I believe [the House calendar] has been responsible for bringing order to our proceedings and has encouraged and fostered negotiation and compromise between the Parties in the days leading up to the automatic adjournments. Without that co-operation and constant negotiation and compromise, our system of government ceases to operate smoothly.
SPEAKER JOHN A. FRASER
(Debates, June 13, 1988, p. 16379)
The life cycle of a Parliament is regulated by constitutional provisions, statute and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. The most fundamental of these are the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, which provide first, that only the Crown may “summon and call together the House of Commons”;1 second, that subject to a dissolution, five years is the maximum lifespan of the House between general elections;2 and third, that “there be a sitting of Parliament at least once every twelve months”.3 At the same time, the Canada Elections Act stipulates that a general election must be held on the third Monday in October “in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election” unless Parliament was dissolved at an earlier date.4
Moreover, the financial requirements of the government render a sitting of Parliament every year a practical necessity for the annual granting of supply by Parliament for a fiscal year (April 1st of one year to March 31st of the following year).5 As such, the date selected for the opening of each new Parliament following a general election and of each new session within a Parliament can vary—within constitutional limitations—according to the political and financial priorities of the government.
Against this backdrop, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons provide for a predetermined annual calendar of sittings, known as the House calendar, which applies only when the House is in session.6 In this way, within each session, the days on which the House is likely to meet are known long in advance, allowing for a more orderly planning of House business.
The present chapter focuses on the life of a Parliament and its sessions; namely, the opening and closing of a Parliament and a session, as well as the sitting and non-sitting periods within a session, as determined by the House calendar.