“Routine Motion” by a Minister

There is another rule that allows the House to limit debate to some degree. If, at any time during a sitting, unanimous consent is denied for the presentation of a routine motion for which written notice had not been given, a Minister may request under the heading “Motions” during Routine Proceedings175 that the Speaker put the motion forthwith, without debate or amendment.176 If 25 Members or more oppose the motion, it is deemed withdrawn;177 otherwise, it is adopted.178 This precludes having to put the motion on the Order Paper and then having to move and debate the motion. It should be noted that the routine motion does not necessarily have to be moved the same day that unanimous consent was initially denied.179

A “routine motion” refers to motions which may be required for the observance of the proprieties of the House, the maintenance of its authority, the management of its business, the arrangement of its proceedings, the establishment of the powers of its committees, the correctness of its records, or the fixing of its sitting days or the times of its meeting or adjournment.180

Prior to its adoption in 1991,181 it was argued that the new proposed rule would have a negative impact on Members’ ability to debate government motions and would “override unanimous consent”.182 Since its adoption, however, Members have objected in a number of instances that the rule has been used for purposes never intended, and they have differed on the critical issue of what constitutes a “routine motion”.

In fact, it appeared at first that the range of motions to which this procedure could be applied would be limited.183 While its use has not always been consistent with the wording or the spirit of the rule, and has given rise to points of order, over the years Standing Order 56.1 has been used to extend a sitting in order to sit on the weekend184 or in order to continue the consideration of a government bill;185 to suspend the sitting for a Royal Assent ceremony;186 to deal with a government motion;187 to pass a government bill at any or all stages, to identify the appropriate time and method to dispose of it or to limit amendments to it;188 to establish the length of speeches during a take-note debate;189 to authorize committees to travel;190 to designate a committee for statutory review of a bill;191 and to attempt to rescind an order of the House.192

In 2001, Speaker Milliken stated, “From 1997 there are signs of a disturbing trend in which Standing Order 56.1 was used, or attempted to be used, for the adoption of motions less readily identified or defined as routine”.193 Over the years, and in response to the many points of order, the Chair has nevertheless clarified certain aspects of the Standing Order. The Speaker specifically ruled that this Standing Order was not intended to be used for the disposition of a bill at various stages, nor for bills that fell outside the range of those advanced on urgent or extraordinary occasions.194 He further indicated that it was never intended that the Standing Order would be used to override decisions which the House had taken by unanimous consent, nor could it be used as a substitute for decisions which the House itself ought to make on substantive matters.195 The Speaker also ruled that the Standing Order could not be used in cases where unanimous consent to concur in a striking committee report had been sought and denied.196 In addition, its use to give a direction to a standing committee of the House has been deemed contrary to the Standing Orders.197 Last, it has been established that it should not be used to give directions to committees.198

Furthermore, when asked about the constitutionality of this procedure, as section 49 of the Constitution provides that questions arising in the House of Commons, almost without exception, are decided by a majority of voices, the Speaker ruled that this procedure pertained mainly to matters of substance, and not matters of internal procedure, the main purpose of the motions to which the rule applies.199

In light of the many concerns expressed by Members, Speakers Parent, Milliken and Scheer all urged the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine the appropriate use of this Standing Order.200 Having received no feedback from the Committee and from the House, the Speaker stated he did not feel it was for the Chair to rule out of order a motion that appeared to be in compliance with the Standing Order, despite any reservations he may have expressed about it.201