Each of the three events in the Daily Proceedings—Prayer, Statements by Members and Oral Questions—is covered separately in the Standing Orders.
At the beginning of each sitting, before the House considers any business, the Speaker takes the Chair and proceeds to read the prayer, after it has been determined that a quorum4 of 20 Members including the Chair Occupant is present.5 While the prayer is being read, the Speaker, the Members and the Table Officers all stand. The prayer is by custom read partly in French and partly in English. When the prayer is finished, the House pauses for a moment of silence for private thought and reflection. At the end of the moment of silence, the Speaker orders the doors to the galleries opened and calls the first item of business. At this point, television coverage of the proceedings commences and the public may enter the galleries.6
Although the practice of reading a prayer at the start of each sitting was not codified in the Standing Orders until 1927,7 it has been part of the daily proceedings of the House since 1877. At that time, the House charged a committee to consider the desirability of using a form of prayer in the Chamber.8 In its report, the committee recommended that the proceedings of the House be opened each day with the reading of a prayer, and included therein a suggested form of prayer.9 In a discussion that immediately followed the concurrence in the committee report, it was determined that the prayer would be read prior to the doors of the House being opened, as was the practice of the Senate of Canada and the British House of Commons.10
Over the years, suggestions have been made to rewrite or reword the prayer in a non-sectarian form and to have the prayer read by a chaplain instead of the Speaker.11 Recommendations have also been made to change the way the House takes up the prayer. Many Members have expressed the view that the public should be admitted before the prayer is read.12 In 1976, the House adopted a motion recommending that the Standing Orders be changed in order to allow the public to enter the galleries before the prayer was read. However, the motion was worded as a recommendation, not as an order, and provided no instruction for implementing the change. For that reason, the Speaker indicated that the practice of reciting the prayer prior to the admission of the public would continue until the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization considered the matter and reported to the House; however, no further action was taken on this matter.13 There have been, nonetheless, rare instances when the public has heard the prayer.14
Until 1994, no major change to the form of the prayer15 was made aside from references to royalty.16 At that time, the House concurred in a report recommending a new form of prayer more reflective of the different religions embraced by Canadians.17 This prayer was read for the first time when the House met to open its proceedings on February 21, 1994:18
Almighty God, we give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions. Amen.
There has been no explicit pronouncement on when French and English are to be used in reading the prayer. When the reading of the prayer was first sanctioned in 1877, it was agreed that the prayer would be read in the language most familiar to the Speaker.19 Two years later, Speaker Blanchet, the Commons’ first bilingual Speaker, inaugurated the practice of reading the prayer in French and English on alternate days.20 From then until the 1970s, many Speakers, depending on their fluency in the two languages, followed this practice. Since then, some Speakers have alternated between the two languages, while others have used a bilingual version, which is now the standard form.
When the House convenes on the first day of a new Parliament or on any day when the House is to elect a Speaker, the prayer is read only after a Speaker has been elected.21 Indeed, at that time, the election of a Speaker must be the sitting’s first order of business and has precedence over all other matters.22 Only after a Speaker has been elected is the House properly constituted to conduct its business.23 After the House reconvenes following the election of the Speaker, the prayer is read before the House proceeds to the Senate to inform the Governor General of its choice.24
Although not provided for in the Standing Orders, it has become the practice of the House to sing the national anthem each Wednesday at the opening of the sitting. After the prayer has been read, but before the doors are opened to admit the public,25 the Speaker recognizes a Member to lead the House in singing the national anthem.26
The practice of singing O Canada at the beginning of each Wednesday sitting began during the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994–97). Members had discussed the possibility of singing the national anthem in the House, and the matter was raised in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In a report presented to the House on November 10, 1995, the Committee recommended that a Member lead the House in singing the national anthem at the beginning of each Wednesday sitting; later in the sitting, the House concurred in the Committee’s report.27
Statements by Members
The second activity under the Daily Proceedings of the House is Statements by Members, which takes place at 2:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at 11:00 a.m. on Fridays.28 When recognized by the Speaker, Members who are not Ministers can address the House for up to one minute on virtually any matter of international, national, provincial or local concern.29 This one-minute time limit is rigorously enforced by the Speaker and has on occasion left Members in mid-sentence.30
If Statements by Members begins promptly at 2:00 p.m. (11:00 a.m. on Fridays),31 the entire 15 minutes provided for these proceedings is used; 15 Members at a minimum are typically recognized. If the start of these proceedings is delayed, the time allotted to Statements by Members is reduced accordingly and, if the delay is too great, may even be entirely eliminated from that sitting. The next activity under Daily Proceedings, Question Period, usually begins at 2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m. on Fridays), regardless of whether or not a full 15 minutes has been allotted to Statements by Members. If not enough Members rise to use all the time provided for Statements by Members, then the Speaker will proceed to call Oral Questions, although there is no record of this having occurred.32
The procedures regarding Statements by Members came into force with the adoption of provisional changes to the Standing Orders in 1982.33 However, what is now used to give Members an opportunity to make statements on issues of current interest had its genesis in another rule, which existed for the first 60 years of Confederation, allowing Members to seek the unanimous consent of the House to move a motion without notice.34 In 1925, the Special Committee tasked with revising the Standing Orders reported that “The unanimous consent of the House is usually granted with such readiness and so little opposition that in many cases motions are passed before the House has had time to understand them” and recommended that the rule be changed so that a satisfactory explanation could be given as to why notice should be waived.35 In 1927, the House finally agreed to the recommendation that the Standing Orders be amended so that unanimous consent could be sought only “in case of urgent and pressing necessity previously explained by the mover”.36 It was not until 1968 that this rule was invoked with any frequency when more and more Members began to rise daily under its provisions before Question Period, often in regard to cases where no “urgent and pressing necessity” appeared to exist.
