Skip to main content Start of content
Table of ContentsIndexPrint Format
Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter III — Sittings of the House

Standing Orders [ 242526272829 ]


When it is in session, the House meets and is adjourned on days and at times specified in the Standing Orders and, provided a quorum is present, exercises its powers. This predetermined timetable allows Members to plan to attend committee meetings and to undertake other business. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to the stated days and times of meeting and adjournment; these too are provided for in the Standing Orders, as is the possibility of a recall of the House during an adjournment.

Standing Order 24(1)
Times and days of sittings.
The House shall meet on Mondays at 11:00 a.m., on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 10:00 a.m. and on Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. unless otherwise provided by Standing or Special Order of this House.

Commentary — Standing Order 24 (1)

This Standing Order provides when the House shall next meet after it adjourns at the end of a sitting. It specifies the days on which the House must meet during a session, as well as the times at which sittings must begin on those days. It also acknowledges exceptions: provisions of other Standing Orders or Special Orders the House may adopt from time to time. Standing Order 28(1), for example, exempts certain days from the general rule. Days on which the House is to meet are further limited by Standing Order 28(2), which provides for a series of adjournment periods throughout the calendar year (should the House be sitting at the time for which they are scheduled), while Standing Order 28(3) allows for a recall of the House during these same adjournments. In addition, Special Orders are frequently used in a variety of circumstances to alter either days or times of sittings, or both. [1] These have been agreed to for every conceivable reason, from eliminating a Friday sitting in order to allow some Members to attend a political convention, [2] to starting a sitting earlier on given days in order to consider government business. [3] Special Orders have also been adopted to have the House sit on days on which it would not otherwise sit, [4] and to hold more than one sitting in a day, [5] while others have been passed to delay the start of a sitting so that a foreign head of state or dignitary visiting Canada might address a joint session of Parliament. [6]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 24(1)

Since Confederation, many suggestions have been made for changes in the times at which the House should meet during a session. The sheer number of proposals and the numerous changes which resulted from them, together have made for a complex and at times bewildering evolution.

Beginning in 1867, the then Standing Order 1 provided that the House should meet at 3:00 p.m. every Monday to Friday during the session. This arrangement generally worked well, as it allowed Members to devote the early part of the day to committee meetings or constituency business, while it permitted Ministers to attend to departmental affairs. However, late evening sittings, which commonly ran to the early hours of the morning, led to complaints from Members who felt that as a result they were in no condition to function properly from day to day. In 1887, the situation prompted one Member to suggest that sittings should begin at 1:00 p.m. instead of 3:00 p.m., and end at 6:00 p.m.; but the suggestion was not adopted, as the government of the day feared that fixed hours of adjournment would lead to Opposition filibusters. [7] The 3:00 p.m. meeting time remained and it was not until 1906 that a change was again seriously considered.

This time, as part of a general overhaul of the rules, the evening sitting on Wednesdays was eliminated, and an earlier starting time of 2:00 p.m. on that day was agreed to. [8] It was felt that by meeting earlier without the evening sitting, as one Member put it, “we could do nearly as much work as we accomplish at present.” [9] The 2:00 p.m. time was settled on only after the original proposal of 1:00 p.m. was rejected because of objections from Members who felt that it might interfere with committee work, and might even “revolutionize the customs of the city” which held that luncheon be served at 1:00 p.m. [10]

This amended timetable in turn remained unchanged until the mid-1920s, but was not without its critics. In 1907, a Member, complaining about the late sittings, unsuccessfully proposed that the House meet at 9:30 a.m. [11] In 1913, another Member suggested a 2:00 p.m. meeting time for each sitting day — again the House did not endorse the idea. [12] But not all the suggestions made sought an earlier meeting time. A suggestion was made in 1921 to start Wednesday sittings at 3:00 p.m. [13] and, although unsuccessful then, sessional orders to that effect were adopted from 1922 through to 1926. [14] The logical result came about in 1927 when the House made the change permanent by accepting the view that “the time set for the House to meet on Wednesday, namely, two o’clock in the afternoon, does not seem to be warranted by necessity or by any other consideration.” [15] Nine years later, in 1936, a call came for another change when a Member recommended that sittings begin at 2:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday. [16] The same Member reiterated the suggestion in 1938 but, as in 1936, it did not lead to a change in the rule. [17]

After the Second World War, however, as the number of proposals for procedural change increased generally, pressure for changes in the time of sittings also grew. One o’clock sittings were suggested in 1947, [18] and eventually, in 1951, an unusual series of experiments was entered upon whereby sittings began at 1:30, 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. on alternate weeks over a period of several weeks. [19] Based on Members’ reactions to the different options, a recommendation was made that sittings begin at 2:30 p.m. each day except Friday, when 2:00 p.m. was the proposed starting time, but in the end this was not accepted by the House and no change was made. [20] The following year, however, the House agreed to a change almost identical to that proposed in 1951, save for the elimination of the special Friday starting time. [21] Only three years later, in 1955, the meeting times were further amended when it was provided that on Fridays, the House would meet at 11:00 a.m. rather than at 2:30 p.m. [22] At the same time, 11:00 a.m. sitting times for certain days when the Address in Reply was being debated were incorporated into the Standing Order as a new section. Then again in 1968 the meeting times for Mondays through Thursdays were changed from 2:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (it stayed at 11:00 a.m. on Fridays), to serve the “convenience of the House.” [23] In 1976, an unsuccessful proposal was made to have 11:00 a.m. sittings on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as on Friday. [24] When evening sittings were abandoned in 1982, meeting times were set at 11:00 a.m. every day except on Wednesdays, where the 2:00 p.m. time was retained. [25] This latest change made the Standing Order section providing for morning sittings during Address debates redundant, and it was accordingly dropped. In 1987, the Friday starting time was changed from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., so that Members could return to their constituencies earlier on Friday afternoons. [26] In December 1989, the Monday starting time was delayed until 1:00 p.m., as of “the first Monday the House [sat] in January 1990 and on each subsequent Monday until further Order”. [27] It was not until April 1991 that Standing Order 24(1) was further amended, by moving the Monday starting time forward to 11:00 a.m. and advancing the Tuesday and Thursday starting times to 10:00 a.m. The starting times for Wednesdays and Fridays remained unchanged at 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m., respectively. [28]

Aside from this abundance of “permanent” amendments to the Standing Order since 1906, numerous temporary changes, in the form of Special Orders, have been made in virtually every session since Confederation. [29] Most common have been motions moved towards the end of a session either to have sittings begin earlier, or to have the House sit on Saturdays, in both cases so that the business still pending could be completed more quickly. (Saturday sittings were common until the 1960-61 session and have occurred as recently as 1995. [30]) In other cases the House decided to hold more than one sitting in a day, such that there were two or more meeting times. There were several instances of this in the 19th century, and it has happened as recently as 1955 and 1973. [31]

Over the years, these amendments to the times and days of sittings were accompanied by changes to the mid-day and dinner breaks. In 1982, when sittings began every day except Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m., virtually all need for evening interruptions disappeared and only mid-day breaks were provided for. [32] In 1987, the Friday mid-day break was eliminated when the sitting hours for that day were changed. [33] The Monday dinner break disappeared in 1991. [34] Three years later, the House passed an amendment that did away with both the mid-day interruption and the corresponding Standing Order. [35]

Standing Order 24(2)
Daily adjournment.
At 6:30 p.m. on any sitting day except Friday and at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays, the Speaker shall adjourn the House until the next sitting day.

