As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, this third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice is not only a look back at the period from January 2009, when the Second Session of the Fortieth Parliament opened, to the beginnings of the Forty-Second Parliament, but also a historical overview of how the customs and practices of our parliamentary system have developed and changed.
When it first convened, the House of Commons was made up of 181 Members. That number has risen to 338 to keep pace with Canada’s growing population. Just as the services Members provide have changed to meet their constituents’ needs, so have the Standing Orders, customs and practices of the House evolved over time to keep its proceedings running smoothly. The importance of updating this procedural authority reflects the need to equip the House and its Members with a relevant and accessible reference tool to support them in their daily work. That is why this publication is being released for the first time as an e-book, in addition to the paper and online versions, making it easier for Members and their staff to access and use.
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons enable the House and its committees to manage their work effectively, and only the House can adopt or amend these rules. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs proposed amendments to the Standing Orders in 2009 and on various occasions between 2013 and 2016. These amendments are explained in detail in this third edition. It is interesting to note that some of the more significant changes to the Standing Orders are the product of two private Members’ motions and came into force at the start of the Forty-Second Parliament, highlighting the key role Members play in the evolution of House of Commons proceedings.
The first motion concerned an electronic petition system, which was introduced in the fall of 2015 and greeted enthusiastically by both the public and Members. The second motion concerned electing the Speaker through a preferential ballot system. Geoff Regan became, on December 3, 2015, the first Speaker of the House of Commons to be elected using this new procedure. He is also the first Atlantic Canadian to hold this position in nearly a century.
In 2017, the House made a number of other amendments to the Standing Orders, including provisions allowing the House to decide separately on the various elements of an omnibus bill, and provisions regarding the role of parliamentary secretaries in committee. The House also agreed to provisionally amend procedures related to the financial cycle, such as the timelines for the main estimates and the process for interim supply.
The Speaker plays a vital role in maintaining order and ensuring the House conducts its business smoothly, and is sometimes asked to rule on questions of privilege as they apply to individual Members and the House as a collectivity. Speaker Milliken served in this position for more than 10 years, making him the longest-serving Speaker in Canadian history. During that time, he drew on his considerable expertise in House of Commons procedure and practice to prepare complex rulings. One ruling in particular on the rights of the House as a collectivity helped to confirm the fundamental right of the House to obtain information from the government. The ruling concerned the House’s authority to order the government to produce documents regarding the detention of combatants by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. The same principle was applied in a second ruling regarding an order of the Standing Committee on Finance to produce financial documents. The government’s refusal to produce these documents led to the adoption of a non-confidence motion and the dissolution of the Fortieth Parliament.
Speaker Scheer was elected at the beginning of the Forty-First Parliament. At age 32, he is the youngest person to hold this position in the history of the House of Commons. During his time as Speaker, he made important rulings on the role of the Speaker and the duties of Members, affirming that the Speaker’s authority to decide who has the floor is indisputable but Members have a responsibility to indicate that they wish to speak.
Speaker Scheer also presided over the October 23, 2014, sitting, a day when Members demonstrated their resiliency and highlighted the importance of the House of Commons and the brave efforts of its employees to ensure it operates smoothly and safely. The day before, a gunman had killed a soldier on duty at the National War Memorial and then entered the Centre Block and opened fire. Following this incident, legislation was passed to create the Parliamentary Protective Service to safeguard the physical security of the Parliamentary Precinct and the grounds on Parliament Hill. The Director reports to the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons. The security of the Parliamentary Precinct is now maintained by a unified security service.
Immediately following his election as Speaker of the House of Commons in December 2015, Speaker Regan stated that he would not allow any unparliamentary conduct. He has also been called upon to rule on several questions of privilege. In one instance, he ruled on how a question of privilege that had been superseded could be revived.
This third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice summarizes amendments to the Canada Elections Act, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the Parliament of Canada Act, and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, found in Appendix I to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. It also describes the new Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons: Sexual Harassment, contained in Appendix II to the Standing Orders. This code was introduced in 2015 following concurrence in a report by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The code sets out a confidential resolution process that was introduced at the beginning of the Forty-Second Parliament and applies only to allegations of non-criminal sexual harassment between Members of Parliament. In addition, the first chapter of this edition describes the Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), a private Member’s bill sponsored by a government backbencher and for which Royal Assent was given in June 2015.
This publication offers a window on how the procedures, practices and traditions of the House of Commons and the role of Members have evolved over the past 150 years. Its preparation began under the expert leadership of Audrey O’Brien, the senior editor of the previous edition and the first female Clerk of the House of Commons. In December 2015, in recognition of her long and distinguished years of service, the House appointed her Clerk Emerita and Honorary Officer of the House of Commons with a permanent entrée to the Chamber and a seat at the Table.
After participating in the first two editions as a writer and editor, it is now my turn to lead the preparation of this third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice as Senior Editor. I fully understand how much work was involved for the dedicated team of people who produced this volume and, in so doing, have documented and preserved the institution’s traditions. Thanks to the management skills of André Gagnon, Deputy Clerk, Procedure, and the outstanding professionalism of his team, we have built on our knowledge and experience to deliver an excellent publication that will support the work of Members in the years to come.
Acting Clerk of the House of Commons