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

The Parliamentary Calendar

The parliamentary calendar, as laid out in the Standing Orders and reproduced as Figure 8.2, sets out a schedule of adjournments of a week or more and thereby provides for sittings, or sitting periods, throughout a year. [60]  It comes into effect once a session starts; in other words, the government is not bound by the Standing Orders in considering plans for the timing and length of sessions. [61]  The calendar works in conjunction with other Standing Orders providing for daily meeting and adjournment times, [62]  and providing for the House not to sit on certain days, most of the days in question being statutory holidays or days deemed to be non-sitting days. [63] 

Historical Perspective

In late 1982, the House agreed for the first time to operate under a fixed parliamentary calendar specifying exactly when longer adjournments would take place and thereby when the House would sit during a session. [64]  For much of its history, however, the House operated differently. There were no written rules specifying when the House would not sit. If the House wished to adjourn for a period of time during a session, it was necessary to adopt a special adjournment motion, even for a statutory holiday. [65] 

Until 1940, sessions tended to be short, beginning in January or February and ending in May or June of the same calendar year. During the years of the Second World War, the burden of government business grew and session length increased; a pattern of long and irregularly timed sessions established itself. [66] 

In 1964, the House adopted a Standing Order specifying certain days (mainly statutory holidays) during a session when the House would not sit. [67]  Despite this, sessions continued to be long and adjournments and prorogations unpredictably timed.

The notion of scheduled adjournments again came to the fore in the early 1980s when the motion to adjourn for the summer became the occasion for extended and rancorous debate. [68]  In November 1982, in accordance with recommendations of a special procedure committee (the Lefebvre Committee), the House adopted a series of measures intended to better organize the time of the House and of Members who, along with responsibilities in the House, were occupied with work in committees and in their constituencies. Chief among the measures was the parliamentary calendar, providing for the first time a fixed schedule of sittings and adjournments for the House and adding some degree of predictability to the scheduling of sitting and non-sitting periods. [69] 

The calendar as adopted in 1982 divided the session into three parts (assuming the House to be in session through an entire calendar year), separated by adjournments at Christmas, Easter and the summer months. Since its implementation, the calendar has undergone some modification. The Christmas and summer adjournments were extended slightly in 1991 and, within the three main sitting periods, additional brief adjournments were added in 1983 and 1991. [70]  These are for the most part clustered around existing statutory holidays observed by the House, with the result that each trimester is further broken down into two to three sitting periods.

Sitting and Non-sitting Periods

The House calendar as it appears in the Standing Orders, reproduced in Figure 8.2, sets out the pattern of adjournments and thereby sittings during a calendar year. [71]  Each adjournment begins at the end of the sitting on the days listed in column A. If such a sitting carries over to another day, the adjournment would still begin at the end of the sitting. In each case the session resumes on the corresponding day listed in column B. In order for the adjournment provisions to take effect, the House must sit on the day listed in column A, unless special arrangements are previously agreed to by the House. [72] 

Figure 8.2 – The House Calendar (Standing Order 28(2))
When the House meets on a day, or sits after the normal meeting hour on a day, set out in column A, and then adjourns, it shall stand adjourned to the day set out in column B.
The Friday preceding Thanksgiving Day The second Monday following that Friday
The Friday preceding Remembrance Day The second Monday following that Friday
The second Friday preceding Christmas Day The first Monday in February
The Friday preceding the week marking the miday point between the first Monday in February and the Friday preceding Good Friday The second Monday following that Friday
The Friday preceding Good Friday The Monday following Easter Monday
The Friday preceding the week marking the midway point between the Monday following Easter Monday and June 23 The second Monday following that Friday or, if that Monday is the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, on the Tuesday following that Monday
June 23 or the Friday preceding if June 23 falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or a Monday The second Monday following Labour Day

The House may be recalled, or Parliament may be summoned for the opening of a new session, during what would normally be an adjournment period. The House would then transact its business in the usual way and, unless a special adjournment motion is adopted, would continue to sit during the remaining days of that adjournment period and into the following sitting period as set out in the parliamentary calendar. The next adjournment period would then begin at the end of that sitting period as specified in column A.

The House meets five days a week, from Monday to Friday. [73]  Assuming that the House is in continuous session for the full calendar year, the parliamentary calendar provides for about 135 sitting days and seven adjournment periods at set times throughout the year. This may be described as creating three distinct sitting periods: September to December, February to Easter, and Easter to June. Three major adjournments are scheduled at Christmas (approximately 7 weeks), Easter (2 weeks) and the summer season (approximately 12 weeks). Four additional adjournments, each about a week in duration, occur in mid-October, mid-November and at the midpoints of the second and third trimesters.

Although the span of time in which the House has operated under the fixed parliamentary calendar is relatively brief, it may be said that since its institution, the parliamentary calendar has enjoyed an appreciable level of compliance. Departure from the calendar can and does occur, however. The royal prerogatives of prorogation and dissolution, for example, are not in any way compromised by the existence of the parliamentary calendar. On occasion the House has been recalled during an adjournment, pursuant to Standing Order. [74]  The House has also agreed to vary the calendar, both by unanimous consent [75]  and by the adoption of a motion following notice and debate. [76] 

Statutory Holidays and Other Non-sitting Days

For most of its history, the House had no written rule identifying days during a session when it would not meet. This gave rise to a practice of irregular — if not haphazard — adjournments, mainly for observance of statutory holidays. The question of whether or not the House would adjourn on a particular day was dependent on such variables as:

The Length and Timing of Sessions

In the early post-Confederation years, sessions tended to begin in mid-to late winter and end in late spring; consequently, the question of adjourning over Christmas, for example, did not arise. [77]

The Development of Provisions for Statutory Holidays

In the absence of any written rule, the House tended to make its own decisions with regard to statutory or non-statutory holiday observances (for example, Dominion Day [78]  has been a statutory holiday since 1879, but this has not prevented the House from sitting on that day [79] ).

Prevailing Customs

In the early post-Confederation years, the House adjourned for the day when informed of the death of a sitting Member during the session; by the late nineteenth century this practice had all but disappeared [80] , and in the 1970s and 1980s, it was accepted practice that an adjournment for the remainder of the day would take place when news of the death of a sitting Member reached the House in the course of the sitting. [81]  Another example of a prevailing custom is the practice whereby the House agrees not to sit on certain days to accommodate Members who wish to attend a policy or leadership convention of their political party. [82] 

In 1964, the Standing Orders were amended to include a list of the days on which the House would not sit during a session. [83]  There are nine: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day (celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign), St. John the Baptist Day, Canada Day (Dominion Day), Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day. [84]  All, except St. John the Baptist Day, are statutory holidays as defined by the Interpretation Act[85]  The Standing Order further provides that whenSt. John the Baptist Day (June 24) and Canada Day (July 1) fall on Tuesday, the House does not sit on the preceding day; similarly, when they fall on Thursday, the House does not sit on the following day. Since these non-sitting days typically fall within the periods of long adjournments, this Standing Order rarely comes into play. [86]  It will, of course, come into play if the House meets outside the parliamentary calendar.

Exception to the Calendar

From time to time, the House may be called to reassemble during an adjournment period pursuant to the calendar for the sole purpose of participating in the ceremony granting Royal Assent to a bill or bills. [87]  (For further information, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”; for further information on Royal Assent, see Chapter 16, “The Legislative Process”).

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