House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
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5. Parliamentary Procedure

The authority of the Chair is no greater than the House wants it to be. When the rules are clear and offer precise guidance to the Speaker, the authority of the Chair is absolute and unquestioned, for this is the will of the House. On the other hand, when there are no rules to fall back on, the Speaker must proceed very cautiously indeed. The most the Chair can do is to lay the matter before the House which can then itself create a new precedent.

Speaker Jeanne Sauvé
(Debates, March 18, 1982, p. 15556)


arliamentary procedure has been described as a “means of reaching decisions on when and how power shall be used”. [1]  According to such a definition, procedure is at once the “means” used to circumscribe the use of power and a “process” that legitimizes the exercise of, and opposition to, power. Parliamentary procedure has also been described as “a combination of two elements, the traditional and the democratic”. [2]  In other words, parliamentary procedure based on the Westminster model stems not only from an understanding and acceptance of how things have been done in the past, but is embedded in a particular culture that evolves along democratic principles. These principles, known as “parliamentary law”, [3]  were summarized in the following manner by John George Bourinot, an authority on parliamentary procedure and Clerk of the Canadian House of Commons from 1890 to 1902:

The great principles that lie at the basis of English parliamentary law have … been always kept steadily in view by the Canadian legislatures; these are: To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner, to enable every member to express his opinions within those limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time, to give full opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken heedlessly and upon sudden impulse. [4] 

Commentators on Canadian parliamentary history have argued that, over the years, the ideal of “protecting the minority” has had to adapt to the modern dictates of an efficient legislative body. [5]  Closure and time allocation rules, adopted in 1913 and 1969 respectively, as well as other rules adopted by the House, have long since given the government majority greater ability to advance its legislative program over the objections of the minority. Nevertheless, it remains true that parliamentary procedure is intended to ensure that there is a balance between the government’s need to get its business through the House, and the opposition’s responsibility to debate that business without completely immobilizing the proceedings of the House. In short, debate in the House is necessary, but it should lead to a decision in a reasonable time.

The proceedings of the House of Commons are regulated by a vast body of parliamentary rules and practices — practice being that part of procedure which developed spontaneously and became regarded as the usual or regular way of proceeding, though not written into the rules (the Standing Orders). [6]  As described in Chapter 1, many of these rules and practices originated in the United Kingdom, others were inspired by pre-Confederation legislative assemblies [7]  and subsequently adopted in Canada. According to Erskine May, “ …some [of the forms and rules of practice] were no doubt invented in Parliament itself, but others have been traced to analogies in the medieval courts of law and in the councils of the Church”. [8]  Some rules have remained virtually unchanged for the last four hundred years, [9]  others have evolved to become, in time, conventional practices. Finally, the origins of some of the earliest practices of parliamentary procedure “are lost in history”. [10] 

As will be seen in this chapter, the parliamentary procedures and practices of the Canadian House of Commons are founded on the Constitution and Statutes, the Standing Orders of the House, Speakers’ rulings and House practice.

The Constitution and Statutes

Canadian parliamentary institutions took shape well over two hundred years ago. Successive British statutes adopted specifically for the colonies which were to form Canada came to prescribe, in increasing detail, several basic procedural provisions. [11] Many of these provisions were later included in the Constitution Act, 1867, which stated that Canada shall have a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom, which is what each of the founding provinces had before Confederation.

Those sections of the Constitution Act, 1867 which can be traced back to earlier constitutional documents stipulate that on first assembling, the House must elect a Speaker, [12]  that it must also proceed to elect a Speaker in the case of a vacancy in that office due to death, resignation or some other cause, [13]  that the Speaker shall preside at all meetings of the House, [14]  that the quorum of the House shall be 20 Members, [15]  and that all requests for the raising or spending of money must originate in the House of Commons and must be recommended to the House by the Governor General. [16]  These provisions are also found in the Union Act, 1840[17]  Other sections of the Constitution Act, 1867 may be traced back even further. The provisions which stipulate that all questions arising in the House are to be decided by a simple majority, with the Speaker having a casting vote in the case of a tie, [18]  and that all Members must take a prescribed oath before being allowed to take their seat in the House [19]  date back to the Constitutional Act, 1791[20] 

In some cases, the inclusion of a constitutional provision was predated by a practice already in place. Beginning in 1758, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, for example, followed the practice of electing a Speaker as the first order of business of a new legislature, despite the absence of a constitutional provision to that effect. [21]  Similarly, both Upper and Lower Canada’s legislative assemblies followed the same practice of electing a Speaker [22]  and had quorum provisions in their rules before a quorum of 20 was statutorily provided for in the Union Act, 1840[23] 

