Closure is a procedural device used to bring debate on a question to a conclusion by “a majority decision of the House, even though all Members wishing to speak have not done so”.39 The closure rule40 provides the government with a procedure to prevent the further adjournment of debate on any matter and to require that the question be put at the end of the sitting in which a motion of closure is adopted. Apart from technical changes as to the hour at which debate is to conclude,41 the rule has remained virtually unchanged since its adoption in 1913.

Closure may be used for any debatable matter, including bills and motions. The rule was intended for use in a Committee of the Whole42 as much as in the House, but it cannot be used in its standing, special, legislative or joint committees. When these committees are considering bills, the House may, however, use the time allocation rule43 to impose a deadline on the committee stage or to force a committee to report the bill under consideration to the House.

Historical Perspective

Introduced at Westminster in 1881 and in the Australian House of Representatives in 1905, the closure rule was not adopted by the Canadian House of Commons until 1913.44 The idea of closure had, however, been discussed on a number of occasions, but the House had never been able to adopt a closure rule satisfactory to both government and opposition. By 1913, strong and organized opposition had managed to delay the adoption of government legislation on at least four occasions.45 Speeches from that period show that it was often thought that the question on a motion would not be put for a long time, if at all, and in 1911, during one of these protracted debates, a Member of the opposition referred to the possibility of “illimitable discussion”.46

Opposition Leader Robert Borden, who would eventually introduce the new rule, had himself suggested that a closure mechanism would be “undesirable”,47 but nearly two years of discussion on naval policy convinced him of the need to bring forward a motion which, among other things, would introduce the closure rule. These changes, vigorously attacked by the opposition, were debated for nearly a month before being adopted.48 The new closure rule was immediately tested by the government only a few days after its adoption during debate at the Committee of the Whole stage of the Naval Aid Bill.49

Invoked 11 times from 1913 to 1932, the closure rule was not used again for the following 24 years, when the pipeline debate took place. In May 1956, the government presented a bill entitled An Act to establish the Northern Ontario Pipeline Crown Corporation aimed at providing financial assistance to an American consortium that was building a gas pipeline from Alberta to Quebec. During the acrimonious debate on the bill, which continued from May into June, closure was invoked at each stage of the legislative process.50

Since its introduction, closure has been used more than 80 times: in order to hold a vote more quickly on an array of motions,51 primarily resolutions,52 and motions to amend the Standing Orders,53 to regulate House proceedings and hours of sitting,54 and to reinstate bills on the Order Paper at the beginning of a new session55 or to examine them at one or more stages of consideration.56 Closure has also been used to put an end to a debate on a question of privilege.57

The closure rule has been the subject of scrutiny and discussion many times, and the idea of repealing the closure rule surfaces from time to time.58 The pipeline debate, which was the subject of extensive analysis and discussion, has had a lasting impact on Members’ perception of how the House operates.59

In December 1957, the new Diefenbaker government placed a notice of motion to repeal the closure rule on the Order Paper, but the motion was never debated.60 In July 1960, Prime Minister Diefenbaker expressed the hope that “the rules committee will give consideration to removing from the rule book the closure procedure”.61 The Committee never acted on the matter. In March 1962, another special committee was set up to consider the procedures of the House, and in particular, “to consider the desirability of repealing” the closure rule.62 It did not report on the matter. The Throne Speech in September 1962 indicated that the House would be asked to abolish closure, but this also was not acted upon.63 During the Thirtieth Parliament (1974–79), a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization recommended, in its report on the use` of time, that a new Standing Order based on the British House of Commons’ closure rule be adopted,64 but this too was never recommended to the House by the Standing Committee.

The most recent development of significance occurred in October 2001, when the House adopted a new Standing Order allowing for a question and answer period of at most 30 minutes when a motion of closure is moved.65 The intent of the question and answer period is to promote ministerial accountability, and it provides an opportunity for the government to justify its use of this measure.66

Generally speaking, how much debate the government will allow on a measure before moving closure depends on a number of factors, including its desire to adhere to its legislative timetable. The Speaker has occasionally been asked to use discretionary authority to refuse to put a closure motion to the House on the grounds that the measure had not yet been given enough debating time. Invariably, the Speaker has declined to interfere with the application of the rule, deciding in each case that the Chair has no authority to intervene in the process when the closure rule is used properly.67

Notice of Closure

Prior to moving a motion for closure, a Minister must have given oral notice of intention to do so at a previous sitting of the House or a Committee of the Whole. The Standing Orders do not specify when such notice may be given, and there are, therefore, a variety of precedents. For example, notice has been given when there was no question before the House,68 when the motion to be closured was under debate69 and when the question before the House was not related to the notice.70 Sometimes, notice was given on the first day of debate on the motion to be closured,71 and sometimes after one or more days of debate.72 Regardless, debate on the item which is the subject of the notice must have begun before notice of closure may be given.73

