Time Allocation

The time allocation rule allows for specific periods of time to be set aside for the consideration of one or more stages of a public bill.97 The term “time allocation” suggests primarily the idea of time management,98 but the government may use a time allocation motion as a guillotine. In fact, although the rule allows the government to negotiate with opposition parties on the adoption of a timetable for the consideration of a bill at one or more stages (including consideration in committee99 and the consideration of Senate amendments100), it also allows the government to impose strict limits on the time for debate. This is why time allocation is often confused with closure. While it has become the most frequently used mechanism for curtailing debate,101 time allocation remains a means of bringing the parties together to negotiate an acceptable distribution of the time of the House.

Historical Perspective

Like closure, the time allocation rule came about in the aftermath of a controversy. During the pipeline debate of 1956,102 closure was the only rule the government could use to advance its legislation. Closure had come to be perceived as somewhat inflexible for the demands of a modern parliamentary democracy and inadequate as a tool with which to conduct the business of the House. Deliberations began in the House and in committees with a view to identifying ways in which the time of the House could be allotted for the consideration of specific items of legislation and for the planning of the session’s work, something the closure rule could not provide, since the process of giving notice, moving the motion and voting on it had to be repeated at every stage of a given bill.103

Throughout the period of successive minority governments in the 1960s, the House attempted, unsuccessfully, to establish a procedural mechanism to formally structure the time of the House in order to facilitate the efficient conduct of debate. Members recognized that the volume and complexity of House business was increasing and that measures were necessary to ensure that business would be dispatched within a reasonable amount of time.104 Throughout these years, the House agreed to establish a number of special committees charged with considering the procedures of the House and making suggestions to expedite public business.105

From the outset, the committees examined proposals that would allow for cooperation among parties. In the Tenth Report of the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented to the House in 1964, reference was made to the difficulty of reaching all-party agreement on a proposal to deal with the fundamental question of the allocation of time. Committee members wrote that they would “continue to explore this basic question”,106 but they did not report further on the matter.

Early in the following session, the government took action by moving a motion, which, among other things, addressed the issue of time allocation. The motion called for a new Standing Order establishing a House Business Committee made up of a representative of each party of the House. Upon the request of a Minister, the Business Committee would consider and, if agreement were reached, would recommend, in a report to the House within three sitting days, an allocation of time for the specific item of business or stage of the matter referred to it. A motion for concurrence in the report, to be decided without debate or amendment, could then be presented without notice by a Minister. If, however, the Business Committee were unable to reach unanimous agreement or if it failed to report within the prescribed period, a Minister could then give notice during Routine Proceedings that, at the next sitting of the House, he or she would move a motion allocating the time for the item of business or the stage.107

The motion was debated in the House for 12 days108 and, throughout the debate, specific concerns were raised with respect to the Business Committee proposal. The proposal was then separated from the main motion and referred to a special committee for further study.109 The special committee recommended another version of the time allocation proposal in its report to the House. The report was concurred in and a provisional rule, referred to as Standing Order 15-A, was adopted.110 It was invoked on only three occasions from 1965 to 1968, but it became clear that the opposition parties were dissatisfied with it and frequent points of order were raised on how to interpret some of its provisions. In 1967, for example, the Speaker ruled that oral notice was sufficient for the purpose of the time allocation rule and that such notice did not have to appear on the Notice Paper.111

When the Twenty-Eighth Parliament assembled in September 1968, the House decided that Provisional Standing Order 15-A would no longer be in effect.112 A special procedure committee was established shortly thereafter113 to consider, among other things, the issue of time allocation. In its Fourth Report, the Committee recommended a new rule on time allocation.114 However, on December 20, 1968, the House agreed again to refer the issue to the new Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization for further consideration.115 Tensions persisted between the government and the opposition as to finding a balance between debating at length and the curtailment that was apparently allowed by the provisional rules.

It was not until 1969, after debate that lasted 12 sitting days was curtailed by a motion of closure, that the House adopted a report recommending a measure for time allocation, a forerunner to the present rule.116 In its simplest form, the newly adopted Standing Order set out three options for time allocation, ranging from agreement between all parties to the government acting alone after negotiation had failed to rally the support of any other party. Time allocation motions moved with the agreement of all parties were put immediately, without debate or amendment. Those called with the agreement of a majority of parties or no opposition parties could, however, be amended, and they could also be debated for up to two hours, at which point all questions necessary to dispose of the motions were to be put by the Chair.

