Striking gold: Locating legislative intent in Ontario’s Committee Hansard and materials

Mining legislative debates for legislative intent information can be a laborious task. However, finding the answer in Committee Hansard feels like striking gold! Read on as we dig deeper into the history and whereabouts of Committee materials in Ontario.

In this post, we cover these topics and frequently asked questions:

What is Committee Hansard?

Three types of committees (i.e., a small working group of MPPs) exist in Ontario: Standing Committees, Select Committees, and Committee of the Whole House [1]. During the bill-making process, a bill is typically referred to a committee for further study [2]. In committee, members can undertake a clause-by-clause analysis of the bill; they may also make amendments and call witnesses to testify [3]. The discussion during this committee stage is recorded, transcribed, and published as “Committee Hansard”.

This granular section-by-section discussion of the legislation can be a valuable place to excavate information about specific provisions of the bill.

Committee Hansard vs House Hansard

Ontario’s Committee Hansard is published separately from House Hansard, which are the debates that occur in the main chamber of the legislature (see our blog post about finding Ontario’s House Hansard). Committee deliberations typically occur in specially organized rooms at Queen’s Park [4].

The separate publishing and venue is reflected in the way house and committee transcripts are organized online on the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s website. In addition, the printed committee materials are bound separately from the House Hansard volumes.

An exception to note is the debates for the Committee of the Whole House. Committee of the Whole House refers to a situation in which all members of the house (i.e., all MPPs) form a large committee to study a bill line-by-line [5]. The debates for this Committee are printed in the ‘regular’ House Hansard.

A second exception is the debates of the Standing Committee on Estimates. These debates were sometimes appended to the printed House Hansard volumes before 1990 [6].

Does it exist for my bill? (A note on publication history)

Ontario’s Committee Hansard does not share the same date coverage as House Hansard, so prospects may be slim if you are researching for Committee Hansard for a pre-1990 Ontario bill. Due to the demand for Hansard services for committees, some material exists between 1978 and 1990 [7]. Very little Standing Committee material exists prior to 1978 [8].

According to a former Chief of Hansard with the Ontario Legislative Assembly:

For many years only the debates in the Chamber, and those committees considering estimates, were formally printed and subsequently produced as bound volumes, with the deliberations of other committees printed formally only by specific motion of the Legislature.

Transcripts of all other committees, standing or select, were produced at the discretion of the committees themselves…
…The formal printing of all Ontario standing and select committee proceedings was finally approved in the latest amendments to the Standing Orders passed by the Legislature on July 25, 1989 and became effective on October 9, 1989
.” [9]

The shift to formal printing is obvious when we compare the transcripts from the 1982 Standing Committee on Administration of Justice to the formally printed ones from 1996 (see images below).

Side-by-side images comparing the 1982 and 1986 pages from transcripts of the Standing Committee on Administration of Justice. The 1982 transcript text is typewritten and spans the width of the page, but the 1996 transcripts are formatted as two columns and professionally printed
The left image is a typewritten page from the 1982 Standing Committee on Administration of Justice. The right image is a printed page from the 1996 Standing Committee on Administration of Justice. Click image to view larger version.

Where to find Committee Hansard

The Great Library has some printed Committee Hansard which pre-date the materials on the Ontario Legislative Assembly website. You can locate these in our American Room, where we currently house our Federal and Ontario legislative materials. If you are unsure whether the Great Library carries a particular set of committee debates, please email us at .

Printed and bound Ontario Committee Hansard materials on a shelf in the Great Library’s American room.
Find historical Ontario Committee debates in the Great Library’s American Room.

Although the Great Library has some pre-1990 Committee Hansard, you may locate more materials at the Archives of Ontario.

A quick note about searching: law librarians and legal researchers use the phrase “Committee Hansard” to refer to the transcripts that record (verbatim) the committee’s deliberations [10]. However, the terms “proceedings” or “transcripts” or “records” are also used to describe Ontario’s Committee Hansard so it may be more effective to use the name of the committee in keyword searches. Here are examples to illustrate the different ways Committee Hansard is catalogued:

Committee Report on Bills vs. Committee Reports

We are often asked: where is the “committee report” for my bill?

At the federal level, a brief written report on a specific bill is sometimes produced by standing committees [11]. At the provincial level, and as discovered through email correspondence with Clerk of Procedural Services (Legislative Assembly of Ontario), when the Chair reports the bill to the House, it is done so verbally with a written component. This takes place during the daily proceeding “Reports by Committees”. The written component is the bill itself either without amendments or with certain amendments. If the bill has been amended, the passed amendments are attached to the bill.

Complicating the picture, Ontario’s Committees may also conduct studies that do not correspond to a specific bill. Over 200 of these “Committee Reports” are available online on the Ontario Legislative Assembly website:

Committee reports are substantive reports. They may include the observations, opinions, and recommendations about an issue the committee studied. The study can be started by the committee or may be referred to the committee by the House.[15]

These “committee reports” typically address a particular topic, rather than individual bills.

