Prorogation and Dissolution


Prorogation of a Parliament, a prerogative act of the Crown taken on the advice of the Prime Minister,110 results in the termination of a session. It is possible to prorogue a session of Parliament by proclamation when the House is sitting111 or during an adjournment.112 Both the House of Commons and the Senate then stand prorogued until the opening of the next session. Parliament meets for a new session in the normal manner on the date set in the proclamation. Parliament is prorogued either by the Governor General (or Deputy of the Governor General) in the Senate Chamber, or by proclamation published in the Canada Gazette.113 When Parliament stands prorogued to a certain day, a subsequent proclamation (or proclamations) may be issued to advance or defer the date.114 In the new session, the Government is required to table a document outlining the reasons for the prorogation.115

Effects of Prorogation

Prorogation of a session brings to an end all proceedings before Parliament. With certain exceptions, unfinished business “dies” on the Order Paper and must be started anew in a subsequent session.

Bills which have not received Royal Assent before prorogation are “entirely terminated” and, in order to be proceeded with in the new session, must be reintroduced as if they had never existed.116 On occasion, however, bills are reinstated at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session. This is accomplished either with the unanimous consent of the House117 or through the adoption of a motion to that effect, after notice and debate.118 The House has also adopted provisional amendments to the Standing Orders to carry over legislation to the next session following a prorogation.119

Since 2003, prorogation has had almost no practical effect on Private Members’ Business.120 As a result of this significant exception to the termination of business principle, the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business established at the beginning of a Parliament, all bills that originate in the House of Commons and all motions in the Order of Precedence, as well as those outside of it, continue from session to session.121 If consideration of an item at a certain stage had begun but had not been completed, the item is restored at the beginning of that stage, as if no debate had yet occurred. Private Members’ bills that were referred to a committee in the previous session are deemed referred back to the same committee. Private Members’ bills which have been read a third time and passed are sent again to the Senate.122

Committees, including special123 and legislative committees, cease to exist and all orders of reference lapse.124 Committee memberships, except the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, are terminated125 and all Chairs and Vice-Chairs cease to hold office.126 The Panel of Chairs for legislative committees also ceases to exist.127

In addition, when the House is prorogued, no documents may be tabled until the first day of the new session. If documents requested through an Order of the House or an Address to the Governor General have not been tabled at the time of prorogation, the requests carry over from session to session within the same Parliament. They are considered to have been readopted at the start of the new session without requiring a motion to that effect.128 Requests for government responses to committee reports and petitions survive in the same manner.129 Prorogation will not have any effect on e-petitions, except for the inevitable delay in presenting e-petitions to the House or in receiving a government response to an e-petition.130

In general, during a prorogation, Members are released from their parliamentary duties until, in the new session, the House and its committees resume activities. However, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the members of the Board of Internal Economy continue in office while the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, and the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole do not. Prorogation has no effect on the activities of Members involved in parliamentary associations or on international and interparliamentary exchange programs.


Dissolution terminates a Parliament, ending all business in the Senate and in the House of Commons, and is followed by a general election.131 The date of the election is set in accordance with the provisions of the Canada Elections Act, which stipulates that a general election must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day from the last general election.132 However, given that dissolution is a prerogative act of the Crown, the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, may dissolve Parliament any time before this date and issue a proclamation for a general election.133

Three proclamations are usually issued at the time of dissolution. The first is for the dissolution itself, stating that Parliament is dissolved and declaring that “the Senators and Members of Parliament are discharged from their meeting and attendance”. A second proclamation appears simultaneously; it calls the next Parliament and informs with regard to the issuance of writs of election, the date set for polling and the date set for the return of the writs. The third proclamation fixes the date on which Parliament is summoned to meet, sometime following the return of the writs.134 The date of this summons may be changed through the issuance of a further proclamation.135

A Parliament may be dissolved in accordance with the provisions set down in the Canada Elections Act or earlier, regardless of whether the House is scheduled to meet or not that day.136 If the House is sitting and there is not to be a prorogation ceremony in the Senate Chamber, the dissolution is usually announced to the House by the Prime Minister or another Minister.137 The Speaker then leaves the Chair.

The demise of the Crown does not have the effect of dissolving Parliament.138 In ancient British practice and until 1843 in Canada, the demise of the Crown did result in an automatic dissolution of Parliament. Because the summoning of Parliament is a royal prerogative and Parliament sits at the pleasure of the Crown, its demise meant a lapsing of the summons and thus dissolution.139 In 1843, an act was passed in the Province of Canada providing that a Parliament in existence at the time of any future demise of the Crown should continue as it would have otherwise, unless dissolved by the Crown.140 Similar legislation existed in other provinces prior to Confederation.141 The law was re-enacted in the First Session of the First Parliament of Canada.142

Effects of Dissolution

With dissolution, all business of the House is terminated. The Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the members of the Board of Internal Economy continue in office for the acquittal of certain administrative duties until they are replaced in a new Parliament.143 For the purposes of certain allowances payable to them, Members of the House of Commons at the time of dissolution are deemed to remain so until the date of the general election.144 Members’ offices, both in Ottawa and in their constituencies, remain open in order to allow Members and their staff to provide services to constituents.145 As the office budget for Members is drawn from public funds, Members’ offices and staff may not be used for electoral purposes.

All items on the Order Paper including government and private Members’ bills die.146 The government’s obligation to provide answers to written questions, to respond to petitions or to produce papers requested by the House also ends with dissolution.147 The government must wait until the new Parliament is in session before tabling any document that is required pursuant to an act, resolution or Standing Order.

Committees cease to exist until the House reconstitutes them following the election. All orders of reference expire, and the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of all committees cease to hold office. The government is no longer required to provide responses to committee reports.

The executive committees of interparliamentary associations carry over from one Parliament to another. However, as a general rule, the activities being organized by the associations are postponed during a dissolution. Since multilateral assemblies continue to meet, Canada’s representation is usually ensured by Senators.148 Once an election has been held and prior to the start of a new Parliament, both Senators and re-elected Members may participate. Official parliamentary exchange programs with other assemblies are also usually postponed.

Expiration of the House of Commons

The Constitution states that no House “shall continue for longer than five years”.149 Mindful of this deadline, all governments since Confederation have recommended that the Governor General dissolve Parliament before the date at which such dissolution would have been constitutionally required. In some cases, the dissolution took place within days of when the House would have expired through effluxion of time.150 Since 2007, the Canada Elections Act has contained provisions limiting the duration of a Parliament to four years.151

Extension of Life of the House of Commons

Since 1949, the Constitution has provided that, in time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, the five-year limit of the lifetime of the House of Commons may be continued by Parliament if no more than one third of the Members oppose the continuation.152 Prior to the existence of this provision, such an extension required a constitutional amendment, a means resorted to only once. Due to circumstances relating to World War I, the life of the Twelfth Parliament (1911–17) was extended in this way for one year, from 1916 to 1917.153