House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 8. The Parliamentary Cycle - Contents and Introduction

8. The Parliamentary Cycle


*      Parliament

*      Session

*      Sitting

*      Adjournment

*      House of Commons Calendar

*      Prorogation

*      Recess

*      Dissolution



*    Summoning Parliament

*    Proceedings on Opening Day of a Parliament

Members Sworn In

Election of the Speaker

Presentation of the Speaker to the Governor General

*    Opening of a Session

Opened by the Sovereign

Opened by the Governor General

Opened by the Administrator

*    Speech from the Throne and Subsequent Proceedings in the House

Routine Opening Day Motions and Announcements

*    Special Sessions

Figure 8.1    Sessions Identified as “Special” in House of Commons Debates or Journals



*    Historical Perspective

*    Sitting and Non‑sitting Periods

Figure 8.2    The House of Commons Calendar (Standing Order 28(2))

*    Statutory Holidays and Other Non‑sitting Days

*    Exception to the Calendar



*    Historical Perspective

*    Cancelling Recall Order

*    Order of Business upon Resumption of Sitting




*    Prorogation

Effects of Prorogation

*    Dissolution

Effects of Dissolution

Expiration of the House of Commons

Extension of Life of the House of Commons


I believe [the House calendar] has been responsible for bringing order to our proceedings and has encouraged and fostered negotiation and compromise between the Parties in the days leading up to the automatic adjournments. Without that co‑operation and constant negotiation and compromise, our system of government ceases to operate smoothly.

Speaker John A. Fraser

(Debates, June 13, 1988, p. 16379)

The life cycle of a Parliament is regulated by constitutional provisions, statute and the Standing Orders. The most fundamental of these are the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, which provide first, that only the Crown may “summon and call together the House of Commons”;[1] second, that subject to a dissolution, five years is the maximum lifespan of the House between general elections;[2] and third, that “there be a sitting of Parliament at least once every twelve months”.[3] At the same time, the Canada Elections Act stipulates that a general election must be held on the third Monday in October “in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election” unless Parliament was dissolved at an earlier date.[4]

Moreover, the financial requirements of the government render a meeting of Parliament every year a practical necessity for the annual granting of supply by Parliament for a fiscal year (April 1 of one year to March 31 of the following year).[5] As such, the date selected for the opening of each new Parliament following a general election and of each new session within a Parliament, can and does vary—within constitutional limitations—according to the political and financial priorities of the government.

Against this backdrop, the Standing Orders of the House provide for a pre‑determined annual calendar of sittings, known as the House calendar, which applies only when the House is in session.[6] In this way, within each session, the days on which the House is likely to meet are known long in advance, allowing for a more orderly planning of House business.

The present chapter focuses on the life of a Parliament and its sessions; namely, the opening and closing of a Parliament and a session, and the sitting and non‑sitting periods within a session, as determined by the House calendar.

[1] Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 38.

[2] Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 50; Constitution Act, 1982, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 44, s. 4(1).

[3] Constitution Act, 1982, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 44, s. 5.

[4] This provision for fixed elections at the federal level was incorporated into the Canada Elections Act (S.C. 2000, c. 9) as section 56.1 when Bill C‑16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, received Royal Assent on May 3, 2007. See S.C. 2007, c. 10, s. 1. If the third Monday in October is not suitable (for cultural, religious or other reasons), the Chief Electoral Officer may recommend another date to the Governor in Council (s. 56.2). If an election had not been called beforehand, the first election to be held pursuant to section 56.1 was scheduled for Monday, October 19, 2009 (s. 56.1(2)). However, the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament was dissolved on September 7, 2008, and Tuesday, October 14, 2008, was set as polling day.

[5] Section 53 of the Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, and Standing Order 80(1) stipulate that all financial legislation must originate in the House of Commons. The fiscal year is defined in the Financial Administration Act, R.S. 1985, c. F‑11, s. 2. For further information on the complex procedures and practices surrounding financial matters, see Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.

[6] Standing Order 28(2). The government is not bound to adhere to the calendar when deciding on the opening of a new Parliament. For example, the Thirty‑Eighth Parliament opened on October 4, 2004, and the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament opened on April 3, 2006, in each case two weeks after the House would normally be in session according to the House of Commons calendar in effect at the time.

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