House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 6. The Physical and Administrative Setting - Members' Offices


Members are accommodated mostly in suites of offices located in the Centre Block, East Block, West Block, Confederation Building and Justice Building. Ministers have offices on Parliament Hill as well as in their departments. Office space is assigned to Members in consultation with their party Whips. Members of parties not officially recognized in the House and Members with no party affiliation (usually referred to as independent Members) are allocated offices by the Speaker.[108]

At Confederation, the newly‑built Centre Block, or “Parliament Building” as it was then known, housed the entire Parliament of Canada. The East and West Blocks, or “departmental buildings”, were occupied by government departments and included offices for Cabinet Ministers. The Speaker was the only Member to have an office in the Centre Block. Members were provided with desks in the Chamber, lockers nearby, and facilities for dressing, reading and smoking; the nature of the Members’ work and the length of sessions were such that this was considered adequate to their needs.[109]

The Centre Block was designed for the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, which was composed of 130 members; at Confederation in 1867, it was required to house 181 Members of the House of Commons. By the 1880s, the basements and attics were fully utilized and parliamentarians demanded improvements in their accommodations. By 1916, the year in which fire destroyed the building, some Members were allocated private offices (i.e., the Speaker, Cabinet Ministers, leading Opposition Members); others shared rooms. Conditions for Members improved in the new Centre Block, though not to the extent of offering private offices for all.[110] Over the years, the membership of the House increased and so did Members’ requirements for space and staff, in line with the evolving role and worklife of Parliament and its elected representatives. Gradually, additional space became available as administrative services were moved to other locations, and as other buildings were converted for House of Commons use.[111]

[108] In 1991, Louis Plamondon (Richelieu), a Member of a non‑recognized party, raised a question of privilege about the reassignment of his office by the Speaker without his authorization. Speaker Fraser ruled that the Member’s complaint was an administrative rather than procedural matter (Debates, April 8, 1991, pp. 19126‑7; April 9, 1991, pp. 19232‑3; April 11, 1991, p. 19340). Prior to the opening of the Thirty‑Sixth Parliament in 1997, John Nunziata (York South–Weston), a former Member of a recognized party who had been re‑elected as an independent Member, was reassigned office space by the Speaker against his will.

[109] At that time, sessions of Parliament were on average well under six months in length. See Appendix 13, “Parliaments Since 1867 and Number of Sitting Days”.

[110] The original building had residences for the Speaker and Sergeant‑at‑Arms as well as modest living quarters for housekeepers, servants and messengers in the basement. The new building was two storeys higher and additional space was made available by eliminating the residences, though the Speaker retained a suite of rooms in order to offer the traditional hospitality. See Livermore, J.D., “A History of Parliamentary Accommodation in Canada, 1841‑1974”, published as Appendix III of the Report of the Advisory Commission on Parliamentary Accommodation, November 1976, tabled on December 17, 1976 (Journals, p. 254).

[111] The West Block was renovated and reopened for Members in 1963, and the Confederation Building in 1973. Since 1980, the East Block (which had always been used by the Prime Minister) has been used by other Members. Since 2001, office space has also been available to Members in the Justice Building.

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