Commentary — Standing Order 24(2)

This Standing Order directs the Speaker to adjourn the House at a certain time each sitting day without putting a question to that effect. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, that time is 6:30 p.m., while on Fridays it is 2:30 p.m. Should the House complete its expected business before the stated time for that day and wish to adjourn, a motion to that effect is required. [1] A motion to adjourn is also needed when a sitting has been extended beyond the hour of daily adjournment. [2] While such motions typically pass without opposition, it is also frequently the case that when a discussion ends shortly before the specified adjournment time, Members ask that the Speaker “call it 6:30 p.m.” (or 2:30 p.m. on Fridays), which request is usually met. In this way, the need for a motion to adjourn is avoided. Under extraordinary circumstances, the House may also adjourn earlier than the specified time. [3]

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, a motion to adjourn may, at the Speaker’s discretion, be deemed to have been made. Such Adjournment Proceedings (or “late shows” as they are commonly referred to), run from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. (see Standing Order 38). On days when an emergency debate takes place (see Standing Order 52(13)), when a take-note debate is held (see Standing Order 53.1), or when closure is invoked (see Standing Order 57), the adjournment time is typically much later.

Historical Summary — Standing Order 24(2)

As in the case of meeting times (Standing Order 24(1)), since Confederation a large number of proposals have been made for changes in the time at which the House rises at the end of each sitting day.

Until 1906, there was no set adjournment hour on any of the five sitting days (Monday to Friday). This meant that late night sittings, often lasting past midnight, were quite common. These naturally led to complaints by Members who found it hard to function from day to day with so little sleep. In 1877, a Member proposed that sittings should automatically end at 10:00 p.m. unless a majority of the Members present wished to extend the sitting. [4] While many Members were in sympathy with the objective of the motion, it was felt that it unduly restricted the independence of Parliament, and the motion was withdrawn. Instead, an understanding was reached that sittings would henceforth end at 11:00 p.m., “unless matters of such importance were under consideration that the House should decide to proceed.” [5] It was not long, however, before the agreement was violated [6] and the following year the same Member proposed the motion again. It was once more withdrawn and replaced by an “understanding” that lasted about as long as the previous one. [7] In 1887, 6:00 p.m. adjournments were suggested, [8] while in 1889, midnight was put forward as a time to end the sitting day. [9] In these, as in other cases, the government objected that a fixed adjournment time would put “the control of the business before the House in the hands of the Opposition” because “they could talk everything out.” [10]

Eventually, in 1906, the House agreed to do away with the Wednesday night sitting so Members could have at least one free night each week. [11] Still, the old problems and complaints remained for the other weeknights: this led to more calls, notably in 1907 and 1920, for fixed adjournment times. [12]

In 1909, it was suggested that the House should return to Wednesday night sittings so “that Wednesdays after six o’clock p.m. [could] be taken up with consideration of the estimates.” [13] This suggestion, as others before it, was not agreed to. In 1921, another proposal was unsuccessfully made for a regular 11:00 p.m. adjournment. [14] In 1925, a committee made a similar recommendation, again without success, on the basis that “Late sittings at night are injurious to the members’ health and do not materially shorten the sessions.” [15] It was only two years after, that an automatic adjournment hour of 11:00 p.m. was finally adopted for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, [16] with a proviso that the interrupted proceedings would stand over until the next sitting day and be taken up at the same stage (see Standing Order 41). In this way, at least some of the long-standing objections to a fixed daily adjournment time, which had surfaced once again, were met. At the same time an exception was made for cases where the closure rule was invoked, since in those circumstances sittings were allowed to continue past the daily adjournment hour. [17]

Suggestions for 7:00 p.m. adjournment times were later made in 1936 and 1938, but were not adopted. [18]

After World War II, however, as the number of proposals for procedural change increased generally, pressure for a change in the daily adjournment time also grew. In 1947, a Member suggested 7:00 p.m. adjournments. [19] In 1948, the Clerk suggested that Friday evening sittings be eliminated, [20] while in the same year a House committee recommended a 10:00 p.m. automatic adjournment on each sitting day except Wednesdays, when the 6:00 p.m. time would continue to apply. [21] Although these recommendations were not accepted, they did contribute to the experimentation with sitting hours that occurred in 1951. Over a period of several weeks, adjournment times of 7:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m., 10:30 p.m. (except Wednesdays when it was to be 6:00 p.m. and Fridays when it was to be 7:00 p.m.) and 11:00 p.m. (except Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when it was to be 6:30 p.m.) were all tried. [22] Based on Members’ reactions to the different options, a recommendation was made that sittings end at 10:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 6:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, [23] but this idea was not in the end accepted by the House and no change was made. The following year, however, the House agreed to a recommendation almost identical to that proposed in 1951, save for the Friday adjournment time, which was set at 10:00 p.m. rather than 6:00 p.m. [24] Only three years later, in 1955, Friday evening sittings were abandoned and adjournment for that day was established as 6:00 p.m. [25] In 1968, the adjournment time for that day was set at 5:00 p.m. [26]

In 1964, a new Standing Order was adopted providing for the deemed moving of a motion to adjourn on certain weekdays [27] and, beginning in 1965, provision was also made for extending sittings beyond the stated adjournment hour. [28]

In 1976, two widely different adjournment time proposals were put forward. First it was proposed to eliminate all evening sittings by fixing the adjournment hour at 6:00 p.m., Monday to Thursday. The second option essentially recommended a return to the pre-1906 rules. [29] Neither proposal was endorsed by the House.

Night sittings were eliminated in 1982 and a 6:00 p.m. adjournment hour was adopted for Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, so Members could have evenings free for other business. [30] In 1987, a further amendment set the Friday adjournment time at 3:00 p.m., enabling Members to leave for their constituencies at an earlier time. [31] In December 1989, the hours of sitting and the arrangement of business for Mondays were amended, as of “the first Monday the House [sat] in January 1990 and on each subsequent Monday until further Order”, changing the adjournment time from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. [32] Two years later, a new provision was adopted, that moved the adjournment time to 6:00 p.m. on Mondays, and to 8:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, respectively. [33] In 1994, another amendment was passed: sittings would now end at 6:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. [34]

Aside from this abundance of amendments (provisional or otherwise) to the Standing Order since 1906, numerous temporary changes, in the form of special orders, have been made in virtually every session since then. Most common between 1906 and 1927 were motions eliminating the Wednesday evening 6:00 p.m. adjournment. [35] Friday evenings were commonly sacrificed in the same way after 1955. [36] Unanimous consent was also resorted to before 1965 when the House wanted to extend its sittings beyond the fixed adjournment time. [37] In other cases, the House decided to hold more than one sitting in a day, resulting in two or more adjournment times. This occurred several times in the 19th century House, and has happened as recently as 1955 and 1973. [38]

Standing Order 25
When motion to adjourn required.
When it is provided in any Standing or Special Order of this House that any business specified by such Order shall be continued, forthwith disposed of, or concluded in any sitting, the House shall not be adjourned before such proceedings have been completed except pursuant to a motion to adjourn proposed by a Minister of the Crown.

