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History of Legislative Committees

Early committees

Legislative committees were established early in the history of the Nova Scotia Legislature. The earliest committees served to communicate with the Governor and His Majesty’s Council or to examine petitions and specific topics.

On October 2, 1758, the very first day the House of Assembly met in Nova Scotia, it created a committee charged with preparing an Address in Answer to His Excellency’s Speech. The first committee to examine an issue external to the House was the Committee to search for a proper piece of ground to Build a Workhouse Upon, which was struck on October 12, 1758. On December 9, 1758, the Committees to Build a Workhouse and Lighthouse were declared standing committees and their purposes were to “carry the same into execution.” On December 11, 1758, these committees became one and effectively became the Public Works Commissioners.

Financial scrutiny

Although there was a committee established in 1758 to request a report of the treasury from the governor, the treasury accounts presented to the House on October 13, 1758 did not receive a thorough examination Similar requests for treasury reports were sent to the Governor on December 12, 1759 and September 13, 1760. These requests were also fulfilled, but again, the House did not thoroughly examine the reports. On July 11, 1761, the House appointed a committee to examine the treasury accounts that were laid before the House the previous day. This examination committee was the first Public Accounts Committee.

Other standing committees

Until 1839, there were no standing committees other than Public Accounts. Various committees were struck on a temporary basis to review certain situations or bills. In 1839, a select committee was established to “devise and propose to the House some plan whereby the business referred to Select Committees may be expedited and conducted so as to retard, as little as possible, the general business of the House” (Journals, 1839, p. 461). Their report, presented to the House on January 19, 1839, recommended a committee system based on the British House of Commons and other Colonial assemblies. The report found that such committees:

Are carefully selected, who are conversant with the class of subjects referred to them, and are continued by a new nomination, at the commencement of each Session, with such changes in their composition, as circumstances may have rendered expedient. The advantages of this plan are obvious: on every important subject the House are assured of the necessary enquiries being conducted by Members, thoroughly versed in its details, while the labor is more equally diffused, and the acquirements of the different Members are brought into useful and active operation (Journals, 1839, app. 13).

The Select Committee then recommended the following committees and membership:

Committee Members
Agriculture 15
Trade and Commerce 7
Education 9
Crown Lands 7
Fisheries 7
Laws - Criminal and Civil Legislation 7
Post-Office - Ascertaining Mail Routes, Law Regulating, etc. 5
Navigation Securities 5
Public Expenditure 5
Inland and River Fisheries 5
Statute Labor 5

The Select Committee also recognized the importance of having select committees to examine “particular bills and petitions.”
In January 1840, many of these recommended committees were appointed.

Committee Appointed

Committee to Examine the Public Accounts

Committee to Enquire into the state of the Fisheries

January 6
Committee to revise and amend the laws relating to Highways and Highway Labor January 7
Committee on Education January 8

Committee on Agriculture

Temperance Committee

January 9
Committee on Trade, Commerce, and Manufactures January 13

Committee on Communication with New Brunswick and Newfoundland by Steam Boats, etc. and on Mail routes generally

Committee on River and Shore Fisheries

January 15
Committee on Navigation Securities January 21
Committee on the Post Office January 28

Law Amendments Committee

Before the current Law Amendments Committee, which was initially established in 1857 as the Committee on Alterations on the Law, some bills may have been referred to a specific committee. Even when the Law Amendments Committee was created, not all bills went to that committee.


Types and compositions of committees have varied greatly over time, depending on the needs of each assembly. They were, and continue to be, less formal than the House of Assembly. Unlike the House, committees frequently call witnesses to appear before them.