Government Orders

Each sitting day, a substantial portion of the House’s time is devoted to the consideration of Government Orders, which include any item of business proposed by a Minister for consideration on a certain day.

The Standing Orders provide that Government Orders are considered on Mondays from noon to 2:00 p.m., resuming following Routine Proceedings until 6:30 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, after Routine Proceedings at 10:00 a.m., the House considers Government Orders until 2:00 p.m. and then again following Question Period from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at which time the House considers Private Members’ Business. On Wednesdays, after Routine Proceedings and “Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers”, Government Orders are taken up until 5:30 p.m. when Private Members’ Business begins. On Fridays, Government Orders are considered from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., at which time the House proceeds to Statements by Members. After Routine Proceedings, the House resumes consideration of Government Orders until 1:30 p.m., when Private Members’ Business begins.343

Historical Perspective

Historically, there have been many changes to the rules of the House in order to increase the time available to the government and to reduce the proportion of House time devoted to private bills or to matters brought forward by private Members. In 1867, private bills were debated on Mondays and for one hour each Wednesday and Friday evening, while notices of motions and public bills were considered on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Only Tuesdays and Fridays were reserved for Government Orders.344

From 1867 to 1962, the Standing Orders gave precedence to Private Members’ Business on particular days each week. However, successive governments found such a distribution inadequate for the conduct of their own legislative programs and periodically gave precedence to their own business via special or sessional orders. In 1962, the House amended its Standing Orders so that government business could be considered each sitting day, while a select number of hours per week were allocated to Private Members’ Business.345 This schedule remained more or less intact until 1982, when the House set aside Wednesdays for Private Members’ Business.346 In 1983, the House reverted to the practice of considering Government Orders each day.347 Today, 23.5 hours a week are set aside for the consideration of government business under normal hours of sitting.

In 2001, the Standing Orders were amended to provide that deferred divisions would be held immediately following Question Period, and that Government Orders would be extended accordingly to avoid reducing the time available for government business.348

Orders of the Day

When the Speaker calls “Orders of the Day”, a Table Officer rises and reads out the item of business that the House is to consider at that time.349 The Orders of the Day are listed in the Order Paper.

The sequence of Government Orders as listed on the Order Paper does not reflect precedence: it is an administrative breakdown showing the different categories of government business or projected government business in chronological sequence. Items eligible for consideration under Government Orders include all the orders made by the House at previous sittings relating to the items of government business then before the House (including, for example, bills introduced and ordered for a second reading, motions whose notice requirements have been met, and any order for resuming debate on an item). These items are listed under “Orders of the Day” on the Order Paper under the following headings: “Business of Supply”; “Ways and Means”; “Government Bills (Commons)”; “Government Bills (Senate)”; and “Government Business”.350

Any item of business proposed by a Minister outside of proceedings on supply, ways and means, and bills is listed under the heading “Government Business”. They typically include, for example, motions to establish special committees, to refer business to committees, to confirm the appointment of an Officer of Parliament, to propose a resolution declaratory of some opinion, or to make arrangements for the conduct of the business of the House. In addition to these items, when debate on motions that have been moved under “Motions” during Routine Proceedings is interrupted or adjourned, the motions (except motions for concurrence in committee reports351) are transferred to “Government Business”.352

When Government Orders is called, any item listed may be brought before the House for consideration. Any item that has been called, and on which debate has begun, must be dealt with until adjourned, interrupted or disposed of. If adjourned or interrupted, the item remains on the Order Paper.353 If the item is disposed of by either an affirmative or a negative decision of the House, it is removed from the Order Paper.

The business that the House is to consider during Government Orders is determined solely by the government.354 On occasions when the opposition has protested a change in the projected order of business for a specific sitting day, the Speaker has reminded Members of the government’s prerogative.355

Information concerning the government’s intention to proceed to a specific Order of the Day is conveyed to the Table through the office of the Government House Leader.356 The Government House Leader also consults regularly and confidentially with the House Leaders of the other recognized parties in the House about the order of business for each day of the week. A weekly statement concerning the projected order of business is traditionally made on Thursdays after Question Period. Any last-minute changes or additions to the government’s agenda are, as far as possible, relayed directly to the Table by the Government House Leader or his or her Parliamentary Secretary.

Although the government does not select the subject matter to be debated when the House considers a motion moved on an allotted day pursuant to the business of supply, it is the government’s prerogative to designate which sitting day the debate will be held.357 The item is considered under Government Orders given that, in moving the motion, a Member of the opposition does so pursuant to the continuing order for supply moved by the government at the beginning of each session. This order allows the business of supply to remain on the agenda for every sitting day of the session thereafter.358 The importance of the business of supply is underlined by the fact that for allotted days, the Standing Orders give it precedence over all other government business. The government has the option of calling or not calling the order for the business of supply on a given day, but once the order is read for the consideration of the business of supply, any opposition motions will have precedence. The government cannot put aside the business of supply and take up other items of Government Orders until all supply items listed on that day’s Order Paper have been dealt with.359