
What does a presentation consist of?
Your presentation (formally, your testimony) at the committee meeting will typically consist of a 15-minute verbal statement of your views on the subject at hand. Then, if time allows, the committee members may have questions for you. If you wish to have more than 15 minutes for your presentation, you must discuss it with the Committee Clerk well in advance of the meeting.
Though it is not required, you may include written documents, photographs or other printed material to supplement your verbal comments. Twelve copies of each printed submission should be provided to the Committee Clerk for distribution to the committee members and for the committee’s records, which are publicly accessible.
It is also permitted, but not required, to use a slideshow as part of your presentation. To do so, simply bring the electronic slideshow file on a USB drive. A screen, projector and Windows-based computer will be supplied. It is your responsibility to ensure that your slideshow will properly display in a Windows operating system using Microsoft PowerPoint or Adobe Acrobat. An electronic copy of the slideshow will be kept by the Committee Clerk for distribution after the meeting and for the committee’s records. The electronic file will also assist Hansard in transcribing the meeting, and it is helpful if it is formatted to allow the copying of text.
If a video forms part of the presentation, a copy in DVD format is required, and providing the transcript is recommended. Any other form of submission to accompany your presentation must be discussed in advance with the Committee Clerk.
On the day of your presentation it is helpful if you can arrive approximately fifteen minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. This will allow the Clerk to answer any questions you may have, and the audio-visual technician to prep your slideshow on the computer if necessary.
For both written submissions and slideshows, it is your responsibility to abide by copyright legislation in the use of text or images produced by others.
Witnesses may appear individually or as a group. However, there are only three chairs for witnesses at the table; other members of your organization who wish to attend can sit in the public galleries. You should provide the properly spelled names and titles of the people who will appear as witnesses to the Committee Clerk in advance of the meeting.
Before you begin your presentation, the Chair will welcome you and ask you to state your name for the record.
How can I make my presentation more effective?
The content of your presentation is up to you, within the agreed upon subject matter. Some tips to make it more effective include:
- Identify the most important points you want to impress upon the committee
- Indicate whether the views you are providing represent those of an organization or are purely your own
- Use evidence from authoritative sources to back up any arguments you make
- If you have recommendations for change in regard to the subject at hand, state them clearly and, again, support them with solid evidence
- Practice your presentation in advance to make sure if fits within the allotted time frame
- If you are presenting with others as a group, determine in advance who shall speak, and on what topics; multiple speakers are permitted as part of a witness group, but the time frame must still be adhered to
- Use written notes as you see fit, but bear in mind that reading directly from a page may make your presentation harder to follow than making eye contact with the committee members and engaging them through less tightly scripted remarks
- If you provide a slideshow:
- The screen measures approximately two feet high by four feet wide and the committee members sit roughly 12 to 17 feet away; do not use small text or images that will be difficult to see
- Large blocks of text in a slideshow may distract from your verbal comments
- Single words or short phrases on the slideshow can help organize and frame your testimony for your audience, and images provide visual support to your verbal comments
What are my rights and responsibilities as a witness?
As a witness making a presentation to a committee you are entitled to the same rights granted to Members of the Legislative Assembly. You may speak freely, and nothing you say may be used against you in civil proceedings. You may be accompanied by legal counsel if you wish, although this is uncommon and your lawyer may only advise you, not speak for you.
Witnesses are required to answer questions asked of them by the committee. If you are unsure whether a question is from the committee, as opposed to an individual committee member, you may ask the Chair for clarification.
As a witness appearing before a committee, you may be required to take an oath or make a solemn affirmation; however, normally witnesses are not sworn in. The decision as to the swearing-in of witnesses is up to the committee. A witness who refuses to be sworn in might face a charge of contempt. Likewise, the refusal to answer questions or to answer truthfully may give rise to a charge of contempt of the House, whether the witness has been sworn in or not. In addition, witnesses who lie under oath may be charged with perjury.
In the vast majority of cases, committees are able to obtain the evidence they seek by inviting witnesses to appear before them. A committee may also choose to summon a witness by adopting a motion to that effect. Committees usually only summon witnesses in cases where witnesses have declined a prior invitation to appear. If a proposed witness fails to appear when summoned, the committee may report the fact to the House. The House then takes any action it deems appropriate.
Where will the meeting take place? Will it be held in public?
Unless otherwise indicated, committees meet in the Legislative Assembly Chamber, on the first floor of the Honourable George Coles Building at 175 Richmond Street, Charlottetown. Enter via the main door; you will be asked to sign in at the security desk, and then you may proceed to the Chamber.