Commentary — Standing Order 25

On occasion, the House considers business for which the Standing Orders specify a time limit for consideration and decision (for example, Standing Orders 50, 81 and 84). In other cases, for a particular bill or motion, the House may adopt a motion pursuant to Standing Order 26 or a Special Order that has the same effect. Standing Order 25 merely states that on days when such deadlines apply, the adjournment of the House is impossible until the requirements of the deadline are met, except if the adjournment is moved by a Minister of the Crown. Once the conditions of the Special or Standing Order have been met and the specified proceedings concluded, the House can then adjourn in the normal fashion. [1]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 25

The first version of this Standing Order, which referred to proceedings prolonged because of other Standing Orders, was adopted in 1955 to “permit of the operation of proceedings on certain debates and motions beyond the ordinary daily hour of adjournment.” [2] (The “certain debates and motions” included the Address in Reply and Budget debates, for which debate and decision time-limits were established in the same year). [3] Once the proceedings on such matters were completed, the rule allowed the Speaker to adjourn the House without question put, even though the daily adjournment time had been exceeded.

This arrangement held until 1965, when a new kind of sitting extension led to the adoption of a second rule respecting the adjournment of the House after the ordinary time. [4] If a sitting were extended under what is now Standing Order 26, the Speaker could not adjourn the House without question put once the proceedings at hand were completed. Rather, the rule specified that a motion to adjourn had to be adopted. [5]

Just two years later, in 1967, yet another rule was agreed to that specified that a sitting prolonged under either of the two other rules (i.e., what are now Standing Orders 25 and 26) could not be adjourned until completion of the specified proceedings, unless a motion to adjourn was made by a Minister and adopted. [6] Meanwhile, the first of the two other rules was struck from the Standing Orders. Later that year, it became apparent that the new arrangement was lacking in clarity when a procedural argument on the meaning of the rules developed over the disposition of the Estimates for several departments under a special guillotine agreement. Even the Speaker agreed that it was “a matter of opinion” whether the recent improvements to the rules had succeeded. [7]

Finally, in 1968, the 1967 rule was amended to its present wording. [8] At the same time, the 1965 Standing Order explicitly requiring a motion to adjourn after the completion of business during an extension was dropped, as the 1955 version of Standing Order 25 had been in 1967.

On several occasions, motions to adjourn the House have been refused on days when a Special or Standing Order required completion or disposition of an item or items of business. In one case, a motion was refused because a budget speech was scheduled for later in the sitting, [9] while in two other instances the motion was refused because the proceedings then before the House were subject to Standing Order 26. [10] In three other instances, a bill being discussed under a time allocation motion was afforded the same immunity. [11] Conversely, on three occasions, the motion to adjourn the House was accepted during a sitting where, pursuant to Standing Order 66, debate on a motion to concur in a report from a committee was to be continued beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment. [12] Ministers have rarely moved the adjournment of the House under this rule before the completion of proceedings. In two cases, however, the House was adjourned in this manner after sitting all night to consider a bill at report stage. [13]

Standing Order 26
Motion to continue or extend sitting.
Except during Private Members’ Business, when the Speaker is in the Chair, a Member may propose a motion, without notice, to continue a sitting through a dinner hour or beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the purpose of considering a specified item of business or a stage or stages thereof subject to the following conditions:
Motion to relate to business.
the motion must relate to the business then being considered provided that proceedings in any Committee of the Whole may be temporarily interrupted for the purpose of proposing a motion under the provisions of this Standing Order;
When motion to be made.
the motion must be proposed in the hour preceding the time at which the business under consideration should be interrupted by a dinner hour, Private Members’ Hour or the ordinary hour of daily adjournment; and
No debate.
the motion shall not be subject to debate or amendment.
When objection taken.
In putting the question on such motion, the Speaker shall ask those Members who object to rise in their places. If fifteen or more Members then rise, the motion shall be deemed to have been withdrawn; otherwise, the motion shall have been adopted.

Commentary — Standing Order 26

Despite the existence of a fixed daily adjournment time, it is possible for any Member to move a motion, without notice, to continue or extend a sitting beyond these times. Under this rule, this can only be done by meeting certain conditions. To begin with, the aim of the motion must be to continue consideration of a particular item of business. It must be proposed while the item is under discussion [1] and during the hour prior to the beginning of Private Members’ Hour or the adjournment hour, as the case may be. The motion cannot be moved during Private Members’ Business, nor be amended or debated, [2] and it carries automatically unless at least 15 Members who object to it rise in their places when the Speaker puts the question, in which case the motion is deemed withdrawn (the Speaker specifically asks those objecting to rise). When the House is in Committee of the Whole, it is necessary for the Committee to rise briefly so the motion can properly be moved and disposed of with the Speaker in the Chair. Naturally, because of other Standing Orders (see Standing Order 76.1(11) and 76.1(12)), a motion to extend or continue a sitting under such circumstances could result in more than one stage of an item being completed. This too is provided for, in Standing Order 26(1).

Motions to continue or extend a sitting have been moved on numerous occasions, by government supporters and by those in opposition, usually during consideration of government items of business. [3] Such motions have been disallowed when moved on a point of order, [4] during the questions-and-comments period following a Member’s speech, [5] or when the House was engaged in business that was scheduled to end at a specific time. [6] When a motion pursuant to Standing Order 26 is adopted, the House may be adjourned by the Speaker on completion of the item of business or on a motion to adjourn made by a Minister of the Crown as provided for in Standing Order 25.

Historical Summary — Standing Order 26

Until 1906, there was no fixed daily adjournment hour on any sitting day, and therefore no need for motions to extend or continue sittings (the dinner break, it seems, was inviolable in those days). There were nevertheless several informal agreements, notably in the late 1870s and 1880s, which resulted in 11:00 p.m. adjournment. [7] As a result, there were instances of “extensions” when the House continued to sit well beyond 11:00 p.m., contrary to the deals struck earlier. [8] After 1906, this continued to be the case [9] except on Wednesday, which was now a free night as a result of its new 6:00 p.m. adjournment time. Still, it was common for the House to adopt sessional orders from time to time making Wednesday a day like any other, thus eliminating the fixed adjournment time and providing a built-in extension of sittings. [10] In 1927, when an adjournment hour of 11:00 p.m. was adopted for each of the other sitting days, [11] the practice of extending sittings past the now fixed adjournment time and through the dinner interruption grew markedly. Indeed, from the time the fixed adjournment rule came into effect until 1965, when an early version of Standing Order 26 was first adopted, a multitude of motions were agreed to, many with unanimous consent, to continue or extend sittings through mealtimes or beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment. [12] In addition, the House often passed special orders providing for different meeting, meal or adjournment times which would then apply for a number of days or, in some cases, until the end of the session. [13]

By the early 1960s, however, it had become increasingly difficult to secure agreement to extend a sitting beyond the obligatory adjournment time on any given day. On one occasion the refusal of unanimous consent to extend a sitting to complete the consideration of an item of business indirectly resulted in the House sitting on Good Friday. [14] This kind of inflexibility undoubtedly led to a 1965 proposal for a new Standing Order that put forward a different sitting extension mechanism. [15] It would now be possible automatically to extend a sitting beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment via a non-debatable motion if fewer than ten Members objected. Such a motion could be moved at any time during a sitting.

