House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …

15. Special Debates

Debate is not a sin, a mistake, an error or something to be put up with in parliament. Debate is the essence of parliament.

Stanley Knowles, m.p. (Winnipeg North Centre)
(Debates, December 10, 1968, p. 3763)


rom time to time either because of certain parliamentary events or because of some urgency, the House will put aside its normal way of conducting debate in the House to consider matters that are governed by special rules. These rules are found in the Standing Orders in a chapter entitled “Special Debates”. Included in this chapter are rules pertaining to the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne (also known as the Throne Speech Debate), emergency debates, debates to suspend certain Standing Orders to consider urgent matters, and the debate to take note of the Standing Orders. These debates and the related Standing Orders are examined here.

Also examined in this chapter are two other types of debates which are not specifically provided for in the Standing Orders, but whose proceedings are sometimes circumscribed by special procedures. On occasion, the government has initiated debates on a number of issues to allow Members to express their views prior to a decision being taken by the government. This has particularly been the case since the beginning of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament in 1994. These debates have been labelled “take note” debates. In addition, statutory debates occasionally take place in the House. A statutory debate occurs when a statute has included provisions for a debate on the floor of the House with regard to an order, regulation, declaration, guideline or other instrument of delegated legislation.

Please note —

As the rules and practices of the House of Commons are subject to change, users should remember that this edition of Procedure and Practice was published in January 2000. Standing Order changes adopted since then, as well as other changes in practice, are not reflected in the text. The Appendices to the book, however, have been updated and now include information up to the end of the 38th Parliament in November 2005.

To confirm current rules and practice, please consult the latest version of the Standing Orders on the Parliament of Canada Web site.

For further information about the procedures of the House of Commons, please contact the Table Research Branch at (613) 996-3611 or by e-mail at