In other cases, a procedural difficulty experienced in a previous assembly led to the inclusion of specific constitutional provisions. For example, section 47 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provided for the House to elect another of its Members to exercise the functions of the Speaker during the latter’s absence, sought to anticipate the possible recurrence of a situation that had arisen when, on at least one occasion between 1840 and 1866, the Assembly of the Province of Canada had to adjourn due to the illness of the Speaker. [24] 

Perhaps the most procedurally significant part of the Constitution Act, 1867, however, is that which provides a statutory basis for the privileges enjoyed by the House. The Constitution Act provides that “the privileges, immunities, and powers to be held, enjoyed and exercised” by the House and its Members are to be “defined by Act of the Parliament of Canada”, with the proviso that such privileges, immunities and powers may not exceed those enjoyed by the British House of Commons and its Members. [25]  The Canadian House of Commons thus acquired, as one of its more important privileges, the exclusive right to regulate its own internal affairs and to control its own agenda and proceedings.

The Parliament of Canada has therefore the constitutional authority not only to regulate its internal proceedings and establish rules of procedure, but also to enact a large number of procedurally important statutory provisions, many of which are found in the Parliament of Canada Act[26]  Of procedural significance for the House, this Act, for instance, provides for: the power of the House and its committees to administer oaths to witnesses appearing either at the Bar of the House or before a committee; [27]  procedures to be followed when Members resign or when seats are otherwise vacated; [28]  conflict of interest rules applicable to Members; [29]  a Deputy Speaker’s ability to act in the Speaker’s absence; [30]  the existence and remuneration of parliamentary secretaries; [31]  the remuneration of Members of Parliament; [32]  the existence and management of the Library of Parliament; [33]  and the establishment of the Board of Internal Economy to act on all financial and administrative matters respecting the House. [34]  There are, in addition to the Parliament of Canada Act, dozens of other statutes which oblige the House to undertake some action or which regulate some aspect of the proceedings of the House. [35] 

The Standing Orders

The permanent written rules under which the House regulates its proceedings are known as the Standing Orders. [36] The continuing or “standing” nature of rules means that they do not lapse at the end of a session or parliament. Rather, they remain in effect until the House itself decides to suspend, change or repeal them. There are at present more than 150 Standing Orders, each of which constitutes a continuing order of the House for the governance and regulation of its proceedings. The detailed description of the legislative process, the role of the Speaker, the nature of the parliamentary calendar and the rules governing the work of committees and private Members’ business are some of the topics covered in the Standing Orders. The House declares these continuing orders to be Standing Orders when it formally adopts them, and it periodically issues them as a publication for the guidance and use of all Members.

When the House of Commons first met in 1867, the rules it adopted were largely those of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, itself created in 1840. [37]  While it can be said that the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada obtained its rules from the assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada, created in 1791, the vast majority of these came from the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. [38]  Of the many rules the Assembly of Lower Canada adopted in the first years of its existence, particularly in 1793, [39]  more than 35 have survived virtually unchanged and are still in effect today in the House of Commons. A further 40 also pre-date Confederation. [40] 

Since 1867, there have been countless reviews of the Standing Orders. [41]  New Standing Orders have been adopted, while others have been significantly modified or deleted, leading on occasion to substantial renumbering. Furthermore, interpretations given to the older rules have been adapted over time to fit the modern context. [42]  Occasionally, the adoption of a new Standing Order merely represents the codification of a long-standing practice of the House [43]  or the permanent adoption of a provisional, sessional or special order. At other times, a rule is changed or added as a result of an incident or event which convinced the House to seek a way to avoid its repetition. [44] 

As an indicator of the importance the House attaches to reviewing the Standing Orders, at the beginning of each Parliament a debate must be held on the following motion: “That this House takes note of the Standing Orders and procedures of the House and its committees”. [45]  In addition, the permanent mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs [46]  includes “the review of and report on the Standing Orders, procedure and practice in the House and its committees”. [47]  The Committee can make rule change recommendations as part of its continuing mandate or as the result of a specific order of reference. [48] 

Although the means by which the House reviews the Standing Orders vary greatly, the Standing Orders may be added to, changed or repealed only by a decision of the House, which is arrived at either by way of consensus or by a simple majority vote on a motion moved by any Member of the House. [49] 

On many occasions, a special committee has been established with a mandate to suggest revisions to the rules and report its recommendations to the House. These recommendations, presented in the House in the form of a report, were often debated on a motion to concur in the report. If the House concurred in such a report, the Standing Orders were immediately modified. The content of the report was sometimes also used as the basis for further discussions leading to changes to the rules. [50] 

In other cases, the Standing Orders have been amended through the adoption of a government motion by unanimous consent; such a motion can at times resemble the recommendations of a procedure committee. [51]  The motion can also be a government initiative for which proper notice has been given and which appears on the Order Paper under “Government Business”. [52]  More often than not, however, procedural changes are the result of a broad consensus among Members of all parties and are readily adopted without debate. [53]  That being said, since 1867, there have been occasions when controversial proposals have led to lengthy debates where the government used its majority to amend the Standing Orders. [54] 

Finally, changes to the Standing Orders have also been made through the adoption of a motion by a private Member [55]  and the concurrence in a report presented by a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons. [56] 

Besides the permanent Standing Orders, the House may adopt other types of written rules for limited periods of time. Provisional Standing Orders are individual Standing Orders adopted for a specific period of time which does not correspond to the duration of a Parliament or a Session. [57]  They may be adopted on an experimental basis, [58]  extended provisionally, dropped, or eventually made permanent.

Sessional Orders are intended to be temporary and remain in effect only for the duration of the session in which they are adopted. Sessional Orders may be renewed from session to session, and some eventually become Standing Orders. [59] 

The House may also adopt special orders in addition to the Standing, Provisional, and Sessional Orders which form the collected body of written rules. A frequently used instrument for the conduct of House business, special orders do not modify the “written” Standing Orders. Since they routinely concern the business of the House and are thus often moved without notice, following consultations, they are often adopted without debate by unanimous consent. They may apply to a single occasion or to such period of time as may be specified. [60]  Some special orders over time have become Standing Orders. [61] 

Finally, some Standing Orders explicitly allow the House to suspend the operation of other Standing Orders. [62]  It is also common for the House, at any given time, to set aside its rules with the unanimous consent of all Members then present in the House, so that something can be done which would otherwise be inconsistent with the Standing Orders. [63]  The House does this, for example, when it wants a bill to pass all stages in one day, a procedure which would otherwise contravene the rules. [64]  Furthermore, the House can adopt a Special Order to supersede a previously adopted Special Order. [65]  The Standing Orders also provide for the House to proceed in situations where unanimous consent has been denied, but where the overwhelming majority of Members nevertheless agree to proceed with the action contemplated. [66] 

In the hierarchy of parliamentary procedure, just as statutory provisions cannot set aside constitutional provisions, Standing Orders cannot set aside statutory law. Only Parliament can enact or amend statutory provisions; the House of Commons can adopt its own rules as long as they respect the written constitution and statutory law.

Speakers’ Rulings

The Speaker has been duty-bound to decide all questions of procedure since representative assemblies were first established in the colonies which were to form Canada. [67]  Just as case law (the body of judge-made law) is an important part of the common-law system, rulings (the body of Speaker-made parliamentary law) are an important part of our parliamentary system. Over the years, the sum total of rulings from Speakers has helped shape the way in which the House conducts its business. [68] Successive Speakers have been called upon to decide how rules should apply and, through rulings, have either settled issues or encouraged the House, [69]  the Government, [70]  or the Board of Internal Economy [71]  to take steps to resolve them. Prior to 1965, the rulings of Speakers were subject to an appeal and could be overturned by the House; [72] since then, Members have not been allowed to question a decision of the Chair. [73] 

A distinction must be made between “rulings” and “statements” made by the Speaker. Rulings deal with the procedural acceptability of some matter before the House which, unless otherwise specified, serve as precedents to govern future proceedings. They, more often than not, address procedural issues raised on a point of order or a question of privilege and seek to give directions to the House. Statements, on the other hand, seek to convey information or clarification to Members of the House. [74] Not every statement is a ruling and Speakers have often explicitly stated that certain procedures, although permitted in certain circumstances, should not be interpreted as precedents. [75]  Speaker Fraser summed up the fine balancing act that is often involved in adapting old rules to new situations: “When interpreting the rules of procedure, the Speaker must take account not only of their letter but of their spirit and be guided by the most basic rule of all, that of common sense.” [76] 

In arriving at a decision on a procedural point, the Speaker may draw on a full range of procedural information and examine the precedents to determine how the Standing Orders have been applied and interpreted in the past. The Standing Orders, though a vital reference, constitute a comparatively small part of the much larger body of House of Commons procedure and practice that the Speaker will consult in preparing a ruling. The primary records of the House, the Journals and Debates, are the richest repository of information on precedents, practices and usages as well as being the most reliable. [77]  Finally, while Speakers must take the Constitution and statutes into account when preparing a ruling, numerous Speakers have explained that it is not up to the Speaker to rule on the “constitutionality” or “legality” of measures before the House. [78] 

While good procedure requires that there be consistency in the interpretation of practice and in the application of the Standing Orders, [79]  Speakers have never shied away from creating new precedents when faced with an apparent contradiction between Standing Orders and contemporary values. In this way, Speakers have declared past rules or Standing Orders to be redundant [80]  and have often invited the House to ponder the consequences of things such as new technologies on Members’ privileges. [81] 

In arriving at a decision, Speakers will also review cornerstone events of the past, known as precedents, which may be useful in applying to a new situation. Precedent has been defined as “a previous decision by the Chair, or a well-established procedure or usage which serves as an authority or guide when a similar point or circumstance arises in Parliament”. [82]  Determining what is or is not a precedent is not always straightforward. Speaker Fraser once said that “a precedent is something that happened once upon a time and that everyone decided to follow … in legal terms, it is usually the consequence of a decision made after argument has been proffered to the Chair […] on a certain point”. [83]  The mere occurrence of an event does not make it a precedent, and Speakers have on occasion ruled that a special circumstance justifies a deviation from a known precedent. [84] 

At times, the Speaker will allow Members to address the issue raised to give them an opportunity to present facts that might help shed some light on the case at hand. At other times, a ruling will be made immediately without Members’ intervention. It is left to the Speaker to determine what method he or she will use.

While previous rulings and statements always serve as important and reliable guides, and while Speakers invariably rely on the decisions of their predecessors, every new situation is different and is examined on its own merits. A great many practices remain uncodified, although some are frequently defined and made explicit in Speakers’ rulings and statements.


The House’s often unique methods of proceeding are the result of centuries of practice [85]  — the unwritten rules of procedure which developed over time and came to be accepted as the normal way of proceeding. The first representative assemblies on Canadian soil were inspired mainly by British parliamentary tradition, [86]  and to a lesser degree by American practice. [87]  Until recently, the British influence was explicitly recognized by the House in its Standing Orders [88]  and, to this day, in instances where internal precedents do not provide the necessary guidance, the Speaker is given full authority to go beyond the House’s jurisprudence “in cases not provided for hereinafter”. [89]  The Speaker may thus turn to provincial or foreign precedents, typically those of Commonwealth legislative bodies, “so far as they may be applicable to the House”. [90] 

In some areas (e.g., the conduct of Question Period), almost all procedures are based on practice augmented by decisions of the Chair; [91] in other areas, some practices are born without the active participation of the Speaker. [92] 

There has been a tendency for the House to codify in the Standing Orders many procedures which have originated and evolved as unwritten practices. In many ways, this has resolved issues which for many years had to be revisited by the Speaker periodically. For example, although, for many years, representatives of the recognized parties had been permitted to respond to ministerial statements, it was only in 1964 that the practice was written into the Standing Orders. [93]  A more recent example is the adoption of a Standing Order incorporating a practice that can be traced back to the earliest days of Confederation: the pairing of Members unable to be present in the House for recorded decisions. [94] 

The Authorities

The rules and procedures of the House are far more complex than they would appear to be on the surface. This complexity, illustrated by the growth in the number of Standing Orders, an ever-increasing number of Speakers’ rulings and statements, and the whole body of unwritten practice, has led to the publication over the years of various works on parliamentary procedure which have come to be referred to as “the Authorities”. In their own time, these books have attempted to collect and organize the traditions, precedents and procedures of our Parliament. The House has relied primarily on Arthur Beauchesne’s Parliamentary Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada and Sir John George Bourinot’s Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada (last published in 1916). Other works have also proved useful in understanding the procedures of the House, notably William F. Dawson’s Procedure in the Canadian House of Commons, C.E.S. Franks’ The Parliament of Canada, Joseph Maingot’s Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, John B. Stewart’s The Canadian House of Commons: Procedure and Reform, and Norman Ward’s Dawson’s The Government of Canada. When these and other sources have been insufficient to help with a problem, reference may be made to Erskine May’s Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament as a guide to relevant current British procedures.

The Relationship Between Procedural Sources

Within parliamentary procedure, a distinction is made between those procedures the House may alter alone, and those it may not. Procedural provisions contained in the Constitution Act and in various statutes cannot be modified by the House acting independently. A change to the constitutional provisions affecting any part of the House must be made in accordance with the amending formulae contained in the Constitution Act, 1982 and requires, at a minimum, the passage of an Act of Parliament. [95]  Similarly, only Parliament may enact or amend a statutory provision which affects House procedure. Therefore, where the written constitution applies in relation to the House, it takes priority over statutory provisions applicable to the House. Statutory provisions, in turn, may not be set aside in favour of rules or orders made by the House alone. The same reasoning applies to standing, sessional and special orders, which necessarily override practices and precedents, always provided that such orders must be interpreted not in isolation but in the context of their past application. Where there are no express rules or orders, the House turns to its own jurisprudence, as interpreted by the Speaker, who examines the Journals and Debates of the House to determine which rulings of past Speakers and which practices and precedents should be applied. In situations not provided for by the practices and precedents of the House, the Standing Orders permit the Speaker to have recourse to the practices and precedents of other jurisdictions, both in and outside Canada, so far as they may be applicable. [96]  More and more, the Speaker and procedural advisors are looking to the practices of the provinces, the United Kingdom and those countries possessing Westminster-style Parliaments, particularly Australia, India and New Zealand.

Franks, p. 116.
Wilding and Laundy, p. 605.
Black’s Law Dictionary,6th ed., St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1990, p. 1005, defines parliamentary law as, “The general body of enacted rules and recognized usages which governs the procedure of legislative assemblies. …”
Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 258-9.
According to C.E.S. Franks, three modern developments have led to a more rigid set of rules: the ever increasing amount of business before the House; the Member’s job becoming a full-time occupation; and the increasing willingness on the part of the opposition to use dilatory tactics (Franks, pp. 128-9).
May, 22nd ed., p. 4.
In testimony to the validity of pre-Confederation experiences, a few days into the First Parliament, a special committee was appointed to assist the Speaker in framing permanent rules and regulations for the House and, in its deliberations, was to study the “Rules and Standing Orders of the Imperial House of Commons, of the Legislative Assembly of the late Province of Canada, and of the Houses of Assembly of the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick” (Journals, November 15, 1867, p. 16).
May, 22nd ed., p. 4.
See, for example, Sir Thomas Smith’s 1560 “De Republica Anglorum”, which contains an impressive list of procedural rules and practices that, after more than 430 years, have barely changed. Quoted in Redlich, Vol. I, pp. 26-51.
Griffith and Ryle, p. 176.
Most notably theConstitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3, and the Union Act, 1840,R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 4.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 44. For more information on the election of the Speaker, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 45.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 46.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 48. For more information on the quorum, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 54. For more information, see Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.
R.S.C., 1985, Appendix II, No. 4, ss. XXXIII-IV, LVII.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.C.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 49. For more information on the casting vote, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.C.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 128. For more information on the oath taken by Members, see Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.
Constitutional Act, 1791, R.C.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3, ss. XXVIII-IX.
At the first sitting of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly on October 2, 1758, a Speaker was chosen as the first item of business before the Speech from the Throne was read (Votes of the House of Assembly, p. 1). This was repeated in the following legislature (Votes of the House of Assembly, July 1, 1861, p. 1). No formal constitution was conferred on the colony of Nova Scotia; the constitution was always considered as being derived from the terms of the Royal Commissions to the Governors (see Journals, 1883, Sessional Paper No. 70 (Provincial Charters) pp. 7-8).
Lower Canada Journals, December 18, 1792, pp. 10-4; Upper Canada Journals, September 17, 1792, p. 1.
Lower Canada Journals, January 11, 1793, pp. 86-90; Upper Canada Journals, September 18, 1792, p. 3.
Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 210.
R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 18. For more information on parliamentary privilege, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.
R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1. Major amendments to the Act were adopted in 1991. See S.C. 1991, c. 20.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 10.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 25.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 32.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 42.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 46.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 55.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 73.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 50. For further information on the Board, see Chapter 6, “The Physical and Administrative Setting”.
See, for example, Access to Information Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. A-1; Canada Elections Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-2; Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. 23; Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, R.S.C. c. E-3; International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act, S.C. 1988, c. 64; Official Languages Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. 31, (4th Supp.) and Referendum Act, S.C. 1992, c. 30.
The Standing Orders are found in Appendix 15, “Standing Orders of the House of Commons”.
The House adopted the following motion: “That until otherwise provided, the Rules, Regulations and Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly of the late Province of Canada, be those of this House” (Journals, November 7, 1867, p. 5, and Debates, November 6, 1867, p. 4). See also Journals, December 20, 1867, pp. 115-25, and Debates, December 20, 1867, p. 333, for the first written rules of the House of Commons.
See Province of Canada Debates, June 15, 1841, pp. 22-3, and June 19, 1841, pp. 72-81. An analysis of these rules confirms their Lower Canadian origin. See O’Brien, pp. 255-6. For a description on how the customs and practices of Upper and Lower Canada were transformed into constitutional provisions, see David Hoffman and Norman Ward, Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the House of Commons, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1970, pp. 2-20.
Lower Canada Journals, January 1793.
A comparative analysis of the rules of the various assemblies may be found in O’Brien, Table 6.1, pp. 439-45.
The first amendments to the written rules occurred as early as four months after the adoption of the first Standing Orders (Journals, March 19, 1868, p. 144).
For example, in reply to a point of order arguing that the motion “When shall the bill be read a second time?” was a votable motion, Speaker Fraser ruled that it would not be appropriate to apply to current practices what may well have been appropriate one hundred years ago (Debates, May 24, 1988, pp. 15706, 15719-23).
For example, a long-standing practice had been for the House to arrange for longer hours of sitting prior to the start of the summer adjournment in order to complete or advance its business. In 1982, this practice was codified by adopting Standing Orders for the extension of sitting hours during the last 10 days in June. See Standing Order 27.
There are two notable examples: First, when in December 1912, the government of Sir Robert Borden introduced a resolution on the Naval Aid Bill, it triggered one of the most bitter debates known to Parliament. After a particularly acrimonious two-week continuous sitting during a filibuster of the Bill early in 1913, the government brought forward a motion on April 9, 1913, to amend the Standing Orders. As a result of this incident, rules were adopted which, among other things, introduced closure. After an uncharacteristically long debate on the motion, the rules were adopted on April 23, 1913 (Journals, April 9, 1913, pp. 451-2; April 23, 1913, pp. 507-9; Debates, April 9, 1913, cols. 7388-414). Second, decades later, in what is known as the “Bell ringing” episode, changes were made to the Standing Orders in order to prevent a recurrence of the situation that took place in March 1982 when division bells were rung continuously for two weeks. For a detailed account of the political causes and procedural consequences of the Bell ringing episode, see Charles Robert, “Ringing in Reform: An Account of the Canadian Bells Episode of March 1982,” The Table, Vol. LI, 1983, pp. 46-53.
Standing Order 51. For an example of such a debate, see Debates, April 21, 1998, p. 5863. For more detailed information about this proceeding, see Chapter 15, “Special Debates”.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization, as it was first called, was created on December 20, 1968 (Journals, December 20, 1968, pp. 554-74). Up to that point, it had not been uncommon for the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker to sit on a special (or select) committee created to revise the rules or to chair such a committee. For example, Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie sat on such a select committee in 1876, as did Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1906 and 1909 (Journals, February 14, 1876, pp. 58-9; March 16, 1906, p. 61; December 14, 1909, p. 130). It was also common for the Prime Minister to take an active role in the process of amending the Standing Orders (see, for example, Journals, February 11, 1938, p. 60; September 18, 1945, p. 52).
Standing Order 108(3)(a)(iii).
See, for example, Journals, June 8, 1989, p. 340. On November 4, 1998, a report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning rule changes to Private Members’ Business was concurred in (Journals, p. 1238). The next day, a point of order was raised concerning the implementation of those recommendations. Speaker Parent ruled that certain recommendations contained in the report would be implemented immediately since they were matters of practice or administration, but that other recommendations required substantive amendments to the Standing Orders which involved technical interpretations. He stated that when the House pronounced itself on a specific text, the Chair would be governed accordingly (Debates, November 5, 1998, p. 9923). The House adopted such a motion to amend the Standing Orders on November 30, 1998 (Journals, pp. 1327-9).
See Speaker Fraser’s ruling, Debates, April 9, 1991, pp. 19236-7.
See, for example, the Special Committee on Procedure, Journals, September 24, 1968, pp. 67-8 (Committee established), and December 20, 1968, pp. 554-79 (Fourth and Fifth Reports concurred in), and the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, Journals, December 5, 1984, pp. 153-4 (Committee established), and June 27, 1985, pp. 903, 910-9 (amendments to Standing Orders adopted).
See, for example, Journals, June 27, 1985, pp. 910-9, and Debates, June 27, 1985, pp. 6325-7. This government motion, adopted by unanimous consent, was inspired by the First Report of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, presented on December 20, 1984 (Journals, p. 211).
See, for example, Journals, February 7, 1994, pp. 112-20; June 12, 1998, pp. 1027-8.
For examples of changes adopted by unanimous consent without debate, see Journals, October 10, 1997, p. 107; March 10, 1998, p. 549; and November 30, 1998, pp. 1327.
Examples include the adoption of the closure rule in 1913 (Journals, April 23, 1913, pp. 507-9), the time allocation provisions in 1969 (Journals, July 24, 1969, pp. 1393-1402) and a series of procedural changes in 1991 (Journals, April 11, 1991, pp. 2898-932). In the 1969 and 1991 examples, closure was imposed to bring the debate to an end and force a decision. In 1913, the previous question was moved, thus precluding amendments and limiting debate to the main motion.
See, for example, Journals, April 9, 1997, pp. 1366-8.
See Senate Journals, June 3, 1903, p. 156, and House of Commons Journals, June 11, 1903, p. 270; October 10, 1903, p. 644.
See, for example, Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400.
Speaking to a motion to adopt provisional Standing Orders in 1982, the President of the Privy Council summed up the nature of procedural reform: “I would like to invite all Members of Parliament to make this experiment a success and not to look for anomalies or weaknesses in this proposal, since it is not perfect as we recognize ourselves and as I think our friends opposite and the members of the Committee also recognize. The rules proposed to this House have weaknesses and unclear elements, and I believe that for a destructive mind, it would be very easy although childlish [sic] to prevent this experiment from being positive and successful. I therefore call on the intellectual honesty of all Members and I want to assure them of the sincerity of the Government in implementing the proposed changes so that this experiment can be a success and result in fact in permanent changes to which adjustments may be made” (Debates, November 29, 1982, pp. 21071-2).
As an example, from 1867 to 1876 the present Standing Order 23, concerning bribery in elections, was put forward at the beginning of each session as a Sessional Order, before finally becoming a permanent rule. See Debates, February 10, 1876, p. 3.
See, for example, Journals, February 2, 1994, p. 96.
Standing Order 86.1, concerning the reinstatement of private Members’ bills, adopted in November 1998, is essentially the same as the special order adopted in March 1996 (see Journals, March 4, 1996, pp. 34-5; November 30, 1998, pp. 1327-9).
Standing Order 53, for example, states: “In relation to any matter that the government considers to be of an urgent nature, a Minister of the Crown may, at any time when the Speaker is in the Chair, propose a motion to suspend any Standing or other Order of this House relating to the need for notice and to the hours and days of sitting.”
Typically, a motion seeking to circumvent the provisions of existing Standing Orders is worded thus: “That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of this House…” See, for example, Journals, June 22, 1994, p. 657; June 8, 1998, pp. 947-8; February 2, 1999, p. 1457.
Standing Order 71. See Journals, October 1, 1997, p. 56; November 24, 1997, p. 249; May 28, 1998, p. 902.
In June 1998, for example, the House adopted a Special Order to undo the provisions of a previously adopted Special Order and, in so doing, to revert to the provisions of the Standing Orders. The motion read: “That, notwithstanding the Special Order of Monday, February 9, 1998, the length of speeches and the rotation between parties during the consideration of the Business of Supply on Tuesday, June 9, 1998, shall be as provided in the Standing Orders and in the usual practice of the House in considering Government Orders” (Journals, June 8, 1998, p. 948).
Standing Order 56.1. For further information, see Chapter 14, “The Curtailment of Debate”.
Standing Order 10. The Canadian origins of this British-inspired rule can be traced back to the rules of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1793: “The Speaker shall preserve Order and Decorum, and shall decide Questions of Order, subject to an appeal to the House” and “When the Speaker is called upon to explain a point of order or practice, he is to state the rule applicable to the case, without argument or comment.”
While the totality of Speakers’ rulings from 1867 onward has not been compiled in any systematic way, a collection of selected decisions has been published for every Speaker since 1966. The collection includes Speakers Lamoureux, Jerome, Sauvé, Francis, Bosley and Fraser.
See, for example, Debates, March 1, 1966, pp. 1939-40; December 1, 1986, p. 1647; June 16, 1994, pp. 5437-40; March 16, 1998, pp. 4902-3.
See, for example, Debates, February 2, 1982, p. 14899; November 16, 1982, pp. 20702-3; October 12, 1983, pp. 27944-5.
See, for example, Debates, May 2, 1995, pp. 12072-4; April 23, 1998, pp. 6035-7; December 3, 1998, pp. 10826-31.
For further information, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
Standing Order 10.
See Chapter 7, “ The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
In 1987, in a ruling on the acceptability of a motion moved during Routine Proceedings, the Speaker ruled the motion in order but then went on to say that this ruling should not “be regarded as a precedent for all time, and that in other circumstances the Chair might well disallow such a motion” (Debates, April 14, 1987, pp. 5119-24). For other examples, see Debates, October 1, 1987, p. 9528; October 16, 1987, pp. 10091-2; March 14, 1988, p. 13685; February 17, 1999, p. 12046.
Debates, April 14, 1987, p. 5121.
In the 1781 preface to the first edition of his Collection of Precedents of the British Parliament, Hatsell wrote: “It is unnecessary again to put the Reader in mind, that this Work, as well as the former of “Cases of Privilege of Parliament,” are to be considered in no other light than as Indexes to refer him to the Journals at large, and to other Historical Records; from whence alone can be derived a perfect knowledge of the Law and Proceedings of Parliament” (Hatsell, p. v). Josef Redlich wrote: “It is no mere chance that the journals of the House began from the end of the sixteenth century to be compiled with increasing care and detail. It was the outcome of the anxiety of the Commons to maintain their practice in each individual case and, above all, to take care that precedents as to procedure and privilege were safeguarded against forgetfulness and preserved for future use” (Redlich, Vol. I, p. 44).
In a 1991 ruling, Speaker Fraser made that point abundantly clear: “The Speaker has no role in interpreting matters of either a constitutional or legal matter.” See Debates, April, 9, 1991, pp. 19233-4. See also, for example, Debates, July 8, 1969, p. 10955, and October 1, 1990, p. 13620.
While it is for the House to determine what constitutes a “good” rule, good procedure must be binding and “have mandatory effect on those persons or parties to which they apply”; must be “predictable and no business should be sprung on the House without adequate notice” and, finally, must be “clear and readily comprehensible by all those whom they effect, including those charged with their interpretation and enforcement” (Griffith and Ryle, pp. 172-4).
In a ruling concerning the use of Standing Order 39(6) which deals with written questions, Speaker Fraser suggested that the said Standing Order might have “survived so long unchanged because it had remained unused for the past 60 years; that its use in today’s context may not be what was intended; and that it no longer fits the conditions of the present House of Commons.” He went on to add that new elements “which were incorporated in the Standing Orders… have practically eliminated the kind of abuse” Standing Order 39(6) sought to address. See Debates, June 14, 1989, pp. 3023-6, and in particular p. 3025.
Over the last few years, for example, there have been a number of points of order and questions of privilege dealing with noted discrepancies between printed and electronic official records. In one case, the Speaker ruled that the difference between the printed and electronic Hansard was an editorial error and did not constitute a question of privilege, but also pointed out that because the larger issue of the status of the electronic Hansard had never been investigated, the issue warranted an examination by the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges and Procedure. See Debates, June 6, 1986, pp. 14055-6. The Speaker has also ruled on the use of cellular phones in the House (Debates, April 27, 1993, p. 18495).
Wilding and Laundy, p. 570.
Debates, November 6, 1986, p. 1153.
Often, by unanimous consent, the House agrees to proceed in a way which would otherwise be ruled inadmissible by the Speaker (see, for example, Debates, October 1, 1987, p. 9528; March 14, 1988, p. 13685). Occasionally, the Speaker may make a decision which breaks with past rulings but which is not to be regarded as a precedent (see, for example, Speaker Fraser’s ruling, Debates, April 14, 1987, pp. 5119-24, and in particular pp. 5120-2).
May distinguishes between modern and ancient pratice and describes in the following terms their relationship: “[T]he function of modern practice, besides that of applying… the rules of the ancient usage to changing conditions, is to supplement the standing orders and to harmonize them with each other and with the general body of practice” (May, 22nded., p. 5).
Soon after their establishment, the assemblies of both Lower and Upper Canada chose to be guided by British practice in unprovided cases. See Lower Canada Journals, December 22, 1792, p. 48, and January 16, 1793, p. 124, and Upper Canada Journals, June 22, 1802, p. 286.
With regard to American influence in Upper Canada, O’Brien explains: “Jefferson’s Manual, disguised as Thomson’s Manual, became the Assembly’s chief procedural texbook in 1828. The Speaker was not wigged, as in Britain: instead he wore a cocked hat.” Other examples of American influence include the use of pages in the Chamber, roll-call votes and desks for Members (O’Brien, p. 114, see also pp. 62-4 and 407-8). It is important to note that in 1793, when Lower Canada’s Assembly adopted 71 rules, the British House had a mere six Standing Orders dealing with public business, only one of which was adopted as is by the Lower Canadian Assembly. The rules were not copied from any one source, but rather were inspired by such authorities as Hatsell’s Precedents (British), Jefferson’s Manual (American) and Petyt’s Lex Parliamentaria (British) (see O’Brien, Chapter 3, note 40).
Until 1986, Standing Order 1 read as follows: “In all cases not provided for hereafter or by sessional or other orders, the usages and customs of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as in force at the time shall be followed so far as they may be applicable to this House.”
Standing Order 1.
Standing Order 1. In March 1998, in the course of ruling on a question of privilege, Speaker Parent stated: “I have looked carefully at practice here in the House of Commons and in other Canadian legislatures: in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom and in other Westminster-style Parliaments.” See Debates, March 16, 1998, p. 4902.
See Chapter 11, “Questions”.
The division of speaking time between two Members provides a good illustration of a practice which became a Standing Order without much intervention from the Speaker. See, for example, Debates, March 14, 1991, p. 18439. Standing Order 43(2) was adopted on April 11, 1991 (Journals, p. 2910).
See the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, Third Report, concurred in on May 7, 1964 (Journals, p. 297, and Debates, pp. 3007-10, particularly the comments of Stanley Knowles).
See Standing Order 44.1, which was adopted by the House on April 11, 1991 (Journals, pp. 2910-1). For historical information on the former practice of pairing, see Dawson, pp. 188-90.
Constitution Act, 1982, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 44, Part V.
Standing Order 1.

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.

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