House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 8. The Parliamentary Cycle - Recall of the House During an Adjournment


When the House stands adjourned during a session, the rules provide the means by which the House may be recalled prior to the date originally specified, to transact business as if it had been duly adjourned to the earlier date.[94] This process usually begins with a government request made in writing to the Speaker, setting out reasons why it is in the public interest to recall the House. The request may be made at any time.[95] The decision to recall is taken by the Speaker, after consultation with the government and once the Speaker is satisfied that the public interest would be served by an earlier meeting of the House.[96] The rule makes no reference to criteria other than the public interest. Should the Speaker be satisfied of the need for the recall, the rule further provides for the Speaker to give notice of the day and hour of the resumption of the session. Normally, the Speaker requests a period of time following the notice (the practice is a minimum of 48 hours) in which to notify Members individually and allow for their travel time. Depending on the circumstances, a Special Order Paper and Notice Paper (in addition to the regular Order Paper and Notice Paper) may be published at the request of the government.[97]

When a decision is taken to recall the House, the Speaker advises the Clerk of the House and asks that the necessary steps be taken to resume the session. Should the Speaker be unable to act due to illness or other reason, deputy presiding officers may act in the Speaker’s place for the purpose of this particular Standing Order. The Clerk then ensures that all is made ready for the resumption of the sittings.

House officials are responsible for the logistics of the recall, including informing the Members and publishing the Order Paper and Notice Paper (and a Special Order Paper and Notice Paper, if the government so requests).[98]

*   Historical Perspective

For the first 70 years after Confederation, the practice was to end a session of Parliament by prorogation rather than have a lengthy adjournment. In 1940, however, given the uncertainty of the wartime situation, it was deemed advisable to adjourn rather than to prorogue in order to enable the House to reconvene quickly if necessary. The House adopted a motion to adjourn which empowered the Speaker to recall the House if, after consultation with the government, it was concluded that it was in the public interest to do so.[99] Similar motions were adopted in subsequent sessions and became routine when the House adjourned for an extended period of time.

The first recall under these circumstances occurred in 1944 when the government wished to apprise the House of the situation arising from the resignation of the Minister of National Defence.[100] Several other recalls took place before 1982,[101] at which time the practice was codified by the adoption of a Standing Order worded similarly to the adjournment motions used before 1982.[102]

*   Cancelling Recall Order

No mechanism exists to cancel an order to recall the House. However, on one occasion, after receiving such a request from all the recognized parties in the House, the Speaker issued a formal statement in which he cancelled an earlier notice for recall. The original notice was given on June 26, 1992 for the House to meet on July 15, 1992; the notice of cancellation was given on July 11, 1992, and tabled on September 8, 1992, at which time the Speaker made a statement to the House.[103]

*   Order of Business upon Resumption of Sitting

When the House reassembles following a recall, the Speaker informs the House of the reason for the recall, the various steps taken to effect the recall and, if a Special Order Paper and Notice Paper was requested by the government, the steps taken for its publication and circulation.[104] Since 1980, the Speaker has also tabled correspondence received from the government concerning the recall.[105]

A recall has no effect on the ordinary daily order of business of the House. When the House first meets following a recall, Routine Proceedings, Question Period and other proceedings are all held in the usual manner depending on the time of meeting of the House, which is set out in the notice of recall.[106] Unless a motion to adjourn to a later date is adopted, or the session is ended by prorogation, the House merely continues on subsequent days with its regular sittings as if it had been adjourned to the recall date. In such cases, the House may well operate outside the calendar for some time, as it did in 1987 when the House was recalled in early August and did not again adjourn for an extended period until the December break, which was in accordance with the calendar.[107]

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[94] Standing Order 28(3). See also Appendix 14, “Recalls of the House of Commons During Adjournment Periods Since 1867”.

[95] In 1991, for example, the letter requesting the January recall was dated Saturday, January 12, 1991 (Journals, January 15, 1991, p. 2556).

[96] See, for example, Journals, September 8, 1992, p. 1924. On July 3, 1987, the government requested a recall, citing pressing legislation then in the Senate. The House was not recalled; it was reported that the government and the Senate were pursuing an agreement on the handling of the bills in question. On August 7, 1987, citing different reasons, the government again requested a recall; the Speaker granted the request and the House was recalled on August 11 (Journals, p. 1308). During the 1991 crisis in the Persian Gulf, the House adopted a motion allowing two of its standing committees to request that the Speaker recall the House, with Standing Order 28(3) temporarily modified to provide for a 12‑hour notice (Journals, January 21, 1991, pp. 2587‑8).

[97] Standing Order 55.

[98] A message is sent to all Members over the Speaker’s signature advising of the date and time of the recall. Since 1986, these messages have been sent via electronic mail. See, for example, Debates, July 24, 1986, p. 15011; Journals, January 15, 1991, p. 2556. Prior to this, telegrams were used. See, for example, Debates, November 22, 1944, p. 6504; August 9, 1977, p. 8129. In cases where special transportation arrangements are required, House officials may work with the Department of National Defence and will include in the notice to Members details of routing and scheduling of aircraft. In 1977, for example, travel by military aircraft was arranged when the House was recalled due to a nation‑wide strike which had the effect of closing down the commercial air transportation industry.

The party Whips’ offices are also notified of the recall and of any special transportation arrangements. As well, the necessary steps are taken to ensure that Members travelling on parliamentary business at the time of a recall are informed of the recall and provided assistance in returning to Ottawa.

In the past, a notice of recall was published over the Speaker’s signature in a special or “extra” edition of the Canada Gazette. There is no statutory requirement for this measure and the practice was abandoned with the recall of February 1991.

[99] Journals, August 3, 1940, p. 325.

[100] Journals, November 22, 1944, p. 921. See also Debates, November 22, 1944, p. 6505. The recall of 1944 was the first to take place pursuant to an Order of the House.

[101] Recalls from adjournment took place in 1951, 1966, 1972, 1973, 1977 and 1980.

[102] Standing Order 28(3). See Third Report of the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure, presented to the House on November 5, 1982 (Journals, p. 5328), p. 12. The Standing Order came into effect on December 22, 1982 (Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400). The House was later recalled pursuant to Standing Order 28(3) in 1986, 1987, 1991 (twice) and 1992. See Appendix 14 for a list of recalls and the reasons for the recalls.

[103] Journals, September 8, 1992, p. 1924, Debates, p. 12709.

[104] See, for example, Debates, November 22, 1944, p. 6504; January 29, 1951, p. 755; August 30, 1973, p. 6059; January 15, 1991, p. 16981.

[105] Journals, October 6, 1980, p. 504; July 24, 1986, p. 2474; August 11, 1987, p. 1308; January 15, 1991, p. 2556; February 25, 1991, p. 2602; September 8, 1992, p. 1924.

[106] On Mondays, for example, the usual time of meeting is 11:00 a.m. (Standing Order 24(1)); when the House was recalled at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, February 25, 1991, the Speaker made the usual statement as to the recall, and the House proceeded with the daily program for Monday afternoon as set out in the Standing Orders (Journals, February 25, 1991, pp. 2602‑21).

[107] Journals, August 11, 1987, p. 1308; December 18, 1987, pp. 2018‑9.

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