This proposal met with strong opposition from several Members who felt that an open-ended extension gave too much power to the government, as it would then be able to continue calling items of business without interruption, conceivably until all business was completed. [16] This objection was met when the proposed rule was amended to include the phrase “no order shall be called for consideration unless such order was under consideration prior to the normal hour of adjournment”. [17] Despite this accommodation, one Member still had strong reservations and moved, unsuccessfully, that the proposal be scrapped altogether. [18] Less than two years later, the rule was further amended to allow for extension motions aimed at continuing a sitting through a lunch or dinner break (the usual adjournment hour extensions were still provided for). At the same time, however, a condition was added requiring that such motions be made either in the hour preceding the beginning of the mealtime interruption or in the hour before the daily adjournment. [19]

In 1968, the Standing Order was again amended. Henceforth, motions to continue or extend a sitting would have to refer to a “specified item of business or a stage or stages thereof”; at the same time, the requirement that they be moved in the hour preceding a scheduled interruption or adjournment was made more specific (the reference to Private Members’ Hour in 26(1)(b) was added). The interruption of proceedings in Committee of the Whole to move an extension or continuation motion, a practice already followed, was also spelled out in the new, simplified version of the rule. [20] In 1982 the number of Members required to force withdrawal of a motion to continue or extend a sitting was increased from 10 to 25. [21]

Following the 1984 general election, the opposition parties were vastly outnumbered in the House. To stop a government motion “to extend or continue” a sitting, more than a third of the combined opposition membership had to rise in their places. This difficult position eventually led to a 1987 reduction from 25 to 15 in the numbers required. [22]

In the same year, a prohibition was adopted against moving motions under Standing Order 26 during Private Members’ Business. [23]

While the dinner break was to all intents and purposes eliminated in 1982, [24] and the lunch hour on Fridays and Mondays was abolished in 1987 and 1991 respectively, [25] it was only when the mid-day interruption was eliminated in 1994 that all references to the “lunch hour” were removed from Standing Order 26. [26]

Standing Order 27
Extension of sitting hours in June.
On the tenth sitting day preceding June 23 a motion to extend the hours of sitting to a specific hour during the last ten sitting days may be proposed, without notice, by any Minister during routine proceedings.
When question put.
Not more than two hours after the commencement of proceedings thereon, the Speaker shall put every question necessary to dispose of the said motion.

Commentary — Standing Order 27

Under this Standing Order, any Minister may propose that the House extend its hours of sitting in the last 10 sitting days of June. No notice is required for the motion, but if it is to be moved, it must be on a specific day each calendar year — that is, on the tenth sitting day before June 23. [1] The motion, which can only be moved during Routine Proceedings, [2] must propose to extend sittings to a specific time, although it does not necessarily have to apply to every sitting day in the period. [3] A two-hour debate is allowed before the Speaker is obliged to “put every question necessary to dispose of the said motion”

Standing Order 27 has been invoked nine times since its adoption in 1982. [4] On six other occasions, motions similar to that foreseen by this rule have been moved by unanimous consent, but all were outside the scope of this Standing Order. [5]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 27

Although this Standing Order dates back only to 1982, it reflects a long-standing practice which, in its variations, has existed since Confederation. The practice has meant that in virtually every session since 1867, in the days leading up to prorogation or, more recently, to the summer adjournment, the House has arranged for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance the business still pending. The longer hours have almost always been used for consideration of government business.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the most common way in which the House met this need was by sitting on Saturdays. [6] At other times, the House met earlier each day, usually at 11:00 a.m., and arranged to hold two distinct sittings each day. [7] By 1900, however, longer hours were provided for almost entirely through earlier meeting times. Double sittings were all but abandoned and Saturday sittings occurred only in isolated cases. [8] This was short-lived, however, and not long after 1906 — the year in which the House eliminated Wednesday night sittings — a new end-of-session practice emerged.

Extended hours henceforth came gradually each session — first the early Wednesday evening adjournments were revoked, then earlier meeting times were set, and finally, the House sat on Saturdays. [9] This graduated process was adhered to in varying combinations in almost every session until 1955, when, since Friday night sittings were then eliminated, Friday night also began to figure in the end-of-session practice. [10] On occasion, even lunch and dinner breaks were suspended as the House sped through its business. [11] These changes in the days and times of sittings, although temporary, usually remained in force for the balance of the session in which they were adopted, unless they were specifically discharged. [12]

By 1962, however, regular Saturday sittings had disappeared and a decidedly less regularized practice was followed. [13] A limited number of changes to the times of meeting, combined with the odd Saturday, Wednesday night or Friday night sitting, appeared to be sufficient. This ad hoc approach continued throughout the 1970s, and only in 1982, when a fixed parliamentary timetable was adopted along with revised sitting times, did the House also agree to a new Standing Order which would provide for the possibility of extended hours of sitting geared to the date fixed for the summer adjournment. [14]

The Government House Leader invoked the rule in 1983 and an acrimonious debate followed, lasting the maximum two hours. [15] In 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1990, motions to extend the hours were again moved, although not under Standing Order 27. In all six cases, the motions were moved and adopted by unanimous consent before the date on which, had the rule been invoked, such motions should have been moved. [16] Debate on the motion moved in June 1988 by the New Democratic Party House Leader was adjourned before the maximum two hours of debate had taken place. [17] Only two of the seven debates held under this Standing Order since then have lasted the full two hours allowed. [18]

Standing Order 28(1)
House not to sit.
The House shall not meet on New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, St. John the Baptist Day, Dominion Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day. When St. John the Baptist Day and Dominion Day fall on a Tuesday, the House shall not meet the preceding day; when those days fall on a Thursday, the House shall not meet the following day.

Commentary — Standing Order 28(1)

This Standing Order identifies certain days when the House does not sit during a session. The days — statutory holidays for the most part [1] — are exceptions to the general rule in Standing Order 24(1) on days and times of sittings.

Historical Summary — Standing Order 28(1)

Until 1964, there was no Standing Order which listed the days on which, during a session, the House would not meet. As a result, for almost 100 years after Confederation, the days on which the House did not meet depended upon the customs and usages of the day, on the calendar, and, in part at least, on the developing statutory provisions for legal holidays or observances.

