The term “Officers of Parliament” has been used loosely and inconsistently, and in different contexts to refer to different things. The term has not been legally defined, and, presently, it is used to describe several related types of positions:
Traditionally, at the federal level in Canada, the term “Officers of Parliament” refers to those independent, accountability agencies created to assist Parliament in holding ministers and the bureaucracy accountable and to protect various kinds of rights of individual Canadians, or to carry out certain functions independent of the executive. The holders of these offices are responsible to Parliament rather than to the federal government or an individual minister, and their appointments (and removal from office) usually involve Parliament in some capacity.
“Officers of Parliament” has further been used to refer to the offices of the Senate and the House of Commons that are occupied by politicians. These officers have a role to play in the operations of the chamber – the Speaker and other Chair occupants, the House Leaders, the party Whips, the caucus Chairs, and certain other offices.
The term is also sometimes used to describe the senior staff of the Senate, House of Commons, and the Library of Parliament. These are the officers appointed to serve Parliament, independent of the executive, and who facilitate the functioning of the legislative branch.
Certain Senators hold leadership positions that are critical to the organization of the work of the Senate. These appointments are generally made on a political basis. The Senate uses the term “political officers” to describe these offices: the Speaker of the Senate, the Speaker pro tempore, the Leader of the Government in the Senate; the Leader of the Opposition; the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate; the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; and the party Whips.
Certain Members of the House of Commons are elected or appointed to serve in offices relating to the operation of the House. These are usually known as “House Officers,” and are political – as opposed to administrative – offices. Bylaw 302 of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy includes the following definition:
"House Officer" ("agent supérieur de la Chambre") means the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole House, the Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole House, the Government House Leader, the Leader or House Leader of a recognized party, the Whip of a recognized party, the Chair of the national caucus of a recognized party, any Member who is a former Prime Minister and the Member designated by the leader of a recognized party to be responsible for the research office of the party, but does not include the Prime Minister of Canada.
The offices that are traditionally referred to as the “Officers of Parliament” are
The Privy Council Office, and some governmental documents, refers to these officers as “Agents of Parliament,” thereby emphasizing that they carry out work for Parliament and are responsible to Parliament, and as a means of distinguishing them from other officers and officials of Parliament. It also emphasizes their independence from the government of the day. These “Officers of Parliament” carry out duties assigned by statute, and report to one or both of the Senate and House of Commons. The individuals appointed to these offices perform work on behalf of Parliament, and report to the chambers, usually through the Speakers.
The appointment of such Officers usually – although not necessarily – involves the House of Commons and/or the Senate. It is important to note, however, that the appointment procedures for such Officers of Parliament are not consistent.
In recent years, other offices have been established with some of the attributes of the Officers of Parliament – principally an element of independence from government and a right to report to Parliament, as well as some parliamentary involvement in the appointment process. These include: the Canadian Human Rights Commissioner and the Public Service Commissioner.
The senior procedural officers and other officials of the Senate exist to serve Parliament. They are responsible for the administration of the Senate as one of the constituent chambers of Parliament.
The officials of the Senate are:
The House of Commons has senior procedural officers and other officials, who are responsible for the administration of the House. While appointed by the Governor in Council, they exist to serve the House of Commons, and are part of the legislative branch.
The officials of the House of Commons are:
The Library of Parliament was established shortly after Confederation, and is currently provided for in sections 73 to 79 of the Parliament of Canada Act. The direction and control of the Library is vested jointly in the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons. The control and management of the Library rests with the Parliamentary Librarian, assisted by an Associate Parliamentary Librarian, both of whom are appointed by the Governor in Council. Since 2001, provision has also been made for the appointment of a Parliamentary Poet Laureate as an officer of the Library. In 2006, the Act was amended to include a Parliamentary Budget Officer as a senior officer of the Library; the Act sets out the selection process and the mandate of the office.