Members of the opposition later expressed dissatisfaction with the interpretation of this Standing Order.117 The fact that negotiations were to be held between parties, thus excluding independent Members, was also raised.118

In November 1975, the President of the Privy Council indicated his intention to bring proposals with implications for time allocation before the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization.119 Although it did not report to the House, the Committee created a subcommittee on the use of time. Among other items, the subcommittee reviewed and proposed alternative wording for the Standing Order on time allocation.120

The wording of the Standing Order adopted in 1969 continued to give rise to procedural concerns. A position paper on parliamentary reform, tabled by the government in November 1979, noted the ambiguity in the wording and proposed that it be rewritten.121

Over the years, the issue has been clarified by Speaker’s rulings. In December 1978, on a point of order, Speaker Jerome ruled that a time allocation motion could be moved covering both report and third reading stages, even though third reading had not yet been reached.122

In March 1983, Speaker Sauvé confirmed that notice of intention to move a time allocation motion could be given at any time during the sitting.123 In October of the same year, she ruled that the division bells ringing for a dilatory motion moved during the two-hour allotment provided in the Standing Orders for consideration of a time allocation motion should be interrupted when the two hours had elapsed. The Chair must then put every question necessary to dispose of the time allocation motion, first disposing of any dilatory motions that might have been moved in the meantime.124

As of May 1985, a new practice developed whereby time allocation motions were moved and debated following written government notices of motions under Government Orders on the Order Paper. To fulfill the requirements of the Standing Order, this written notice was in addition to the oral notice of intention to move such a motion. The new practice was confirmed by Speaker Bosley as an acceptable way of proceeding.125

In June 1987, amendments were adopted to provide that debate on the item of business under consideration at the time the motion was moved would be deemed adjourned.126 The practice of providing written notice seems to have continued until August 1988. At that time, Speaker Fraser ruled that an oral notice of a time allocation motion need only be a notice of intention and not a notice of the wording of the motion. In the same ruling, the Speaker further stated that the initiative of announcing any agreements (or lack thereof) to allot time rested with a Minister, who had to be a party to any such agreements.127

In 1991, following a further change to the Standing Order, the motion for time allocation moved with or without the agreement of a majority of parties ceased to be a subject of debate or amendment.128

The House returned to a debate of sorts when, in October 2001, it adopted a new Standing Order129 providing for a 30-minute question and answer period when a time allocation motion was moved without the agreement of any of the opposition parties. During this 30-minute period, questions would be directed to the Minister sponsoring the item of business under debate or to the Minister acting on his or her behalf, in order “to promote ministerial accountability and to require the Government to justify its use of these extraordinary measures”.130

The Three Options

The time allocation rule is divided into three distinct sections. Each section sets outs the conditions for time allocation, depending on the degree of support among the representatives of the recognized parties131 in the House.

  1. All Parties Agree: The first section of the rule pertains to agreement among the representatives of all the recognized parties in the House to allocate time to the proceedings at any or all stages of a public bill.132 No notice is required. In proposing the motion, a Minister first states that such an agreement has been reached133 and then sets out the terms of the agreement, specifying the number of days or hours of debate to be allocated.134 The Speaker then puts the question to the House, which is decided forthwith without debate or amendment.
  2. Majority of Parties Agree: The second section of the rule pertains to agreement among a majority of the representatives of the recognized parties in the House.135 In such cases, the government must be a party to any agreement reached.136 The motion may not cover more than one stage of the legislative process. It may, however, apply both to report stage and third reading, if it is consistent with the rule requiring a separate day for debate at third reading when a bill has been debated or amended at report stage.137 Again, no notice is required, and it is not necessary for debate on the stage or stages subject to time allocation to have begun. Prior to moving the motion, the Minister states that a majority of party representatives have agreed to a proposed allocation of time.138 The motion specifies how many days or hours are to be allocated.
  3. No Agreement: The third section of the rule allows the government to propose time allocation unilaterally.139 In this case, an oral notice of intention to move the motion is required.140 The motion can propose time allocation for only one stage of the legislative process, that being the stage then under consideration. However, the motion can cover both report stage and third reading, provided that it is consistent with the rule requiring a separate day for third reading when a bill has been debated or amended at report stage.141 In the case of a bill referred to committee before second reading, the motion can pertain to both the report stage and second reading stage as well as the third reading stage.142 The amount of time allocated for any stage may not be less than one sitting day or its equivalent in hours (five).143