One of the oldest customs in this regard, and among the first to be abandoned, was the practice of adjourning for the day each time a Member died. This procedure was faithfully followed until 1872, [2] after which it was resorted to only with the passing of prominent Members, usually to allow for attendance at a funeral. [3] Sometimes, as when Sir John A. Macdonald passed away, the adjournment was for a longer period. [4] The House also occasionally adjourned out of respect for deceased ex-Members or on the death of prominent individuals who were not Members. [5]

By far the greatest number of special adjournments, particularly in the 19th century, stemmed from the observance of holy days. These days, of course, depended a great deal both on the calendar and on the length of the session. Christmas, for instance, was rarely listed on the Special Orders of the House, not because the House usually chose to sit then, but because parliamentary sessions hardly ever began before late January or February. There were, however, several days which the House routinely observed, such as the Annunciation, Corpus Christi, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s (all three until the mid-1890s); [6] Ash Wednesday (well into the 1920s); [7] and Ascension Day (until the 1930s). [8] In addition, a longer break at Easter was almost always taken, although in some cases the House sat on Easter Monday. [9] Although all of these days were also statutory holidays, this did not bind the House in any way.

Ash Wednesday was last observed in the 1924 session, although it remained a statutory holiday until 1967. [10] The same thing happened with Ascension Day when observance ceased in 1936. [11] Isolated adjournments took place for other religious days, such as St. Patrick’s Day (not a statutory holiday), the Immaculate Conception, the Epiphany and All Saints’ Day. [12] St. John the Baptist Day, meanwhile, was not observed by the House until the 1960s. Annunciation, Corpus Christi and St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s were struck from the list of statutory holidays in 1893. [13]

The same practice of irregular observances applied to a host of other statutory holidays which had been legislated over the years. The House often chose to sit on Dominion Day (now Canada Day), for instance, even though it has been a legal holiday since 1879. [14] Labour Day, a day of rest since 1894, was rarely observed, due more to the fact that sessions were not generally held in September. [15] The same can be said for Thanksgiving (1867) and Remembrance Day (1921). [16] The House was much more conscientious about observing the Queen’s birthday in the 19th century and, thereafter, both the birthday of the reigning Sovereign and Victoria Day, the latter having been made a legal holiday in 1901. Both days were observed in the same session as late as 1935. [17]

At the same time, there were several extraordinary adjournments, such as one in 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales and another in 1900 when a fire devastated much of Ottawa and Hull. [18] The House also adjourned for a time when U.S. Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy died, in 1945 and 1963 respectively, as well as on several occasions when foreign leaders visited Canada. [19] In the 1944-45 session, the House even chose not to sit on Wednesdays, while in 1959, it adjourned for a day for the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. [20]

This haphazard approach to adjournments, which required special orders even for statutory holidays, and which caused difficulties in the scheduling of House business and of Members’ time away from the House, led to the adoption of a new Standing Order in 1964 which listed nine days on which the House could not sit during a session. The nine days — New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, St. John the Baptist Day, Dominion Day (since renamed in the Holidays Act), Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day — were all, except for St. John the Baptist Day, national statutory holidays. The rule, said a Member, would make it easy for the House to observe the holidays “instead of it being difficult”, because adjournments would be “automatic”. [21] Still, the new rule left some gaps. If, for example, Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday, one might expect the holiday to be taken on the Monday, but the Standing Order did not specify this. As a result, when this was the case the House would merely pass a Special Order to get around the difficulty. [22] Nonetheless, the established list of days did not prevent the House from adjourning for more days than the Standing Order provided for, particularly at Christmas, at Easter and in the summer.

In 1975, to get around yet another anomaly in the calendar, a motion was passed amending the Standing Order to provide that when St. John the Baptist Day and Dominion Day (now Canada Day pursuant to statute) fell on Tuesdays, the preceding Mondays would also be days on which the House would not meet. [23] The next year, when the two holidays fell on a Thursday, a similar motion was passed to ensure that on the following Fridays, the House would also be adjourned. [24] Although there have been no further changes to the Standing Order since then, the adoption in 1982 of a parliamentary timetable (Standing Order 28(2)) added a considerable degree of predictability to House adjournments during a session. Several adjournments are now timed to coincide with most of the holidays listed in Standing Order 28(1). [25] Still, Special Orders for adjournments where the Standing Orders are silent continue to be required and occur quite commonly. [26]

Standing Order 28(2)
House calendar.
When the House meets on a day, or sits after the normal meeting hour on a day, set out in column A, and then adjourns, it shall stand adjourned to the day set out in column B, except as provided for in paragraph (b).
A: B:
The Friday preceding Thanksgiving Day. The second Monday following that Friday.
The Friday preceding Remembrance Day. The second Monday following that Friday.
The second Friday preceding Christmas Day. The last Monday in January.
The Friday preceding the week marking the mid-way point between the Monday following Easter Monday and June 23. The second Monday following that Friday or, if that Monday is the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, on the Tuesday following that Monday.
June 23 or the Friday preceding if June 23 falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or a Monday. The second Monday following Labour Day.
Calendar tabled by the Speaker.
The Speaker of the House shall, by September 30, after consultation with the House Leaders, table in the House a calendar for the following year setting out the sitting and non-sitting weeks between the last Monday in January and the Monday following Easter Monday.

Commentary — Standing Order 28(2)

This Standing Order provides that during a parliamentary session, five long adjournments shall take place at certain predetermined times in the year. Two additional recesses, although unspecified, are provided for the period between the last Monday in January and the Monday following Easter Monday. Assuming that the House is in continuous session for an entire calendar year, these adjournments result in three distinct trimesters: from September to December, from January to Easter and from Easter to June. The adjournments at Christmas, Easter and for the summer may vary slightly in length, but last approximately six, two and 12 weeks respectively. Three other adjournments, each lasting one week, occur in mid-October, mid-November and at the mid-point of the period between Easter Monday and June 23. A final adjournment, lasting two weeks (taken consecutively or not), is to be taken in the period between the last Monday in January and the Monday following Easter Monday. The Speaker, after consultation with the House Leaders, is responsible for tabling the calendar for the following year by September 30 of each year. [1] These seven adjournments commence at the end of the sitting that starts on the days set out in column A, [2] while the days for the resumption of the session are in column B.

The Standing Order applies only during a session; hence, the Government is not in any way bound to hold sessions that correspond to the timetable. In 2004, for instance, a session began in October, two weeks after the day given in the timetable. [3] Nor is there an obligation to respect an adjournment period once it has started; in 1986, for instance, the House was recalled during the summer adjournment (see Standing Order 28(3)). [4] Similarly, the House has not hesitated to adjust the length of some of the predetermined adjournment periods. [5]

In essence, this Standing Order provides a mechanism for fixed adjournments only if the specific conditions are met. If, for example, the House decides not to sit on a day in column A, the long adjournment will not take place unless special arrangements are made.

Historical Summary — Standing Order 28(2)

Between Confederation and the adoption in 1982 of a parliamentary timetable, the House had to adopt special adjournment motions when it wished to adjourn for an extended period in the midst of a session. [6] The most common times for such adjournments were Christmas, Easter and the beginning of the summer, although they occasionally took place at other times as well. Still, the practice of having periodic adjournments depended a great deal both on the timing and length of the sessions.

