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The Chamber

The House of Commons operates according to a fixed calendar set out in the written rules (called the Standing Orders), with scheduled sittings from mid-September to late June every year. Each day of the Chamber's weekly schedule includes time for various kinds of business-for example, tabling of documents, statements by Members, presentation of petitions and committee reports, introduction and first reading of bills, Question Period, and debating of legislation and motions. Please refer to the daily order of business on page 8 to learn more about the different kinds of business that take place in the Chamber every day.

Canada's 40th Parliament

Meetings in the Chamber of the House of Commons are called sittings. The Speaker oversees the sittings, managing the debate and preserving order in accordance with the Standing Orders and the practices of the House. The Speaker is a Member of Parliament who is chosen to be Speaker in a secret ballot vote by all Members.

Members re-elected Peter Milliken, the Member for Kingston and the Islands (Ontario), to be Speaker of the 40th Parliament. As the Speaker he does not attend caucus meetings even though he is a member of the Liberal Party. As well as presiding over the sittings in the Chamber, the Speaker is Chair of the Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the House Administration. Also, he is the spokesperson and formal representative of the House.

To assist the Speaker, three Members are elected as deputies by the other Members. These Chair Occupants have formal titles: Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole; Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole; and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. In the 40th Parliament, those positions are held by Mr. Andrew Scheer, Ms. Denise Savoie and Mr. Barry Devolin respectively.

The Clerk of the House of Commons is not an elected Member but the senior officer of the House Administration. She is the senior permanent official and chief executive of the House Administration. Audrey O'Brien has held the position since October 2005. In her role as Clerk, she keeps the official record of proceedings and advises and supports the Speaker, the Chair Occupants, the House and its committees on all procedural and administrative matters.

Legislation

One of the most important functions of the House of Commons is to make laws. A proposal to either create a new law or amend an existing one is referred to as a bill. Before it becomes law, a bill must be approved by the House of Commons and the Senate and receive Royal Assent. This can take varying lengths of time, depending on the urgency and the complexity of the bill and the level of agreement among the Members of the House and Senators.

Bills can be either public or private. Public bills concern matters of public policy-for example, finance or national security-while private bills, which are rare, deal with private interests. Public bills can be either government or private Members' bills. Government bills are introduced by a Cabinet Minister, while private Members' bills are introduced by a Member who is not a Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary. Bills can be introduced in either the House of Commons or the Senate, but any that involve raising or spending public funds must be introduced in the House of Commons.

Over the past fiscal year, the government introduced 50 bills covering a variety of issues. Here are some examples:

  • war veterans' allowance
  • tobacco marketing
  • international and internal trade
  • individuals or entities engaged in farming operations
  • victims of crime
  • right to early parole
  • youth criminal justice
  • environmental issues

From April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010, private Members introduced 140 bills in the House, covering issues such as:

  • repeal of the long-gun registry
  • Internet neutrality
  • mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography
  • free public transit for seniors
  • extraterritorial activities of Canadian businesses and entities
  • amendments to the Employment Insurance Act
  • amendments to the Citizenship Act
  • amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (emissions labelling of vehicles)

 

House of Commons Procedure and Practice

The second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice was launched in November 2009. This book is the pre-eminent authority on Canadian parliamentary procedure. Staff frequently consult it when providing advice to the Chair during sittings of the House. When a procedural issue arises, the Chair will consult House of Commons Procedure and Practice, or alternatively, staff will approach the Chair for a brief discussion and reference to the appropriate section(s) of the book. When delivering rulings, the Speaker and other Chair Occupants frequently cite passages from it.

Members of Parliament who approach staff for advice are often referred to the relevant section(s) of the book. Members, their party Whips and their party House Leaders consult and cite it when raising points of order and questions of privilege in the House.


House Procedure

The daily activities in the House of Commons are governed by a set of written rules called the Standing Orders and by other practices and traditions. Some of these have been handed down over hundreds of years and some have been developed more recently. The House of Commons continues to add to and modify its rules and practices to reflect changes in the way the House works and Members perform their duties-for example, the increasing use of new technologies.

