Start of content

House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 21. Private Members' Business - Private Members' Motions


Private Members’ motions are used to introduce a wide range of issues and are framed either as orders or resolutions, depending on their intent.[78] Motions attempting to make a declaration of opinion or purpose, without ordering or requiring a particular course of action, are considered resolutions.[79] Hence, such motions which simply suggest that the government initiate a certain measure are generally phrased as follows: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider …”. The government is not bound to adopt a specific policy or course of action as a result of the adoption of such a resolution since the House is only stating an opinion or making a declaration of purpose.[80] This is in contrast to those motions whose object is to give a direction to committees, Members or officers of the House or to regulate House proceedings and, as such, are considered Orders once adopted by the House.[81]

No motion sponsored by a Member who is not a Minister can contain provisions for either raising revenue or spending funds, unless it is worded in terms which only suggest that course of action to the government. As an alternative to a bill which might require a royal recommendation obtained only by a Minister, a private Member may choose to move a motion proposing the expenditure of public funds, provided that the terms of the motion only suggest this course of action to the government without ordering or requiring it to do so.[82] Such a motion is normally phrased so to ask the government to “consider the advisability of …”.

*   Notice

Private Members must provide at least 48 hours’ notice of their intention to move a motion.[83] Notice of a private Member’s motion appears on the Notice Paper for the date on which notice is given and is transferred afterwards to the list of “Private Members’ Business—Items Outside the Order of Precedence” which may be consulted at the Table in the Chamber or on the electronic version of the Order Paper. The sponsoring Member can move the motion only if the item has been placed in the Order of Precedence. When a Member on the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business is about to be eligible to bring forward an item of Private Members’ Business for debate, if that item is to be a motion, then in order to be placed in the Order of Precedence when it is created or replenished, the motion must be placed on notice no later than the day on which the Order of Precedence is created or replenished.[84]

*   Similar Items

If a Member submits notice of a motion which the Speaker judges to be substantially the same as an item already submitted, the Speaker has the power to refuse the most recent notice, to so inform the Member sponsoring it and to return the motion to him or her.[85]

*   Seconders

A Member who wishes to support a motion already appearing on the Order Paper may second that motion by indicating in writing to the Clerk of the House his or her desire to do so.[86] A motion may have up to 20 seconders. The names of these seconders are listed with the motion on the Order Paper. Once the motion has been proposed to the House, no additional names may be appended.[87] The Member who seconds the motion in the House need not be one of the seconders listed on the Order Paper.

[78] Private Members’ motions can also propose constitutional amendments. See, for example, Motion M‑194 which proposed an amendment to the Constitution Act to remove the power of the Crown to disallow acts of Parliament (Journals, February 15, 2005, pp. 438‑9).

[79] For examples of motions as resolutions, see Journals, June 15, 1994, pp. 592‑3 (M‑89 concerning non‑confidence motions); May 31, 2000, pp. 1768‑9 (M‑30 concerning reform of international organizations); March 24, 2004, pp. 209‑10 (M‑136 concerning management of the Grand Banks); October 26, 2004, p. 142 (M‑156 concerning elections in Ukraine); April 22, 2005, p. 674 (M‑170 concerning Alzheimer’s disease); October 26, 2005, pp. 1209‑11 (M‑153 concerning firefighters); February 22, 2007, p. 1061 (M‑153 concerning trafficking of women and children); March 28, 2007, pp. 1179‑80 (M‑244 concerning Canada’s military personnel); April 18, 2007, pp. 1231‑3 (M‑158 concerning assistance to the textile industry). See also Speakers’ rulings on Motion M‑266 requesting a conference with the Senate (Debates, June 18, 1996, pp. 3981‑2); on Motion M‑1 containing allegations of contempt against another Member (Debates, June 18, 1996, pp. 4028‑31; June 20, 1996, pp. 4183‑4); and on Motion M‑479, the wording of which originally instructed a committee to prepare and bring in a bill, but was changed into a resolution (Debates, March 22, 2004, p. 1477).

[80] Although the government may not be bound by only an expression of opinion, the adoption of such motions carries the weight of a decision of the House. In the latter half of the 1980s, three statues were erected on Parliament Hill as a result of the adoption of private Members’ motions which were framed as resolutions. See Journals, February 28, 1985, p. 340 (John G. Diefenbaker); February 10, 1987, p. 469 (Lester B. Pearson); March 22, 1988, p. 2320 (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). On October 26, 2005, the adoption of Motion M‑153 concerning firefighters who had died in the line of duty and calling for the creation of a memorial led to a government commitment to create a monument to honour Canadian firefighters (see Journals, October 26, 2005, pp. 1209‑11, and the news release entitled “Government of Canada Supports Creation of Monument to Canadian Firefighters”, Canadian Heritage, October 26, 2005).

[81] For examples of motions framed as orders, see Journals, April 9, 1997, p. 1366 (M‑267 amending the Standing Orders of the House); February 7, 2003, pp. 387‑8 (M‑192 creating an order of reference to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to study solicitation laws); October 1, 2003, p. 1077 (M‑288 creating an order of reference to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to study the appointment of judges); June 22, 2005, pp. 966‑8 (M‑228 committing the House to adopt an institutional symbol); April 18, 2007, pp. 1233‑5 (M‑243 creating an order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study levels of financial support for persons with disabilities).

[82] See, for example, Motion M‑555 which proposed the restoration of funding for the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and which was adopted on April 23, 1990 (Journals, p. 1572), and M‑322 which proposed the restoration of funding for the Court Challenges Program (Order Paper and Notice Paper, April 20, 2007, p. v).

[83] Standing Order 54(1).

[84] Standing Order 87(1)(c)(i).

[85] Standing Order 86(4). In 1961, discussion arose in the House on whether a private Member’s motion which was similar to two private Members’ bills could be debated. Although the Speaker expressed strong reservations that it not become a precedent, debate was allowed to proceed (Journals, January 23, 1961, pp. 176‑7). In another instance, the Speaker ruled that the House can debate a motion which is similar in substance to a bill already decided upon in the same session since it is unlikely that a bill and motion could substantially raise the same question when the motion is merely affirming the desirability of legislation while the bill is likely to contain qualifying provisions and conditions (Debates, May 29, 1984, pp. 4175‑6). In 1985, prior to the consideration of a motion similar to a bill which had been adopted at second reading and referred to a standing committee, the Chair cautioned Members to refrain from speaking about the provisions of the bill or the committee’s deliberations during debate on the motion (Debates, April 18, 1985, p. 3884). In 1992, a Member rose on a point of order to argue the redundancy of debate on a private Member’s motion which was similar to the subject matter of a government bill that had been referred to a special committee for pre‑study. The Chair ruled that the two items were not identical and that since the motion was a non‑votable item, debate could proceed. In closing, the Chair remarked that “a Member’s legitimate right to present a motion could be weakened by or violated by an overly strict interpretation of the rule which forbids discussing a bill that is already being considered in committee” (Debates, April 1, 1992, pp. 9204‑6, 9208‑9).

[86] Standing Order 86(2).

[87] Standing Order 86(3). Occasionally, by unanimous consent, more than one Member has been permitted to second a private Member’s motion when it is moved in the House. See, for example, Journals, June 12, 2001, p. 537; April 30, 2003, pp. 717-8.

Top of Page