Until 1906, the only long adjournment in any given session typically took place at Easter, since almost all sessions began in late winter and ended in the late spring or early summer of the same calendar year. Christmas adjournments were rare, although two did take place, in 1867-68 and 1880-81. [7] In 1873, the House adjourned from May to August while a committee investigated the Pacific scandal charges, and in 1891 it adjourned for over a week when Sir John A. Macdonald died. [8] This period also saw the first of what would become almost annual complaints that the sessions were too long. [9]

Between 1906 and 1913, Christmas adjournments were common because sessions began in November rather than in the late winter. [10] One long adjournment took place in 1911, on the occasion of the coronation of George V. [11] After 1913, however, the House reverted to the old pattern of sessions lasting from January or February to May or June. It continued thus until the Second World War, when session length increased considerably as the burden of government business grew. The session of 1940-42, for instance, had the first-ever summer adjournment (as we now know them), in addition to one Easter and two Christmas breaks. The next few sessions went from January to January, and thus Christmas, Easter and summer adjournments all occurred.

During the immediate post-war years, however, when sessions continued to be unusually long and their timing became irregular, there were many complaints that this was “caused by deficiencies in the rules of procedure.” [12] In a 1947 report, the Speaker took it upon himself to respond to these grievances by putting forward a proposal for a parliamentary timetable (among other suggestions) by which sessions would be divided into three loosely defined parts, or trimesters, similar to those in place today. [13] However, the idea was not acted upon and the long, unpredictable sessions continued to be a perennial source of frustration for Members, who never knew when these would begin or be adjourned (or prorogued). This problem was exacerbated through the late 1950s and 1960s when on several occasions the House sat well into the summer. [14]

By the 1970s, when it became common for sessions to begin in the fall and to last a full calendar year, there was renewed pressure for a predetermined parliamentary calendar. In 1976 a trimester system which provided for automatic adjournments at certain times of the year was again proposed. [15] Once more, however, the House did not adopt the recommendation. Nevertheless, the idea stayed alive as the triennial guessing game of when the Christmas, Easter and summer adjournments would begin continued to disrupt Members’ plans to return to their constituencies. On occasion, as at Christmas, 1971, there was no adjournment in the usual sense. [16] The minority government of 1979 resurrected the plan for parliamentary trimesters, but was defeated before its proposal calling for automatic adjournment motions could be considered. [17]

In the next few years the subject of regularized adjournments retained prominence when lengthy and acrimonious debates took place in 1980 and 1981 on the motion to adjourn for the summer. [18] Shortly thereafter, in November 1982, the House finally adopted a Standing Order setting out a fixed timetable of adjournments similar to that first proposed in the mid-seventies. It provided that adjournments averaging three weeks at Christmas, one week at Easter and ten weeks for the summer would, should the House be in session, automatically begin and end on days known long in advance. An additional week-long adjournment was also included around Remembrance Day. [19] The Government House Leader said the timetable would “finally allow Members of Parliament to plan ahead realistically”. [20] In 1983, a fifth automatic adjournment was added to the Standing Order and was slated to last one week at the mid-way point between the Christmas and Easter adjournments. [21] In 1991, the Christmas and summer adjournments were extended slightly and two other one-week adjournments were added to the calendar: the first around Thanksgiving Day and the second at the mid-way point between Easter Monday and June 23. [22] In 1994, changes were made to the wording of the French version of this section, [23] and, in 2001, the provisions relating to the parliamentary recess in March and the Easter adjournment were removed. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, aware that the recess in March seldom coincided with many of the spring breaks for schools, and that the Easter break could fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25, recommended that the House resume sitting one week earlier after the Christmas adjournment, so that a two-week recess could be scheduled in March in addition to the Easter recess. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that the Speaker schedule the March recess in consultation with the House Leaders, and that the dates of the recess be adjusted annually so as to accommodate the varying school breaks across the country. [24]

The timetable applied only when a session was underway and did not in any way impinge on the government’s prerogative to arrange the timing of sessions to suit its legislative program. In 1983, for instance, a prorogation and Throne Speech occurred in December. The First Session of the Thirty-Third Parliament began in November 1984 and was prorogued by proclamation immediately after a recall of the House in the middle of the summer adjournment in 1986; [25] the Second Session did not begin until October of the same year. At the same time, the House remained flexible when it came to altering the length of the adjournments provided for in the rule. The Christmas adjournment in 1986-87, for instance, was lengthened by one week. [26] The reverse has also occurred. In 1988, the House adopted a motion to sit during the summer, beyond the June 30 adjournment date set out in the House calendar. [27]

Standing Order 28(3)
Recall of House.
Whenever the House stands adjourned, if the Speaker is satisfied, after consultation with the government, that the public interest requires that the House should meet at an earlier time, the Speaker may give notice that being so satisfied the House shall meet, and thereupon the House shall meet to transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to that time. In the event of the Speaker being unable to act owing to illness or other cause, the Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Chair of Committees or the Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees shall act in the Speaker’s stead for all the purposes of this section.

Commentary — Standing Order 28(3)

This Standing Order describes the conditions under which the Speaker may, during an adjournment, recall the House in advance of a previously determined time for the resumption of the session. A recall is made after consultation with the government, the only stated criterion being “the public interest”. [1] Once satisfied that a resumption of the session is necessary, the Speaker must give notice of the date and time that business will resume. Normally, the Speaker asks for a period of time after the notice has been issued (usually a minimum of 48 hours) to allow him to inform the Members and give them the time they need to return to Ottawa. If necessary, a Special Order Paper and Notice Paper (in addition to the usual Order Paper and Notice Paper) may be published at the government’s request. [2] In the Speaker’s absence, his or her deputies follow the same steps and act in the Speaker’s place.

Historical Summary — Standing Order 28(3)

For the first 70 years after Confederation, extended intra-session adjournments were uncommon. [3] Sessions seldom began before Christmas and the House almost always prorogued in late spring or early summer. However, the traditional cycle changed somewhat in August of 1940 when a three-month adjournment took the place of a prorogation. The uncertain wartime situation led Prime Minister Mackenzie King to propose an adjournment motion that included a provision that the Speaker could recall the House early if, after consulting with the government, he felt it was in the public interest to do so. [4] It was felt this was the most effective way of quickly calling Members back to Ottawa in an emergency. [5] In subsequent sessions, similar motions were moved, and soon came to be made every time the House adjourned for an extended period. [6] The House was recalled from an adjournment for the first time in 1944, when the government wished to apprise the House of the situation arising from the resignation of the Minister of National Defence. [7] Others took place in 1951, 1966, 1972 (twice), 1973, 1977, 1980, 1986, 1987, 1991 (twice) and 1992. [8]

In 1982, the House agreed to the recommendation of the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure for a new Standing Order to be worded similarly to the many adjournment motions proposed beginning in 1940. [9] Since its adoption, this new rule (today’s Standing Order 28(3)) has been invoked five times.

