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 had 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 the recommendations of a special committee on procedure (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 and Easter, and during the summer months. The calendar has been modified somewhat since its implementation. 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 in 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 three or more sitting periods. In 2001, further changes were made to the calendar so that adjournment periods could coincide as much as possible 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, “The House of Commons Calendar (Standing Order 28(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 sitting period 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

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

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.

June 23 or the Friday preceding if June 23 falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or a Monday.

The second Monday following Labour Day.

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.

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 the other following the Christmas adjournment. Additional adjournments are scheduled typically in March to coincide with spring breaks in various school districts across the country. The Speaker is required to table the calendar for the upcoming year by September 30 of the preceding year after consultation with the House Leaders.81 In addition, the calendar generally provides for at least one week per month, and occasionally two or more weeks, whereby Members can return to their constituencies.

Although the House has operated under the fixed calendar for a relatively brief time, the calendar has enjoyed an appreciable level of compliance since its institution. 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 consent83 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 a Tuesday, the House does not sit on the preceding day; similarly, when they fall on a 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, be applied 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 allow Members to attend the funeral of a Member or former Member91 or to participate in a commemorative event.92

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.93 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.94