Help! I’ve checked the Committee Hansard, but my section isn’t mentioned at all!

Although you’ve successfully located the collection of Committee Hansard that pertains to your bill, there is a chance that you may not find any discussion about your specific provision. There are a couple reasons for this: the provision may have been renumbered during the bill-making process OR perhaps the provision was not discussed at all!

The numbering within a bill may shift as it passes through the house and committee. As an example, section 121.1 of Bill 21, Retirement Homes Act, 2010 was inserted at the committee stage, but the section was renumbered as 122 in the Royal Assent version (see comparison image below) [16].

Side-by-side comparison of the table of contents pages from First Reading version, As amended by committee version, and Royal assent version of Bill 21, Retirement Homes Act, 2010. Section 121.1 was inserted by the committee and renumbered as section 122 in the royal assent version.
Click image to view larger version.

Therefore, you may wish to compare the numbering in the first reading version of the bill against the royal assent version in case your provision was discussed under a different section number.

However, researchers must manage their expectations of Committee Hansard. While Committee Hansard can be a treasure trove of information about a particular provision of an Act, it may not address the Act’s other provisions – especially if they are non-controversial or not prioritized for discussion by the committee. For example, if you wanted to learn more about sections 15-19 of Bill 21, then the committee debates will not help you. When the Standing Committee on Social Policy reviewed Bill 21, they simply agreed on sections 15-19 with no further discussion (see screenshot below) [17].

Excerpt from Standing Committee on Social Policy debates on Bill 21, showing sections 15 to 19 were approved without further discussion.
Click image to view larger version.

Remember: committee deliberations unfold organically as members must review the bill in a timely manner, make amendments, and consult witnesses. Committee members may not have future legal researchers in mind when they make their remarks. 

Other nuggets of info: Minutes and Exhibits

Committee minutes and exhibits may provide some additional context to supplement the Committee Hansard. Some are digitized and linked in the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s library catalogue.

Committee minutes are “often overlooked” and “may contain the full text of a proposed amendment to bill” [18]. The full-text of the proposed changes may be helpful to view alongside the transcripts which include discussions about those changes. For example, in the scanned Minutes of proceedings of the Standing Committee on Social Policy (39th Parliament, 2nd session), the Committee discusses Bill 21 starting in Meeting No. 5 on May 10, 2010.

Exhibits “are documents submitted to a Standing or Select Committee of the Ontario Legislature, which become a part of the permanent public record” [19]. These can include reports and presentation materials submitted by interested stakeholders. You can search the Legislative Assembly Library’s catalogue, which includes some scanned table of contents for these exhibits. As an example, see the scanned exhibit list for Bill 21 (An Act to regulate retirement homes, 2010). LSO licensees who wish to view these materials should contact the Great Library for assistance.

The core takeaways…

Ontario’s Committee Hansard is published separately from House Hansard, but it can provide more detailed analysis of provisions within individual bills. Due to its publication history, Committee Hansard can be difficult or impossible to locate. If the materials exist, Ontario’s Committee Hansard remains a valuable resource for legislative intent researchers.


[1]Committees” (last visited 15 August 2022), online: Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

[2] Legislative Assembly of Ontario, How an Ontario Bill Becomes Law (Research Paper) by Larry Johnston & Sude Bahar Beltan, Publication No RP 2206, Legislative Overview Series (Toronto: Legislative Research Branch, June 2022), online at 5.

[3] Ibid at 3.

[4]A Deep Dive into Committees” (4 August 2022) at 00h:04m:01s, online (podcast): ON Parliament.

[5] Supra, note 2 at 6.

[6]About Key Collections” (last visited 4 August 2022), online: Legislative Library of Ontario Catalogue.

[7] Peter Brannan, “The Evolution of Ontario’s Hansard” (1989) 12:4 Can Parl Rev 16, online: Canadian Parliamentary Review at 18.

[8] Supra, note 6.

[9] Supra, note 7 at 19.

[10] Susan Barker & Erica Anderson, Researching Legislative Intent: A Practical Guide (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2019) at 95.

[11] As an example of this, see the Twelfth and Thirteenth Reports in Senate, Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, “Reports of the Committee”, Proceedings, No 10 (22 May 1990), online: Canadian Parliamentary Historical Resources at 10:5.

[12] Supra, note 2 at 3 [emphasis added].

[13] Standing orders of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (May 2022), s 82(a), online[emphasis added].

[14] Supra, note 10 at 96 [emphasis added].

[15]Committee Documents” (last visited 4 August 2022), online: Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

[16] See the “Original”, “As Amended by Standing Committee”, and “Royal Assent versions” of Bill 21, An Act to regulate retirement homes, 2nd Sess, 39th Parl, 2010, online: Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

[17] “Bill 21, An Act to regulate retirement homes”, Ontario, Legislative Assembly, Standing Committee on Social Policy, Official Report of Debates (Hansard), 39-2, (17 May 2010), online: Legislative Assembly of Ontario at SP-153.

[18] Supra, note 10 [emphasis added].

[19] Supra, note 6.