No mechanism exists to rescind an order to recall the House. However, on one occasion, after receiving such a request from all the recognized parties in the House, the Speaker issued a formal statement in which he cancelled an earlier notice for recall. [10]

Standing Order 28(4)
Royal Assent during adjournments.
During adjournments of the House pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order, if a bill or bills are awaiting Royal Assent, the Speaker may, at the request of the government, give notice that the House shall meet at an earlier time for the purposes of Royal Assent. The House shall meet at the specified time for those purposes only; and immediately thereafter the Speaker shall adjourn the House to the time to which it had formerly been adjourned. In the event of the Speaker being unable to act owing to illness or other cause, the Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Chair of Committees or the Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees shall act in the Speaker’s stead for all the purposes of this section.

Commentary — Standing Order 28(4)

Adopted on June 10, 1994, Standing Order 28(4) revived an earlier practice where the House adopted a special order allowing it to sit during an adjournment for the sole purpose of giving Royal Assent to a bill or bills. [1]

Although the sole purpose of the recall at the government’s request is for the House to give Royal Assent, it is still a bona fide recall and some advance notice must be given to enable the Speaker or the Acting Speaker to take the necessary steps to resume the session. Whether a quorum exists or not, the Speaker takes the Chair when the Usher of the Black Rod arrives with a message requesting the attendance of the Members in the Senate. [2] Following the ceremony, the Speaker returns to the House and, after taking the Chair, informs the Members that the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty’s name, Royal Assent to certain bills. The Speaker then immediately adjourns the House. [3]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 28(4)

Prior to 1951, adjournment motions did not contain an explicit reference to Royal Assent, but simply mentioned that the House would adjourn when it had “completed its proceedings” and would be recalled if a recall was in “the public interest”. [4] On June 27, 1951, an adjournment motion specified for the first time that the House would stand adjourned after returning from attending on the giving of Royal Assent in the Senate. [5] In 1956, adjournment motions began making specific reference to the bills which were to receive Royal Assent. [6]

Motions referring explicitly to Royal Assent arose more and more frequently in the 1970s and 1980s. On December 31, 1971, the first adjournment motion providing for the recall of the House for the Royal Assent ceremony was adopted. [7] On December 18, 1987, the first motion stating that Royal Assent was the “sole purpose” for the recall of the House was passed. [8]

In its Twenty-Seventh Report, presented to the House on June 8, 1994, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommended that Standing Order 28 be amended by adding a new section on Royal Assent during adjournments. The Committee report was adopted on June 10, and on the following June 23 the House was recalled for the first time pursuant to the new Standing Order 28(4). [9]

Standing Order 28(5)
Royal Assent by written declaration during adjournments.
During adjournments of the House, upon receipt of a message signifying Royal Assent by written declaration and the prior receipt of messages from the Senate concerning every bill in the declaration, the Speaker shall inform the House of the receipt of such message by causing it, along with any message received pursuant to Standing Order 32(1.1), to be published in the Journals.

Commentary — Standing Order 28(5)

Under Standing Order 28(5), the House is notified of a written declaration of Royal Assent by the Speaker or by the person acting as Speaker. During adjournments of the House, the Speaker may inform the House by having published in the Journals the message received concerning the written declaration of Royal Assent, and the prior messages from the Senate concerning every bill in the declaration. Pursuant to Standing Order 32(1.1), when the House stands adjourned, any message from the Senate concerning bills to be given Royal Assent may be deposited with the Clerk of the House. Such messages are deemed to have been received by the House on the day on which they are deposited with the Clerk. [1]

It should be noted that when the new written procedure for signifying Royal Assent is used, pursuant to section 5 of the Royal Assent Act, Royal Assent is not deemed to be granted to a bill until both Houses of Parliament have been notified of a written declaration of Royal Assent. While normally the date of the written declaration of Royal Assent and the date on which the two Houses of Parliament are notified would be the same, this is not always the case. [2]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 28(5)

Between Confederation and the passage, in 2002, of legislation providing for an alternative procedure for signifying Royal Assent, the House based its practices on the rules and conventions of Royal Assent that were in effect in Great Britain in 1867. [3] Prior to adoption of this new procedure, Canada was the only remaining Commonwealth country still using solely the traditional ceremony for Royal Assent. As long ago as 1958, it was said that the Canadian ceremony seemed to be that which most closely resembled the original. [4]

The question of reforming the Royal Assent process has arisen on a number of occasions, beginning in the 1980s. In 1985, the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons recommended that the declaration of Royal Assent by written message be adopted. [5] The Board of Internal Economy agreed to the Committee’s recommendation at its meeting on June 11, 1986. [6] In 1993, the Standing Committee on House Management agreed that the recommendation of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons had merit and should be pursued, and made an almost identical recommendation in its own report. [7]

Over the same period, the Senate also showed interest in reforming the Royal Assent procedure. In 1985, the Standing Senate Committee on Standing Rules and Orders presented its Fourth Report in which it recommended that a simpler procedure be established, but that the present formal ceremony be retained and used on certain occasions. [8] This report gave rise to a debate, which was followed by the introduction of a government bill, Bill S-19, Royal Assent Act. Debated at second reading in July and September 1988, just a few days before the dissolution of the Thirty-Third Parliament, [9] the bill was not re-introduced in the next Parliament.

Ten years later, a new bill to reform the Royal Assent procedure (Bill S-15) was introduced in the Senate, this time by the Leader of the Opposition. [10] That bill was given second reading and referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which reported the bill back with amendments. Following debate, the bill was ultimately withdrawn from the Order Paper. [11] The next year, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate introduced Bill S-26, which was virtually identical to Bill S-15 as amended by the Committee. [12] As that bill died on the Order Paper when the First Session of the Thirty-Sixth Parliament was prorogued, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate reintroduced the bill in the next session as Bill S-7, which was identical to Bill S-26, and virtually identical to Bill S-15 as amended by the Committee. [13]

On February 7, 2001, early in the First Session of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate introduced Bill S-13 but withdrew it prior to the introduction of Bill S-34, Royal Assent Act, sponsored by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. [14] The government’s view was that, by allowing Royal Assent by written procedure, the Members would be able to address the concerns of a modern parliament and at the same time make the traditional ceremony a special and more visible part of the parliamentary process. [15] Unlike its predecessors, Bill S-34 received Royal Assent on June 4, 2002; a few days later, the House added provisions to its Standing Orders relating to Royal Assent during adjournments of the House and the tabling of messages from the Senate concerning bills to be given Royal Assent (Standing Orders 28(5) and 32(1.1)). [16] Eight months later, on February 13, 2003, Royal Assent by written declaration was used for the first time in Canada. [17]

Standing Order 29(1)
Quorum of twenty.
The presence of at least twenty Members of the House, including the Speaker, shall be necessary to constitute a meeting of the House for the exercise of its powers.

