House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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


The House of Commons calendar sets out a schedule of adjournments of a week or more and thereby provides for sittings, or sitting periods, throughout the year.[66] It comes into effect at the beginning of a session; in other words, the government is not bound by the Standing Orders in considering plans for the timing and length of sessions.[67] The calendar works in conjunction with other Standing Orders providing for daily meeting and adjournment times,[68] and setting out certain days when the House does not sit, most of the days in question being statutory holidays or days deemed to be non‑sitting days.[69]

*   Historical Perspective

In late 1982, the House agreed for the first time to operate under a fixed calendar specifying exactly when longer adjournments would take place and thereby when the House would sit during a session.[70] For much of its history, however, the House operated differently. There were no written rules specifying when the House would not sit. If the House wished to adjourn for a period of time during a session, it was necessary to adopt a special adjournment motion, even for a statutory holiday.[71]

Until 1940, sessions tended to be short, beginning in January or February and ending in May or June of the same calendar year. During World War II, the burden of government business grew and session length increased; a pattern of long and irregularly timed sessions established itself.[72]

In 1964, the House adopted a Standing Order specifying certain days (mainly statutory holidays) during a session when the House would not sit.[73] Despite this, sessions continued to be long and adjournments and prorogations unpredictably timed.

The notion of scheduled adjournments again came to the fore in the early 1980s when the motion to adjourn for the summer became the occasion for extended and rancorous debate.[74] In November 1982, in accordance with recommendations of a special procedure committee (the Lefebvre Committee), the House adopted a series of measures intended to better organize the time of the House and of Members who, along with responsibilities in the Chamber, were occupied with work in committees and in their constituencies. Chief among the measures was the House calendar, providing for the first time a fixed schedule of sittings and adjournments for the House and adding some degree of predictability to the scheduling of sitting and non‑sitting periods.[75]

The calendar adopted in 1982 divided the session into three parts (assuming the House to be in session through an entire calendar year), separated by adjournments at Christmas, Easter and the summer months. Since the implementation of the calendar in 1982, there have been some modifications. The Christmas and summer adjournments were extended slightly in 1991 and, within the three main sitting periods, additional brief adjournments were added in 1983 and 1991.[76] These are for the most part clustered around existing statutory holidays observed by the House, with the result that each trimester is further broken down into two to three sitting periods. In 2001, further changes were made to the calendar to allow for adjournment periods to coincide with spring breaks for schools across the country.[77]

*   Sitting and Non-sitting Periods

The House calendar as it appears in the Standing Orders, reproduced in Figure 8.2 below, sets out the pattern of adjournments and thereby sittings during a calendar year.[78] Each adjournment begins at the end of the sitting on the days listed in column A. If such a sitting carries over to another day, the adjournment would still begin at the end of the sitting. In each case, the session resumes on the corresponding day listed in column B. In order for the adjournment provisions to take effect, the House must sit on the day listed in column A, unless special arrangements are previously agreed to by the House.[79]

The House may be recalled, or Parliament may be summoned for the opening of a new session, during what would normally be an adjournment period. The House would then transact its business in the usual way and, unless a special adjournment motion were adopted, would continue to sit during the remaining days of that adjournment period and into the following sitting period as set out in the calendar. The next adjournment period would then begin at the end of that sitting period as specified in column A.


When the House meets on a day, or sits after the normal meeting hour on a day, set out in column A, and then adjourns, it shall stand adjourned to the day set out in column B.




The Friday preceding Thanksgiving Day.

The second Monday following that Friday.

The Friday preceding Remembrance Day.

The second Monday following that Friday.

The second Friday preceding Christmas Day.

The last Monday in January.

The Friday preceding the week marking the mid-way point between the Monday following Easter Monday and June 23.

The second Monday following that Friday or, if that Monday is the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, on the Tuesday following that Monday.

June23 or the Friday preceding if June23 falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or a Monday.

The second Monday following Labour Day.


The House meets five days per week, from Monday to Friday.[80] Assuming that the House is in continuous session for the full calendar year, the calendar provides for about 135 sitting days, with two prolonged adjournment periods: one following the June adjournment and another following the Christmas adjournment. Additional adjournments are scheduled typically in March to coincide with spring breaks in various school districts across the country. The timing of the spring break weeks is adjusted on an annual basis in order to accommodate the varied timing of school holidays in different areas of the country. The Speaker is given the discretion to adjust the calendar, after consultation with the House Leaders, and is required to table the calendar for the upcoming year by September 30 of the preceding year.[81] In addition, the calendar generally provides for at least one week per month, and occasionally two weeks, whereby Members can return to their constituencies.