Although there is no requirement to give notice more than once, on occasion, Ministers have given the same notice in several sittings so as to avoid any objection that notice had not been given at the previous sitting.74 Moreover, there is no obligation to proceed with moving the closure motion even if notice has been given; there have been cases where the notice was not followed up.75 On one occasion, the government gave notice of closure on four separate bills all at the same time: three at second reading and one at third reading; however, four separate motions proposing closure, one for each bill, had to be moved.76

Motion of Closure

After notice has been given of the intention to move a motion of closure, the motion may be moved during a subsequent sitting, whether the following day or later. The motion for closure must be moved by a Minister, and the debate on the motion or bill to which closure is to apply must have been adjourned at least once before a closure motion can be moved.77 The motion for closure must be moved immediately before the Order of the Day for resuming debate on the item to which the closure motion is to apply is called, either in the House or in a Committee of the Whole.

The motion of closure in the House reads simply, “That the debate be not further adjourned”. In a Committee of the Whole, closure can be applied to a resolution or to the particulars of a bill, such as the title, preamble, or clauses, individually or in groups. It is not necessary for all parts of a bill to be called and then postponed before invoking closure.78 In fact, the parts affected by the closure motion are normally those whose consideration has not yet been completed by the Committee, on which debate has not yet ended, which have not yet been called or where consideration of specific parts has been postponed or stood by decision of the Committee. The motion of closure requires that these parts of the bill be the first business taken up in Committee of the Whole that day and not be further postponed. Basically, the adoption of a motion of closure in a Committee of the Whole ensures that the committee stage will be completed in that sitting.79

Closure motions are neither debatable nor amendable. However, once moved, the House or the Committee of the Whole proceeds to a question and answer period of not more than 30 minutes, when Members may put brief questions to the Minister responsible for the item subject to the closure motion or to the Minister acting on his or her behalf.80

In the House, at the end of the time provided for questions and answers, or when no other Member rises to speak, the Speaker puts the question immediately: “That … the debate shall not be further adjourned”. If a recorded division is demanded in the House, the bells will sound for up to 30 minutes.81 If the closure motion is adopted, debate resumes on the now-closured business, but the debate becomes subject to the restrictions imposed by the closure rule.82 No Member (including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition) may speak more than once, nor for longer than 20 minutes; each speech may be followed by a period of not more than 10 minutes for questions and comments.83 A Member who has spoken to the main motion prior to the adoption of the closure motion may speak again if an amendment or subamendment is moved during the closured debate. However, a Member who is recognized to speak to the main motion after the adoption of the closure motion may not speak to any subsequent amendment or subamendment.

In a Committee of the Whole, following the question and answer period, the Chair of the Committee of the Whole will put the question on the motion for closure. If closure is adopted, the resolution, or a specific part of a bill if the Committee is considering a legislative measure, is immediately taken under consideration.84 In the case of a bill, the first clauses will likely be at issue. During the ensuing debate, as is the case in the House, no Member may speak more than once, nor for longer than 20 minutes. If consideration of one clause ends and debate begins on the next clause, Members have a further 20 minutes to speak to that clause.85

All questions necessary to dispose of the closured item are to be put no later than 8:00 p.m., or as soon as possible thereafter, allowing any Member who might have been recognized prior to 8:00 p.m. to finish speaking.86 No Member may rise to speak after 8:00 p.m.87 At that time, or soon thereafter if a Member is bringing his or her speech to a close,88 the Speaker of the House or the Chair of the Committee of the Whole will put all questions necessary to dispose of the closured item, including any amendments and subamendments.89

In the House, if a recorded division is demanded, the bells will sound for up to 15 minutes.90 Should the debate conclude before 8:00 p.m., the bells for any recorded division will sound for not more than 30 minutes.91 A recorded division may be deferred by unanimous consent of the House to a later day, as has been done on occasion,92 or with the agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties.93

During a sitting in which a motion of closure is carried and the closured item is called and debated for the remainder of the sitting day, Private Members’ Business takes place as usual, if applicable, at the time designated in the daily order of business.94 On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the House debates the closured item until Private Members’ Business and resumes the debate immediately afterward. However, the Adjournment Proceedings are suspended in sittings where closure is applied.95 Motions to extend a sitting beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment and motions to adjourn debate or the House are out of order when a closured motion is under debate.96