Commentary — Standing Order 29(1)

Under the Constitution Act, 1867, a quorum of 20 Members, including the Speaker, is required “to constitute a meeting of the House for the exercise of its powers”. [1] This Standing Order merely reiterates that constitutional requirement. Although all Members are bound under Standing Order 15 “to attend the service of the House”, party Whips have traditionally been responsible for ensuring that Members are present to maintain the quorum. [2]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 29(1)

At Confederation, the constitutional provision now embodied in Standing Order 29(1) was included in the Standing Orders only as a note lodged between two rules. [3] It was not until 1906 that a rule with wording virtually identical to the note (and section 48 of the Constitution Act, 1867) was agreed to by the House. [4] The Standing Order has not been significantly amended since then.

Nevertheless, the size of the quorum has frequently been discussed. The membership of the House was initially set at 181, but was later increased following electoral redistributions. As a result, the fact that the quorum was fixed at 20 inevitably led to calls that it should be increased proportionally.

In 1925, for example, a report by a special committee recommended an increase in the quorum from 20 to 30 Members, but the recommendation was never acted upon. [5] Quorum size was also of concern to Stanley Knowles, a Member who, from 1953 to 1980, regularly introduced private Members’ bills with the object of increasing the quorum from 20 to 30 or even 50 Members. [6] None of the bills was passed.

Standing Order 29(2) and (3)
Lack of quorum.
If at the time of meeting there be not a quorum, the Speaker may take the Chair and adjourn the House until the next sitting day.
Ringing of bells for quorum.
If, during a sitting of the House, the attention of the Speaker is drawn to the lack of a quorum, the Speaker shall, upon determining that a quorum is lacking, order the bells to ring for no longer than fifteen minutes; thereupon a count of the Members present shall be taken, and if a quorum is still lacking, the Speaker shall adjourn the House until the next sitting day.

Commentary — Standing Order 29(2) and (3)

Should a quorum appear not to exist at the time the House meets, a count of the House will be taken. If fewer than 20 Members are present, the Speaker will adjourn the House until the next sitting day. The Speaker may take such an initiative only before the House has been called to order. [1] Once the sitting has begun, “control over the competence of the House is transferred from the Speaker to the House itself…. The Speaker has no right to close a sitting at his own discretion.” [2]

During a sitting, any Member may draw the Speaker’s attention to the lack of a quorum, and such a request for a “count” supersedes any question before the House. When requested, a count is made; if a quorum is present, business continues. [3] However, if no quorum exists after the first count, the bells are ordered to be rung for no longer than 15 minutes (or less if the Speaker determined that a quorum was present). [4] If no quorum is present, the Chair will adjourn the House until the next sitting day and Members present enter their names in the Journals for the sitting, pursuant to Standing Order 29(4). (A count that reveals lack of quorum in Committee of the Whole is reported immediately to the Speaker, who proceeds as set forth above. [5])

During a recorded division, if the Speaker’s attention is drawn to the fact that the sum of the votes and the number of Members present who did not vote (including the Speaker) do not total at least 20, then the question remains undecided; the usual quorum procedure is then triggered. If no objection is raised at the time the result of the vote is read to the House, the Speaker simply confirms the result and business proceeds as though there were a quorum. [6]

Usually, quorum is quickly restored so that the House may proceed with the business before it. Should the House be required to adjourn for lack of quorum, any Order of the Day under consideration at the time, with the exception of a non-votable item of Private Members’ Business, retains its precedence on the Order Paper for the next sitting. [7]

A number of ancillary rules operate concerning the determination of a quorum. A Member who calls quorum need not remain in the House. [8] Furthermore, a Member who calls quorum while speaking and who subsequently leaves the House may, upon returning after a count that confirmed a quorum, resume speaking. [9] Furthermore, members do not have to be in their seats in order to be counted, and all the political parties in the House do not necessarily have to be represented. [10] During the count, the Speaker cannot entertain a point of order or a question of privilege, [11] nor can the Speaker entertain a request for a quorum count after a vote has been called. [12]

The House has been adjourned for want of a quorum only twice since Standing Order 29(3) was adopted in 1982. [13]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 29(2) and (3)

Standing Order 29(2) has been in existence since 1867, and has remained essentially unchanged since then. [14] There are no known instances of its invocation at the beginning of a sitting.

From Confederation to the early 1980s, if a count requested during a sitting confirmed the lack of a quorum, the Speaker was compelled to adjourn the House. [15] This was the case until 1982, when the present Standing Order 29(3) was adopted following a recommendation by the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure. [16]

Standing Order 29(4)
Recorded in Journals.
Whenever the Speaker adjourns the House for want of a quorum, the time of the adjournment, and the names of the Members then present, shall be inserted in the Journals.

Commentary — Standing Order 29(4)

When the Speaker adjourns the House for want of a quorum, either at the start of a sitting or during a sitting, Members present are asked to come to the Table and sign the scroll. Thus, to adjourn the House, the count is decisive, not the list of names. [1] Logically, only the names of those Members counted ought to appear in the scroll, although in practice this is not always so, given that Members are free to enter or leave the Chamber during and after a count. [2]

This Standing Order has been resorted to on two occasions since the adoption of Standing Order 29(3) in 1982. [3]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 29(4)

This Standing Order has remained virtually unchanged from the time of Confederation. [4]

The practice governing the recording of names following a count-out finds its origin in 1869, when Sir John A. Macdonald called the Speaker’s attention to a lack of quorum at the start of the evening sitting of June 14. As this was the first time a count-out had occurred in the Canadian House and given the circumstances surrounding the incident, a heated discussion took place the next day, during which the Speaker explained that only the names of those initially counted had been taken down (presumably by the Clerk). [5] More recently, Members themselves have signed the scroll, a development that has led to lists of Members in the Journals that exceeded 20 names, despite the fact the House had adjourned because fewer than 20 Members were present. [6]

Standing Order 29(5)
Speaker to receive Black Rod.
When the Sergeant-at-Arms announces that the Usher of the Black Rod is at the door, the Speaker shall take the Chair, whether there be a quorum present or not.

Commentary — Standing Order 29(5)

A House is made, regardless of the number of Members in attendance (even if there is less than a quorum), whenever a message is received for the attendance of the House in the Senate. The constitutional requirement of a quorum of 20 Members does not apply when the House is summoned to the Senate, since the House is not, in fact, exercising any of its powers in responding to the message; it is simply acting as a witness to the proceedings about to take place in the Upper Chamber. [1] On one occasion, however, the Speaker forewarned Members to be present at a particular time to attend the Senate for Royal Assent, even though a quorum is deemed to exist in such circumstances. [2]

Historical Summary — Standing Order 29(5)

Standing Order 29(5) has its source in British practice and has not, save for syntax adjustments in 1906, 1927, 1982 and 2004, been amended since it was first agreed to in 1867. The British connection is all the more obvious when the first four editions of Beauchesne are consulted. There, extracts from succeeding editions of Erskine May on the attendance of a less-than-duly constituted House to the Lords for Royal Assent are reproduced verbatim. The fifth and sixth editions of Beauchesne contain an adapted version of the Erskine May passage which had been reproduced in the fourth edition of Beauchesne. [3]

Previous Chapter Next Chapter