Although the span of time in which the House has operated under the fixed calendar is relatively brief, since its institution, the calendar has enjoyed an appreciable level of compliance. Nevertheless, there have been departures from the calendar. The royal prerogatives of prorogation and dissolution, for example, are not in any way compromised by the existence of the House calendar. In addition, the House has been recalled on occasion during an adjournment.[82] The House has also agreed to vary the calendar, both by unanimous consent[83] and by the adoption of a motion following notice and debate.[84]

*   Statutory Holidays and Other Non-sitting Days

The Standing Orders provide for nine days during the calendar year when the House does not sit: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, St. John the Baptist Day, Dominion Day (known today as Canada Day),[85] Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day.[86] All, except St. John the Baptist Day, are statutory holidays as defined by the Interpretation Act.[87] The Standing Orders further provide that when St. John the Baptist Day and Canada Day fall on Tuesday, the House does not sit on the preceding day; similarly, when they fall on Thursday, the House does not sit on the following day.[88] Since these non‑sitting days typically fall within periods of long adjournments, this provision rarely comes into play. It would, of course, come into play if the House were to meet outside the House calendar.

The House typically agrees by unanimous consent not to sit on certain days in order to accommodate Members who wish to attend a policy or leadership convention of their political party.[89] The House has also not sat when informed of the death of a Member[90] or to attend a funeral of a Member or former Member.[91]

*   Exception to the Calendar

From time to time, the House may be called to reassemble during an adjournment period, pursuant to the calendar, for the sole purpose of participating in the ceremony granting Royal Assent to a bill or bills.[92] Whether a quorum exists or not, the Speaker, duly advised in advance, takes the Chair and the Usher of the Black Rod arrives with a message requesting the attendance of the Members in the Senate. Following the ceremony, the Speaker returns to the House, informs the Members that Royal Assent has been granted, and then immediately adjourns the House.[93]

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[66] Standing Order 28(2).

[67] In 1986, Parliament was prorogued on August 28 and the new session opened on September 30, some three weeks after the date provided in that year’s calendar for the resumption of sittings. The First Session of the Thirty-Ninth Parliament began on April 3, 2006, two weeks after the date indicated in the calendar as the beginning of the spring period. The First Session was prorogued on September 14, 2007, three days before the House was to resume its fall sittings as provided in the calendar. The Second Session opened one month later on Tuesday, October 16, 2007.

[68] Standing Order 24.

[69] Standing Order 28(1).

[70] Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400.

[71] See, for example, Journals, March 19, 1894, p. 15, Debates, cols. 78‑9 (adjournment over Easter).

[72] For session dates, see Appendix 13, “Parliaments Since 1867 and Number of Sitting Days”. In 1947, responding to “complaints … that protracted sessions of Parliament are caused by deficiencies in the rules of procedure …”, Speaker Fauteux put forward a Report on Procedure containing (among other items) a suggestion that sessions be divided into three sections, or sitting periods (Journals, December 5, 1947, pp. 7, 24‑5). This recommendation was not acted on, nor were later proposals of a similar nature. See Appendix “J” to the Report of the Sub‑Committee on the Use of Time, Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, September 30, 1976, Issue No. 20, pp. 53‑5. See also the document entitled “Position Paper: The Reform of Parliament”, tabled on November 23, 1979 (Journals, p. 260), pp. 4‑5.

[73] Journals, October 9, 1964, pp. 780‑1.

[74] Journals, July 18, 1980, p. 488; July 21, 1980, pp. 492‑5; July 22, 1980, pp. 498‑9; July 10, 1981, pp. 2848‑50; July 16, 1981, pp. 2864‑5 (notice of closure); July 17, 1981, pp. 2868‑71.

[75] See Part II of the Third Report of the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure, presented to the House on November 5, 1982 (Journals, p. 5328). The recommendations were adopted on November 29, 1982 (Journals, p. 5400). For an example of comments on the anticipated effect of the new calendar, see Debates, November 29, 1982, p. 21069. See also certain interventions in the Debates of June 1988, when the government sought to move a motion proposing the temporary suspension of certain Standing Orders, including the calendar (Debates, June 9, 1988, pp. 16296‑7, 16301; June 10, 1988, pp. 16322‑3; June 13, 1988, pp. 16379 (Speaker’s ruling), 16389; June 20, 1988, p. 16626).

[76] Journals, December 19, 1983, pp. 55‑6 (see also the First Report of the Special Committee on Standing Orders, presented to the House on December 15, 1983 (Journals, p. 47)); April 11, 1991, pp. 2902‑7. Longer sitting days compensated for House time lost due to more frequent adjournment periods.

[77] Journals, May 15, 2001, pp. 413‑4.

[78] Standing Order 28(2).

[79] See, for example, Journals, April 21, 1994, p. 380; October 5, 2004, p. 13; December 13, 2006, p. 914.

[80] Standing Order 24(1). Weekend sittings take place infrequently and in unusual circumstances; for example in 1995, pursuant to Special Order, the House met on Saturday and Sunday to consider back‑to‑work legislation (Journals, March 23, 1995, p. 1265).

[81] Standing Order 28(2)(b). See, for example, Journals, September 30, 2005, p. 1068. In 2007, the Chief Government Whip tabled a proposed calendar for 2008 by unanimous consent. The proposed calendar was subsequently adopted (Journals, October 24, 2007, p. 55, Debates, p. 326). In 2008, the Speaker tabled the calendar on November 25, the sixth sitting day of the Fortieth Parliament (Journals, p. 37).

