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Terminology at a Glance

Following is an explanation of several recurring terms and phrases associated with the parliamentary cycle.


A Parliament is a period of time during which the institution of Parliament (comprising the Sovereign, the Senate and the House of Commons) exercises its powers. The process of starting a Parliament begins with the proclamation of the Governor General calling for the formation of a new Parliament and setting the date for a general election, and ends with its dissolution. The opening of a Parliament coincides with the start of its first Session, which is the first sitting day following a general election. A Parliament has a constitutionally determined maximum lifespan of five years.


A session is one of the time periods into which a Parliament is divided, and usually consists of a number of separate sittings. A session begins with a Speech from the Throne when Parliament is summoned by proclamation of the Governor General; it ends with a prorogation or dissolution of Parliament. There may be any number of sessions in a Parliament; the numbers have ranged from one to seven. There is no set length for a session.


A sitting is a meeting of the House within a session. The Standing Orders provide times and days for the sittings of the House. A sitting is not necessarily synonymous with a calendar day. Some sittings are very brief; some have extended over more than one calendar day.


An adjournment is the termination of a sitting pursuant to Standing or Special Order, or by motion. An adjournment covers the period between the end of one sitting and the beginning of the next. It can be of varying duration—a few hours, overnight, over a weekend, a week, or longer. While prorogation and dissolution are ordered by proclamation by the Crown, the power to adjourn rests solely with the House.

Parliamentary Calendar

The parliamentary calendar, as laid out in the Standing Orders, provides a fixed timetable of sittings and adjournments for a full calendar year. In effect, once a session begins, the calendar alternates sitting periods with adjournments at set points throughout the year.


Prorogation of Parliament is the ending of a session, with a special ceremony held in the Senate Chamber or with the issuance of a Governor General’s proclamation to that effect. Prorogation also refers to the period of time when a Parliament stands prorogued.


The time between the ending of one session and the opening of the next can be called a recess. In practice, the term “recess” is also used to refer to a lengthy adjournment.


Dissolution is the formal ending of a Parliament by proclamation of the Governor General. Dissolution is followed by a general election.

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