Another way House practices change and evolve is through decisions made by the Speaker. These rulings involve the Speaker's interpretation of the rules and precedents of the House. When a Member raises a point of order or a question of privilege in the House, the Speaker may hand down a ruling immediately. Alternatively, if the situation demands a more in-depth examination of the facts and a review of precedents, the Speaker will take the matter under advisement and make a ruling at a later time.

Over the course of the last fiscal year, the Speaker ruled on questions of privilege, requests for emergency debate, points of order and several other matters. Rulings on questions of privilege dealt with such issues as mailings to constituents, disorder in the galleries of the House and the premature disclosure of a bill. The rulings on points of order included subjects such as the admissibility of a motion of instruction to a committee, parliamentary language, the admissibility of an amendment to a bill adopted in committee and the use of a particular Standing Order to prevent amendments to a motion for second reading.

 

Photo of people taking notes and Photo of interior of Chamber

The Daily Order of Business

Diagram of the Daily Order of Business

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Private Members' Business

This is the time for private Members to present bills and motions for debate. The order in which Members can present items is established in a random draw at the opening of Parliament. All private Members' bills and motions can be voted on, provided they meet certain criteria.

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Government Orders

Government Orders are any items of business (such as motions or bills) that the government places on the agenda under the heading "Government Orders." Discussion and votes on these items take up the bulk of the House's time.

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Statements by Members

Members can make one minute statements on matters of importance to them and their constituents.

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Oral Questions

This segment of the day lasts only 45 minutes, although it attracts media coverage disproportionate to its short duration. Also known as Question Period, it is a chance for opposition Members, and some Members of the governing party, to seek information from the government. In the last fiscal year, 4,226 questions were asked during Oral Questions.

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Routine Proceedings

Routine Proceedings cover many different items, such as the tabling of documents, statements by Ministers, the presentation of petitions and committee reports, the introduction and first reading of bills, and reports from interparliamentary delegations. In the past year, 2,126 documents were tabled during Routine Proceedings.

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Caucus Meetings

On Wednesdays, daily House business does not begin in the Chamber until 2:00 p.m. so Members can attend meetings of their respective political parties in the morning. In these meetings, Senators and Members who belong to the same political party meet to discuss policy and the parliamentary agenda. Caucus meetings are closed and they are governed by rules of secrecy. (Caucus meetings are the only item listed on this Daily Order of Business that does not take place in the Chamber.)

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Adjournment Proceedings

A Member who is dissatisfied with a reply received in Question Period can ask, in writing, for the matter to be raised again during Adjournment Proceedings, often referred to as the "late show." A Cabinet Minister or Parliamentary Secretary responds.

Preparation for a Day in the Chamber

Each day in the Chamber requires considerable preparation, not just by the Members but also by the House Administration. Members prepare themselves in a number of ways, often with help from the House Administration. For example, procedural staff attend a briefing to review the previous day and prepare for issues that might arise in the coming sitting, while other employees prepare the Chamber or work behind the scenes.

Members responsibilities prior to a sitting in the Chamber

  • Review legislation to be debated and associated briefing material
  • Prepare a question or a response for Question Period
  • Consult with colleagues informally or formally in caucus meetings concerning strategy, policies and positions
  • Consult with constituents and others
  • Prepare to introduce a bill or motion in the House
  • Write a speech or a statement in preparation for a debate
  • Receive a petition from a constituent and prepare to present it in the House
  • Prepare to table a committee report

House Administration preparation prior to a sitting in the Chamber

  • Produce paper and electronic versions of the publications required for a sitting
  • Provide advice on parliamentary practice and procedure to Members
  • Produce the daily forms for the Speaker and the Chair Occupants
  • Compile lists from each party indicating which Members wish to speak during debate
  • Certify petitions so they can be presented in the House by Members
  • Organize the participants in the daily Adjournment Proceedings debate
  • Prepare to broadcast the Chamber proceedings on television and the Internet
  • Manage and participate in the daily ceremonial entrance of the Speaker

 

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