[82] Standing Order 28(3). For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Recall of the House During an Adjournment”.

[83] See, for example, Journals, December 10, 1991, pp. 909‑10; May 17, 2007, p. 1420.

[84] See, for example, Journals, June 20, 1988, pp. 2925‑7; June 23, 2005, pp. 976‑80; April 4, 2006, pp. 12‑3. In the 1988 case, following the appearance of the government’s notice of a motion to suspend the operation of certain Standing Orders—including the House calendar—points of order were raised as to the admissibility of the motion and as to whether or not unanimous consent was needed to suspend the Standing Orders. Speaker Fraser ruled the motion to be admissible and that the suspension of the Standing Orders required a simple majority (Debates, June 13, 1988, pp. 16376‑9).

[85] An Act to make the first day of July a Public Holiday, by the name of Dominion Day, S.C. 1879, c. 47. Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day in an amendment to the Holidays Act (S.C. 1980‑83, c. 124), assented to October 27, 1982 (Journals, p. 5288).

[86] Standing Order 28(1). For most of its history, the House had no written rule identifying days during a session when it would not meet. This gave rise to a practice of irregular—if not haphazard—adjournments, mainly for the observance of statutory holidays. The question of whether or not the House would adjourn on a particular day was dependent on such variables as the length and timing of sessions, on the calendar, and, in part, on the developing statutory provisions for legal holidays and observances. In the absence of any written rule, the House tended to make its own decisions with regard to statutory or non‑statutory holiday observances. For example, although Canada Day (formerly Dominion Day) has been a statutory holiday since 1879, this has not prevented the House from sitting on that day. See Journals, July 1, 1891, 1919, 1931, 1947, 1958 and 1961. In 1964, the Standing Orders were amended to include a list of the days on which the House would not sit during a session (Journals, October 9, 1964, pp. 780‑1).

[87] R.S. 1985, c. I‑21.

[88] Standing Order 28(1).

[89] See, for example, Journals, January 11, 1958, p. 337, Debates, p. 3187; Journals, October 27, 1977, p. 42, Debates, p. 324; Journals, June 7, 1993, p. 3136, Debates, p. 20462; Journals, February 17, 1998, p. 497, Debates, p. 4033; Debates, February 26, 1998, pp. 4505, 4512‑3; Journals, May 6, 2003, p. 745; Debates, May 29, 2003, pp. 6673‑4; Journals, November 9, 2006, p. 673; Debates, November 29, 2006, p. 5521.

[90] In the early post‑Confederation years, the House adjourned for the day when informed of the death of a sitting Member during the session; by the late nineteenth century this practice had all but disappeared (Bourinot, 4th ed., pp. 211‑2). See also Debates, June 3, 1872, cols. 947‑9, concerning the evolution of the practice. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was accepted practice that an adjournment for the remainder of the day would take place when news of the death of a sitting Member reached the House in the course of the sitting. For example, in 1976 when evening sittings were routine, a Member died at “supper hour”, and when the House reconvened, a motion to adjourn was immediately moved and adopted (Journals, December 16, 1976, p. 251, Debates, pp. 2088‑9). In 1998, a Member collapsed during a sitting of the House and the Speaker suspended the sitting. The Member having been transported to hospital, the Speaker adjourned the sitting with the unanimous consent of the House (Journals, December 9, 1998, p. 1430, Debates, p. 11122). The following day, spokespersons of each party paid tribute to the Member who had subsequently died, the sitting was suspended for 15 minutes and then the House proceeded to Routine Proceedings. Upon the completion of Routine Proceedings, the House adjourned out of respect for the Member (Journals, December 10, 1998, p. 1438, Debates, pp. 11123-6, 11134).

[91] In 1989, the House adopted a Special Order to suspend the sitting on the day of Jean‑Claude Malépart’s (Sainte‑Marie) funeral in order to allow Members to attend his funeral (Journals, November 20, 1989, p. 853; November 21, 1989, p. 862). The House also adopted a motion on September 29, 2000, to adjourn on the occasion of the state funeral for former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Debates, p. 8845).

[92] Standing Order 28(4). The rule, which was adopted on June 10, 1994, codifies a pre‑existing practice whereby the House would adopt an order enabling it to reconvene for the sole purpose of granting Royal Assent. See, for example, Journals, June 23, 1992, pp. 1833‑4. Since the passage of the Royal Assent Act (S.C. 2002, c. 15) which provides the option of granting Royal Assent by written declaration (as opposed to by the traditional ceremony), the House has been recalled only twice from an adjournment for a Royal Assent ceremony (Debates, December 15, 2004, p. 2817; June 22, 2007, pp. 10943‑4). See also Journals, June 20, 2007, p. 1581. For further information, see Chapter 16, “The Legislative Process”.

[93] See, for example, Journals, June 29, 2000, pp. 1899‑902; June 22, 2007, pp. 1583‑5.

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