This trend continued until 1975, when a further limitation was instituted whereby such motions could be moved only by Members not of the Ministry during a restricted time period before Oral Questions was called.37 Nonetheless, throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, it became a common, though misused and often time-consuming, feature of the proceedings of the House.38 In 1982, the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure studied the issue and concluded that “the Standing Order is used for purposes for which it was never intended. It is also open to objection because the refusal of unanimous consent to waive notice can frequently be misunderstood as a declaration of opposition to a well-intentioned motion”. The Committee’s recommendation to abolish this Standing Order was endorsed by the House, which also adopted the Committee’s proposal to institute a new Standing Order that “would enable Members to make statements on current issues on a daily basis during the first 15 minutes of the sitting”.39 Originally, Members were allowed to speak for not more than 90 seconds; this rule was amended in 1986 when the time for each Member’s statement was reduced to not more than one minute.40
Guidelines for Statements by Members
In presiding over the conduct of this daily activity, Speakers have followed a number of guidelines that date back to the introduction of Statements by Members. In 1983, when the guidelines were first put in place, Speaker Sauvé stated that:41
- all questions raised must be on matters of concern but do not necessarily have to be on matters of urgent necessity.
- personal attacks are not permitted.42
- congratulatory messages, poetry and frivolous matters are out of order.
These guidelines are still in place today, although Speakers have applied them less strictly over the years. Moreover, they tend to turn a blind eye to the restriction on congratulatory messages and poetry.43
Over time, additional restrictions have been placed on Statements by Members. The Speaker has cut off an individual statement or asked Members to resume their seat when:
- offensive language has been used;44
- a Senator has been attacked;45
- the actions of the Senate have been criticized;46
- a ruling of a court has been denounced;47
- the character of a judge has been attacked;48
- a song has been sung;49 or
- props have been used.50
The Speaker has also cautioned Members not to use this period to make defamatory comments about non-Members,51 nor to use the verbatim remarks of a private citizen as a starting point for a statement,52 nor to make statements of a commercial nature.53
The opportunity to speak during Statements by Members is allocated to private Members of all parties. In according Members the opportunity to participate in this period, the Chair is guided by lists provided by the Whips of the various parties and attempts to recognize those Members supporting the government and those Members in opposition on an equitable basis. However, the Chair retains absolute authority to decide which Member to recognize.54 While Ministers are not permitted to use this period to address the House, Parliamentary Secretaries may.55 Leaders of parties in opposition may also avail themselves of this rule.56 Chair Occupants other than the Speaker have also made statements in their capacity as Members.57
The Speaker retains discretion over the acceptability of each statement and has the authority to order Members to resume their seat if improper use is being made of this Standing Order.60 As Speaker Parent noted, however, in a 1996 ruling, “the Chair is often caught between respect for freedom of speech and the rapid delivery of 60-second statements”.61 It is often difficult for the Chair to determine the direction a Member is going to take and thus the acceptability or otherwise of the remarks before the Member completes the statement.
The third event under Daily Proceedings is Oral Questions. Each sitting day, Question Period begins no later than 2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m. on Fridays), following Statements by Members.62 It lasts no longer than 45 minutes. At this time, Members may seek information from the Ministry by asking questions on matters falling within the jurisdiction of the federal government.63