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

Prorogation and Dissolution


Prorogation of a Parliament results in the termination of a session. Parliament then stands prorogued until the opening of the next session. Like the summoning and dissolution of Parliament, prorogation is a prerogative act of the Crown, taken on the advice of the Prime Minister. [105]  Parliament is actually prorogued either by the Governor General (or Deputy of the Governor General) in the Senate Chamber, or by proclamation published in the Canada Gazette. When Parliament stands prorogued to a certain day, a subsequent proclamation (or proclamations) may be issued to advance or defer the date. [106] 

Effects of Prorogation

The principal effect of ending a session by prorogation is to terminate business. Members are released from their parliamentary duties until Parliament is next summoned. All unfinished business is dropped from or “dies” on the Order Paper and all committees lose their power to transact business, providing a fresh start for the next session. No committee can sit during a prorogation. [107] Bills which have not received Royal Assent before prorogation are “entirely terminated” and, in order to be proceeded with in the new session, must be reintroduced as if they had never existed. [108] 

On occasion, however, bills have been reinstated by motion at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session; committee work has similarly been revived. This has been accomplished in various ways:

  • The House has given unanimous consent to a motion to reinstate a bill in a new session at the same stage it had reached before prorogation. [109] 
  • The House has adopted amendments to its Standing Orders to carry over legislation to the next session, following a prorogation. [110] 
  • In 1991, Parliament was prorogued for one day, ending the Second Session of the Thirty-Fourth Parliament. The Third Session started a day later. Two standing committees were then revived by unanimous consent so that they might terminate mandates from the previous session, provided that these committees would cease to exist once their reports were presented in the House. A special joint committee was likewise revived and two bills were reinstated. [111]  However, when unanimous consent was withheld to reinstate a further six bills, the government sought and achieved reinstatement by adoption of a motion, following notice. [112] 
  • In the Second Session of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1996-97), the first item of government business (laid out in a special Order Paper and Notice Paper) was a motion “to facilitate the conduct of the business of the House”, which included a mechanism for reinstatement of bills — private Members’ as well as government bills. [113] 

For further information about the reinstatement of bills in a new session, see Chapter 16, “The Legislative Process”.

There is also a provision in the Standing Orders for any outstanding Orders or Addresses of the House for returns or papers to be presented to the House. They are considered to have been readopted at the start of the new session without a motion to that effect. [114]  The Speaker has ruled that outstanding government responses to committee reports and to petitions are also given the status of returns ordered by the House and therefore would be tabled in the House in the new session. [115] 

Prorogation in Practice

Prorogation practices have varied over time. Two methods have been used. Parliament has in recent years been prorogued by proclamation while the House is adjourned, with the date of the new session being fixed by proclamation. [116]  The House has also in the past adjourned for a period of time, reconvened, and Parliament has been prorogued shortly thereafter with the new session opening soon afterward. [117]  On several occasions, the session was ended by prorogation in the morning, with the new session starting in the afternoon of the same day. [118] 

Traditionally, the House was summoned to the Senate to hear the Governor General (or the Deputy of the Governor General) deliver a speech reviewing the accomplishments of the session, and to hear the Speaker of the Senate read a message containing the date for the opening of the new session. At the end of the ceremony, the House of Commons delegation would leave the Senate Chamber, but the procession would not return to the House of Commons Chamber. The Speaker would return to the Speaker’s chambers and other Members would simply disperse. The prorogation ceremony is a convention and is not required by any Standing Order or statute. [119] 

It is the prerogative of the Crown, on the advice of the Prime Minister, to determine which method to use for prorogation.


A dissolution terminates a Parliament and is followed by a general election. [120]  The date of the election is set in accordance with the provisions of the Canada Elections Act[121]  Like the summoning and prorogation of a Parliament, dissolution is a prerogative act of the Crown, normally taken on the advice of the Prime Minister and proclaimed under the Great Seal of Canada by the Governor General. [122] 

Usually three proclamations are issued at the time of dissolution. The first is for the dissolution itself, stating that Parliament is dissolved and declaring that “the Senators and Members of Parliament are discharged from their meeting and attendance”. A second proclamation usually appears simultaneously; it calls the next Parliament and informs with regard to the issuance of writs of election, the date set for polling and the date set for the return of the writs. The third proclamation fixes the date on which Parliament is summoned to meet, sometime following the return of the writs. [123]  The date of this summons may be changed through the issuance of a further proclamation. [124] 

A Parliament may be dissolved at any time. If the House is sitting and there is not to be a prorogation ceremony in the Senate Chamber, the dissolution is usually announced to the House by the Prime Minister or another Minister. [125]  The Speaker then leaves the Chair without further ado.

The demise of the Crown does not have the effect of dissolving Parliament. [126]  In ancient British practice and until 1843 in Canada, however, the demise of the Crown resulted in an automatic dissolution of Parliament. Because the summoning of Parliament is a royal prerogative and Parliament sits at the pleasure of the Crown, its demise meant a lapsing of the summons and thus dissolution. [127]  In 1843, an act was passed in the Province of Canada providing that a parliament in existence at the time of any future demise of the Crown should continue as it would have otherwise, unless dissolved by the Crown. [128]  Similar legislation existed in other provinces prior to Confederation. [129]  The law was re-enacted in the First Session of the First Parliament of Canada. [130] 

Effects of Dissolution

With dissolution, all business of the House is terminated. The Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Members of the Board of Internal Economy continue in office for the acquittal of certain administrative duties until they are replaced in a new Parliament. [131]  For the purposes of certain allowances payable to them, Members of the House of Commons at the time of dissolution are deemed to remain so until the date of the general election. [132] 

Expiration of the House of Commons

The Constitution states that no House “shall continue for longer than five years”. [133]  Mindful of this deadline, all governments since Confederation have resorted to dissolution. In some cases, the dissolution took place within days of when the House would have expired through effluxion of time. [134] 

Extension of Life of the House of Commons

Since 1949, the Constitution has provided that in time of war, invasion or insurrection, the five-year limit of the lifetime of the House of Commons “may be continued by Parliament” if no more than one third of the Members oppose the continuation. [135]  Prior to the existence of this provision, such an extension required a constitutional amendment, a means resorted to only once. Due to circumstances relating to World War I, the life of the Twelfth Parliament (1911-17) was extended in this way for one year — from 1916 to 1917. [136] 

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