House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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8. The Parliamentary Cycle

I believe [the parliamentary 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)


he life cycle of a Parliament is regulated by constitutional provisions as well as Standing Orders. 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 financial requirements of the government render a meeting of Parliament every year a practical necessity for the annual granting of Supply by Parliament for a fiscal year (April 1 of one year to March 31 of the following year). [4]  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 and does vary — within constitutional limitations — according to the political and financial priorities of the government.

Against this backdrop, the Standing Orders of the House provide for a pre-determined annual calendar of sittings, known as the parliamentary calendar, which applies only when the House is in session. [5]  In this way, within each session, the days on which the House is likely to meet are known long in advance, thus allowing for a more orderly planning of House business.

The complex procedures and practices surrounding financial matters are addressed in Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”. The present chapter focusses on the life of a Parliament and its sessions; namely, the opening and closing of a Parliament and a session, and the sitting and non-sitting periods within a session, as determined by the parliamentary calendar.

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