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.
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.