House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 18. Financial Procedures - Governor General's Special Warrants


In special circumstances, the Financial Administration Act allows the Governor in Council to ask the Governor General to issue a Special Warrant[372] permitting the government to make charges on the Consolidated Revenue Fund, not otherwise authorized by Parliament, provided that the following conditions are met:[373]

*       Parliament is dissolved;

*       a Minister has reported that an expenditure is urgently required for the public good; and

*       the President of the Treasury Board has reported that there is no appropriation for the payment.

This provision of the Act makes it possible for the government to continue its work during a dissolution. Special Warrants may be used only from the date of dissolution until 60 days following the date fixed for the return of the writs after a general election. Furthermore, no Special Warrants may be issued during that period if Parliament stands prorogued.[374]

The Financial Administration Act requires that every Special Warrant be published in the Canada Gazette within 30 days of its issue. A list of the amount authorized under such a warrant must also be tabled in the House within 15 days of the opening of the next session of Parliament.[375] Because a Special Warrant is deemed to be an appropriation for the fiscal year in which it is issued, authorization must be included retroactively in the first appropriation act passed in that session.[376]

[372] It is important to differentiate between Governor General’s Warrants and the Governor General’s Special Warrants. Every time an appropriation act receives Royal Assent, the Governor General must sign a warrant before the government can make the authorized withdrawal from the Consolidated Revenue Fund; these are referred to as Governor General’s Warrants. See Speaker Fraser’s ruling, Debates, May 2, 1989, p. 1177. The 1878 Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act first authorized the use of Governor General’s Special Warrants. The original intent was to allow payment for urgent or unexpected matters when the House was not sitting. In the early years following Confederation, when Parliament sat for only a few weeks or months of the year, it was difficult to convene quickly and the need for such a device was obvious. For most of their history, Special Warrants have been used solely for authorizing emergency expenditures, usually while Parliament was dissolved to allow for a general election. However, in 1988, the House of Commons reconvened in December following a general election and subsequently adjourned. The House did not consider the business of supply during the short time it sat. Parliament was then prorogued and a new session began on April 3, 1989, a new fiscal year. During the period of adjournment, and subsequent prorogation, the government resorted to the use of Special Warrants on three occasions. Although the Speaker concluded that the government had met all the requirements―the warrants were tabled in the House within the first 15 days following the commencement of the next session, and retroactively included in the next appropriation act―there remained concerns about the legitimacy and propriety of this practice (see Debates, April 6, 1989, pp. 175‑84; May 2, 1989, pp. 1175‑9). In 1997, a private Member’s bill, sponsored by Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands), was enacted. It amended the Financial Administration Act and limited the government’s use of Special Warrants solely to the period of dissolution (An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (session of Parliament), S.C. 1997, c. 5).

[373] Financial Administration Act, R.S. 1985, c. F‑11, s. 30.

[374] Financial Administration Act, R.S. 1985, c. F‑11, s. 30(1.1). See also Chapter 8, “The Parliamentary Cycle”.

[375] Financial Administration Act, R.S. 1985, c. F‑11, s. 30(3).

[376] See, for example, Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 140, No. 14 (April 8, 2006), pp. 712‑40; Journals, April 11, 2006, p. 45; Appropriation Act No. 1, 2006‑2007, S.C. 2006, c. 2, ss. 2.1 and 2.2. In June 2003, a Member rose on a point of order regarding the use of an outdated Governor General’s Special Warrant to continue spending under the heating fuel rebate program (see Journals, February 12, 2001, p. 64; Appropriation Act No. 3, 2000‑2001, S.C. 2001, c. 1, s. 3). He asked the Chair to reduce Vote 1 under Canada Customs and Revenue Agency by $55,296,790 in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2004. The Speaker indicated that an exception to the rule existed in the case of the Agency, as its appropriations were for two years rather than one. Furthermore, given the carry-forward provision, there seemed to be no reason to question the Agency’s authority to make the payments after March 31, 2001, using funds originally appropriated for 2000‑01. With regard to subsequent fiscal years, the Speaker pointed out that the ex gratia payments under the heating fuel rebate program were entered under Vote 1 as Agency operating expenditures and did not require the express approval of Parliament. The Speaker believed it was reasonable to conclude that payments issued in future fiscal years would be made on the same basis. See Debates, June 5, 2003, pp. 6908‑10; June 11, 2003, pp. 7142‑3; June 12, 2003, pp. 7220‑1.

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