Oral notice is required when the government wishes to impose its own timetable in the absence of any time allocation agreement among representatives from all or a majority of the recognized parties.144 The notice may be given only after debate has begun on the stage of the bill to which the time allocation motion is to apply.145 It must be given by a Minister, from his or her place in the House,146 any time during the course of the sitting.147

The notice in question is to state that agreement could not be reached under the other provisions of the rule and that the government therefore intends to move a motion to allocate time in respect of a particular stage of a particular bill.148 The notice need only express the intention of the government; it need not include the wording of the time allocation motion to follow.149 The time allocation motion can then be moved, by the Minister who gave notice of the motion or by another Minister,150 at any future sitting of the House, even several days or weeks later. In the meantime, the House may freely debate the bill.151 Once given, a notice of time allocation may be withdrawn; similarly, notice may be given without a motion being moved subsequently.152

Motion to Allocate Time

The wording of a motion for time allocation must set out the terms of time allocation. In most cases, time is allocated in terms of sitting days or hours; however, on at least one occasion, time was allocated in increments of less than one hour per stage of the bill in question.153 In all cases, a motion for time allocation must be moved by a Minister in the House and is never debatable or amendable.154 Such a motion is subject to a question and answer period of not more than 30 minutes when it is not supported by a majority of the representatives of the recognized parties.155

In cases when there is agreement among the representatives of all parties, the motion is normally moved under “Motions” during Routine Proceedings. When a majority agree on the time allocation, or when no agreement has been reached, the motion is moved under Government Orders. Debate on any item of business interrupted by the moving of a motion for time allocation is deemed adjourned.156

When the time allocation motion is moved with the agreement of all or a majority of the recognized parties, the question is put on the motion as soon as it is moved. However, if it is moved without any agreement, the House first holds a question and answer period not exceeding 30 minutes157 for Members to ask questions of the Minister responsible for the item subject to the motion or of the Minister acting on his or her behalf. At the conclusion of the period provided, or when no other Member wishes to speak, the Speaker puts the question on the time allocation motion.158 If a recorded division is demanded, the bells are sounded for a maximum of 30 minutes.159

If the motion for time allocation carries, debate at the stage or stages of the bill in question then becomes subject to the time limits imposed by the motion. The normal rules of debate continue to apply. However, motions to extend a sitting beyond its ordinary hour of daily adjournment,160 as well as motions to adjourn debate or the House,161 are not allowed unless the adopted time allocation motion is expressed in hours, not days.

The day on which the time allocation motion is adopted may also be counted as one sitting day for that purpose, provided that the motion is moved and adopted at the beginning of Government Orders, the motion concerns the sitting day and the bill is taken up immediately.162 The bill may also be taken up at a future sitting of the House.163

At the end of the time allocated for a given stage, any proceedings before the House are interrupted, and the Chair puts every question necessary for the disposal of the bill at that stage. If a recorded division is demanded, the bells summoning the Members will ring for not more than 15 minutes.164 Recorded divisions on bills under time allocation are not ordinarily deferred, though deferrals may take place by Special Order,165 by automatic deferral of the vote pursuant to rules of the House,166 or by agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties.167 When debate concludes prior to the end of the allotted time,168 if a recorded division is demanded, the bells will ring for not more than 30 minutes and the vote may be deferred by either the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip.169

During a sitting subject to a time allocation motion, Private Members’ Business and Adjournment Proceedings are still held, where applicable. If a motion is moved without the agreement of the opposition parties, if it is related to a bill, if it is moved and carried at the beginning of Government Orders and if the order for the said bill is then called and debated for the remainder of the sitting day, then the period of time set aside for Government Orders is extended by a period of time equal to the time taken for the question and answer period.170 Private Members’ Business and Adjournment Proceedings are delayed accordingly.171 Exceptions are time allocation motions expressed in hours not sitting days and time allocation motions worded so that the day in question is not under time allocation.172

At times, objections have been raised as to the circumstances in which agreement was reached or to the nature of the consultations undertaken by the government. As with closure, the Speaker has ruled that the Chair has no discretionary authority to refuse to put a time allocation if all the procedural requirements have been met.173 The Speaker has stated that the wording of the rule does not define the nature of the consultations to be held by the Minister and representatives of the other parties, and has further ruled that the Chair has no authority to determine whether or not consultation took place nor what constitutes consultation among the representatives of the parties.174