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Supply Days

Because of the vast sums involved, the Assembly can't approve them on the spot or even after the members have heard the Budget Address. Instead, they meet as a committee on government business days or during evening sittings, for up to two hours for each department, to talk about the estimates in detail. To enable them to do so, the Minister of Finance moves that "the estimates and all matters connected therewith be referred to the Committee of Supply". The word "supply" once meant "to make up a deficiency," so the modern Committee of Supply got its name from the very old practice of the monarch's asking Parliament to make up the deficiency in the personal royal treasury.

The Committee of Supply, like the Committee of the Whole, consists of all the members of the Assembly, and when it meets, the Speaker leaves the Chair and the Chairman of Committees takes over. In British parliamentary history the Speaker was once a servant of the Crown, so Parliament didn't trust him to keep any secrets about their spending plans.

The committee debates the budget estimates department by department. When the Department of Health's estimates, for example, are on the table, the Minister of Health opens the discussion with a speech about what that department has done or plans to do to advance health care. Then members from opposition parties, particularly the Health department critics, have a chance to criticize or congratulate the minister, suggesting ways they think money might be saved or more wisely spent. Government members also speak on the estimates to support the minister and the budget. As well, both government and opposition members often question ministers about some of their spending plans. Like government Bills, however, the estimates have the approval of the cabinet well before this stage, and although government members might disagree with some budget items, the estimates will pass as long as the governing party holds majority support in the Assembly. Again like the government Bills, if estimates were voted down, a nonconfidence motion would likely follow, which could result in the government's demise and an election call.

Note: Changes to the Supply Days system are susceptible to change from session to session. Check with the Legislative Assembly Office to make note of any changes.


Reproduced from the Teacher's Guide to the Alberta Legislature, 1993 with the kind permission of the Legislative Assembly Office.
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