Metered parking is available around the Legislative Assembly on Grafton Street, Prince Street, and University Avenue. Hourly parking is available on Richmond Street and Church Street.
Typically committee meetings are open to the public. There are public seating galleries around the perimeter of the Chamber that hold a maximum of 30 people. Only the witnesses currently presenting to the committee may enter the Chamber floor or go “inside the rail”. The public must remain quiet during the meeting and may not address the committee from the galleries. Please silence or turn off your cellphone. There are often multiple witnesses scheduled to appear at a committee meeting, and if you are not first on the agenda, you can sit in the public gallery until it is your turn to present. You do not have to attend the entire meeting. Legislative Assembly security is present at committee meetings.
On occasion committees will meet privately, or in camera. They do this when discussing their report to the Legislative Assembly. Other times they may decide to meet in camera if there is reason to do so. If you would prefer to give your testimony in private, you may request to appear in camera, but the decision is up to the committee. Any publication of in camera proceedings, whether written or verbal, is an offense which may be subject to discipline from the House.
Will the meeting be recorded?
Committee meetings held in public are recorded in several ways. Video cameras mounted in the Chamber record proceedings for live broadcasting on the Legislative Assembly website, www.assembly.pe.ca, and the Legislative Assembly’s Facebook page. Video of past committee meetings from September 1, 2017, onward is also available on the website.
A written transcript of the meeting is also produced by the Legislative Assembly Hansard Office. The transcript reflects the words spoken in the meeting. It is edited to remove unnecessary repetition and otherwise make sentences more readable without changing the meaning of what was said. The transcript is posted on the Assembly website once complete, usually within several business days.
You’ll note that there are microphones at the tables used by the witnesses and committee members. These record your voice, but do not amplify it. The audio-visual staff will test and calibrate these mics before the meeting. Sitting close to your table and speaking clearly at regular volume will allow your voice to be properly recorded. Please do not touch the mics.
Members of the news media who are part of the Legislative Assembly Press Gallery often attend committee meetings. They are permitted to record committee proceedings and include photos, audio and video in their reporting. Members of the media may ask to interview you following your appearance before the committee. This is at your discretion. The interview must take place outside the Chamber. What you say in a media interview is not protected by parliamentary privilege in the same way as what you say in your testimony before the committee, even if it is the same information.
Other members of the public in attendance at a meeting are not permitted to take photos, video or record sound in any way.
No recording of in camera meetings takes place.
Who is the Chair?
One of the committee members is elected to serve as the committee Chair. The Chair directs the meeting, maintains order and recognizes members who wish to speak or ask questions. At the beginning of the meeting the Chair may make a brief opening statement and call for the adoption of the day’s agenda. He or she will usually then ask the first witness to begin his or her presentation. During a meeting, if you are confused or unsure about any part of proceedings, you can seek clarification from the Chair. The Chair and other members of each committee are indicated at assembly.pe.ca/legcommittees.
Who is the Committee Clerk?
The Committee Clerk is an employee of the legislature. The Clerk is not part of the committee, but organizes its business and takes direction from the committee so that it may carry out its work. The Clerk will work with you to arrange a time for you to meet with the committee and will provide you with the draft agenda, which shows the order of proceedings for the meeting. Any questions you may have about the committee or your appearance should be directed to the Clerk. The name and contact information of the Clerk is provided with each committee listed at assembly.pe.ca/legcommittees. You may also call (902) 368-5970 to be directed to the right person.
Can I provide input to a committee even if I don’t want to make a presentation in a meeting?
Anyone can submit written comments to a committee, even if not meeting with the committee in person. Such comments must be relevant to the committee’s mandate. To submit something in writing, contact the appropriate Committee Clerk as listed at assembly.pe.ca/legcommittees.
What happens after I’ve given my presentation to the committee?
After the conclusion of your presentation, and if time allows, committee members may wish to ask you questions related to the input you have provided. Then there may be other presentations or other business on the agenda for the committee to consider. After the meeting adjourns, the transcript is produced, as indicated above. Committees may have further meetings before they submit a report to the Legislative Assembly. Unless the Assembly directs a committee to report within a certain timeframe, committees simply report “from time to time”. Committee reports that have been tabled in the Legislative Assembly can be read at assembly.pe.ca/reports/index.php. The contents of a committee report are entirely at the discretion of the committee, and cannot be revealed prior to the report’s tabling.