The right to seek information from the ministry of the day and the right to hold that ministry accountable are two of the fundamental principles of parliamentary government. Members exercise these rights principally by asking questions in the House. Questions may be asked orally, for instance during Question Period, or may be submitted in writing.
Each sitting day, the House sets aside a maximum of 45 minutes for Oral Questions, a period known as “Question Period”.
The Standing Orders specify that each question should be addressed to:
- a minister;
- the spokesperson of the Board of Internal Economy; or
- a committee chair, if it is relevant to the relevant committee’s schedule and agenda.
During each sitting day at approximately 2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m. on Friday), the Speaker begins Question Period by allowing the Leader of the Opposition, or the lead questioner from their party, to ask questions. The order for subsequent questions follows an agreed-upon rotation list based on a party’s representation in the House and the number of members in each party. Members of the governing party, members of political parties not officially recognized in the House, and independent members are also recognized to ask questions, although not as frequently as members of officially recognized opposition parties.
When recognized in Question Period, members should:
- be seated in their assigned seat;
- direct their questions through the Chair;
- only ask questions concerning a matter that is within the administrative responsibility of the government;
- be brief; and
- seek information.
Precedents indicate that a question should not:
- be hypothetical, a statement, a representation, an argument or an expression of opinion;
- seek an opinion, including legal opinions;
- seek confidential information, such as the proceedings of cabinet;
- reflect on the character or conduct of chair occupants, members of the Senate, the House or the judiciary;
- reflect on the character or conduct of the Governor General or of the Sovereign;
- refer to proceedings in the Senate;
- refer to a matter that is under investigation by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner;
- address a minister’s former portfolio or other political functions, such as party caucus chairs;
- deal with the subject matter of a question of privilege previously raised, on which the Speaker has not yet made a ruling;
- create disorder in the House;
- make an accusation by way of a preamble;
- be a question asked on behalf of a constituent;
- seek from a minister information of a purely personal nature;
- request a detailed response which could be dealt with more appropriately as a written question placed on the Order Paper;
- concern internal party matters, or party expenses; or
- be on a matter that is sub judice (under the consideration of a judge or court).
Questions, although customarily addressed to specific ministers, are directed to the cabinet as a whole. Members may not insist upon receiving answers, nor may they insist that specific ministers respond to their questions. Like the questioners, ministers must be in their assigned seat when they answer and should direct their answer through the Chair.
In response to a question, a minister may:
- provide an answer;
- defer an answer;
- explain briefly why an answer cannot be provided at that time; or
- say nothing.
The Speaker ensures that:
- Question Period is conducted in a civil manner;
- questions and answers are kept within a set timeframe; and
- both questioners and respondents can make their comments heard.
The Speaker does not ask or respond to oral questions.
Points of order or questions of privilege are not entertained during Question Period but are deferred until its conclusion. If a situation arises during Question Period that the Speaker believes to be sufficiently serious to require immediate consideration, for example, the use of unparliamentary language, then he or she will address the matter at that time. For more information, see the Our Procedure article about the Speaker and other presiding officers.
Adjournment Proceedings (Late show)
A member who wishes to receive more information on a response given to their question during Question Period, or whose written question has not been responded to within 45 days, may give notice of their intention to raise the subject matter of the question during the Adjournment Proceedings, also referred to as the “late show”. Members who give their notice will have their name added to a list for Adjournment Proceedings on a first-come, first-served basis. No later than 5:00 p.m., the Speaker will advise the House the matters that are to be raised during that day’s Adjournment Proceedings.
At the commencement of this 30-minute period, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday (there are no Adjournment Proceedings on Friday), a motion to adjourn the House is deemed moved and seconded. The adjournment debate, comprised of a brief question and answer period between members and ministers or parliamentary secretaries, then begins. Following the debate, the motion to adjourn is deemed carried and the House adjourns.
Points of order and questions of privilege may not be raised during the Adjournment Proceedings. The House also operates without a requirement for quorum and the Speaker will not allow motions to be moved by unanimous consent.
Aside from addressing any instance of unparliamentary language, all matters arising from the conduct of the Adjournment Proceedings are deferred until the next sitting day.
Adjournment Proceedings are suspended:
- when the sitting has been extended for an emergency debate or a take-note debate;
- when closure has been moved on an item;
- on the day designated for the budget presentation; or
- on any day on which the House continues to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the election of a Speaker.
Adjournment Proceedings may be delayed until later in the day:
- when a sitting is extended due to a ministerial statement or a royal assent ceremony;
- due to the question and answer period following the moving of a time allocation motion;
- due to the resumption of debate on a motion to concur in a committee report;
- when Private Members’ Business has been extended on the second sitting day set aside for the consideration of the report and third reading stages of a bill;
- when a recorded division is deferred to the conclusion of Oral Questions or Government Orders;
- on the last allotted day in the supply periods ending March 26, June 23 and December 10;
- on days when Private Members’ Business has been rescheduled due to a delay or interruption;
- during the last 10 sitting days in June, if a motion has been adopted to extend the hours of sitting; and
- when a motion has been adopted to continue a sitting pursuant to Standing Order 26, to consider a specified item of business.
If a question intended to obtain information from the ministry involves a lengthy, detailed or technical response, a written question must be placed on the Order Paper. A member must give 48 hours’ written notice of their intention to submit such a question. Each member may have a maximum of four questions on the Order Paper at any one time. Written questions are assigned numbers when they are submitted (e.g., Q-1, Q-2).
A written question is acceptable if:
- it satisfies the general guidelines for oral questions;
- it is coherent and concise; and
- its subject matter pertains to public affairs.
The member giving notice of a written question may request:
- an answer within 45 days;
- that an oral answer be provided during Routine Proceedings to no more than three of their questions, which are indicated by a distinctive symbol on the Order Paper, referred to as “starred questions”.
Should a written question not be answered within the required 45 calendar days, the failure of the government to respond to the question is automatically referred to a standing committee selected by the member who posed the question. Alternatively, members may decide to take the matter up during Adjournment Proceedings. If a member chooses to proceed in this way, the reference to the committee is dropped.
Replies to written questions are provided during Routine Proceedings under the rubric Questions on the Order Paper. When Questions on the Order Paper is called, a parliamentary secretary rises in their place to announce which question(s) the government intends to answer on that day.
The government may answer written questions in one of two ways:
- The parliamentary secretary may simply indicate to the House the number(s) of the question(s) being answered. The text of the full response is then published in the Debates of the House of Commons of that day.
- In the case of questions requiring lengthy or more complex responses, the government may request that the House make a certain question an order for return. If the House grants the request, the return is tabled immediately and becomes a sessional paper—an official document of Parliament.