The parliamentary cycle consists of events which vary in length and frequency making each Parliament unique. The cycle is anchored in the parliamentary calendar, the Standing Orders, the Constitution Act, the Elections Canada Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. The following article explores and defines the elements that make up a Parliament.
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. A Parliament ends with its dissolution. A Parliament has a constitutionally determined maximum lifespan of five years.
Each Parliament is divided into one or more sessions, usually consisting of a number of separate sittings. A session begins with a Speech from the Throne and ends with the prorogation or dissolution of the 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. Although usually a calendar day, a sitting may last for only a matter of minutes or may extend over several days.
An adjournment is the termination of a sitting of the House (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. Standing Order 24 provides for adjournments overnight and over weekends, while Standing Order 28 provides for periodic adjournments of a week or more. Occasionally, there are brief adjournments of a few hours’ duration. While prorogation and dissolution are prerogative acts of the Crown, the power to adjourn rests solely with the House.
Recall of the House of Commons
The Speaker may recall the House, when it stands adjourned during a session, to meet prior to the date that it is scheduled to reconvene.
Prorogation of Parliament ends a session. Prorogation also refers to the period of time a Parliament stands prorogued.
Effects of Prorogation on the House
During a period of prorogation, the Speaker, the Prime Minister, ministers and parliamentary secretaries remain in office, and all members of the House retain their full rights and privileges.
All government bills that have not received royal assent prior to prorogation cease to exist; in order for government bills to be proceeded with in a new session, they must be reintroduced as new bills or they may be reinstated, if the House adopts a motion to this effect.
In contrast, the Standing Orders provide for the automatic reinstatement of all items of Private Members’ Business in a new session.
Effects of Prorogation on Committees
Committees cease to sit after a prorogation. Committee work may also be revived either by motion in the House, or in committee, depending upon the nature of the study.
Prorogation does not affect orders or addresses of the House for the tabling of government reports required by statute to be tabled. Requests for responses to committee reports or petitions are still valid following a prorogation. These continue in force from one session to another but end upon dissolution of Parliament.
The period between the ending of one session (prorogation) and the beginning of the next. Also used in reference to a long adjournment.
The House of Commons calendar sets out a schedule of adjournments of a week or more and thereby provides for sittings, or sitting periods, throughout the year. It comes into effect at the beginning of a session; in other words, the government is not bound by the Standing Orders in considering plans for the timing and length of sessions. The calendar works in conjunction with other Standing Orders providing for daily meeting and adjournment times, and setting out certain days when the House does not sit, most of the days in question being statutory holidays or days deemed to be non-sitting days. The calendar is tabled by the Speaker by September 30 each year.
Dissolution is the formal ending of a Parliament by proclamation of the Governor General. A general election must follow dissolution.
Effects of Dissolution on the House
The House ceases to exist as an assembly at the time of dissolution.
All incomplete business is terminated, including government and private members’ bills. The government’s obligation to answer written questions, to respond to petitions or to produce papers requested by the House also ends with dissolution.
The government must wait until the new Parliament is in session before tabling any document that is required pursuant to an Act, resolution or Standing Order.
Effects of Dissolution on Committees
Committees cease to exist until the House reconstitutes them following the election.
All orders of reference expire, and the chairs and vice-chairs of all committees are relieved of their duties.
The government is no longer required to provide responses to committee reports that may have been requested in the previous session.
Opening of a Parliament or Session
Summoning of Parliament
Parliament is summoned by a proclamation issued by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister following a general election.
All members of the House of Commons must be sworn in before taking their seat, whether they are newly-elected or returning for a second or subsequent term. As part of this ceremony, in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution Act, 1867, members take part in an oath of allegiance (oath of loyalty to the Sovereign) or a solemn affirmation (an alternative to the oath of allegiance and has the same effect).
Proceedings on Opening Day of Parliament
The opening of a Parliament is also the opening of the first session of that Parliament. Two procedures—the swearing-in of members and the election of the Speaker —distinguish it from the opening of subsequent sessions.
At the time appointed for the formal opening of the Parliament, the members, led by the Usher of the Black Rod (a Senate official), proceed to the Senate where the newly-elected Speaker announces his or her election and ceremonially claims from the Crown the “undoubted rights and privileges” of the House of Commons. The ceremonial reply of the Governor General assures the House of Commons that it continues to enjoy the Crown’s confidence and favour.
After the claiming of privilege, the new Parliament is formally opened by the reading of the Speech from the Throne. Each subsequent session is opened by a new Speech from the Throne.
Election of the Speaker
When members assemble on the appointed day for the opening of a new Parliament, the Constitution requires that their first item of business be the election of a Speaker.
Except for ministers and party leaders, all members are considered candidates for the position of Speaker unless they inform the Clerk of the House that they do not wish to stand for the office the day prior to the election.
For more information and a video about how the House elects a Speaker, see the Our Procedure article about the Speaker and other presiding officers.
Once a Speaker has been elected, the House suspends or adjourns until the time fixed for the formal opening of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne.