House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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14. The Curtailment of Debate

Suspension of Standing Orders for Matter of Urgent Nature

When a situation arises that the government considers urgent, a Minister may move that the House suspend certain Standing Orders respecting notice requirements and the times of sitting in connection with that matter. [146]  For example, motion can be used to waive notice for the introduction of a bill or for any stage at which a notice is required. [147]  In moving the motion, the Minister gives reasons for the urgency of the situation and, after the motion has been seconded, the Speaker immediately proposes the question. [148]  In doing so, the Speaker may allow up to one hour of uninterrupted debate. [149]  Speeches are limited to 10 minutes each and no amendment is allowed except by another Minister. When putting the question, the Speaker is bound to ask those Members opposed to rise. If fewer than 10 do so, the motion is automatically adopted; [150]  if 10 or more do so, it is deemed to have been withdrawn. [151]  The resulting order, if the motion is adopted, applies only to the proceedings specified in that order.

This Standing Order is relatively recent and has been invoked infrequently since its adoption in 1968. The reasons for its establishment go back to 1964, when Prime Minister Pearson moved a motion, without notice, to send a Canadian peacekeeping force to Cyprus. Although the motion appeared to have the overall support of the House, some Members objected to the lack of notice. They argued that 48 hours’ advance warning was required before such an important matter could be discussed. Stating that the Prime Minister had obtained “leave”, the Deputy Speaker dismissed the objections and allowed the House to proceed with the motion. [152] 

Then, in 1966, when the House was asked to deal urgently with a strike by air traffic controllers, the Minister of Public Works suggested a procedural mechanism for the government to deal with urgent matters. As he explained, “ … a private member has a right to move the adjournment of the house to consider a matter of urgent public importance… . It is a curious anomaly that there is no corresponding provision enabling the government to bring any proceedings relating to the same matter before the house without notice.” [153]  Although opposition Members felt action was required, in the end, the Minister’s proposal was withdrawn. [154] 

When the present rule was agreed to two years later in 1968, it was evident from its wording that the events of 1966 had been taken into account. Indeed, the new rule was similar to the one proposed in 1966. In suggesting the addition of the rule, the Special Committee on Procedure wrote: “ … it seems reasonable to expect that the normal requirement of a notice of motion … might be dispensed with for the purpose of dealing with matters of urgency when the overwhelming majority of the House recognizes that it would be desirable to do so. It seems intolerable … that a single dissenting voice should be permitted to frustrate the otherwise unanimous will of the House… .” [155]  The rule has not been altered except for minor gender reference changes in 1982.

While intended to be used to waive notice requirements and set times of sitting, this Standing Order has been used to outline terms of debate in a manner that resembles time allocation. [156] 

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