Suspension of Standing Orders for Matter of Urgent Nature

When a situation arises that the government considers urgent, a Minister may move, at any time when the Speaker is in the Chair, that the House suspend certain Standing Orders respecting notice requirements and the times of sitting in connection with that matter.207 For example, this provision can be used to waive notice for the introduction of a bill or for any stage at which notice is required.208

In moving the motion, the Minister gives reasons for the urgency of the situation and the Speaker immediately puts the question.209 In doing so, the Speaker may allow up to one hour of uninterrupted debate.210 Speeches are limited to 10 minutes each and no amendment is allowed except by another Minister. When putting the question, the Speaker must ask those Members opposed to rise. If fewer than 10 do so, the motion is automatically adopted;211 if 10 or more do so, it is deemed withdrawn.212 If the motion carries, the resulting order applies only to the proceedings specified in that order.

The reasons for the Standing Order’s adoption in 1968 go back to 1964, when Prime Minister Pearson moved a motion, without notice, to send a Canadian peacekeeping force to Cyprus. Although the motion appeared to have the overall support of the House, some Members objected to the lack of notice. They argued that 48 hours’ advance warning was required before such an important matter could be discussed. Stating that the Prime Minister had obtained “leave”, the Deputy Speaker dismissed the objections and allowed the House to proceed with the motion.213

Then, in 1966, when the House was asked to deal urgently with a strike by air traffic controllers, the Minister of Public Works suggested a procedural mechanism for the government to deal with urgent matters. As he explained, “… a private member has a right to move the adjournment of the house to consider a matter of urgent public importance… . It is a curious anomaly that there is no corresponding provision enabling the government to bring any proceedings relating to the same matter before the House without notice”.214 Although opposition Members felt action was required, in the end, the Minister’s proposal was withdrawn.215

When the present rule was adopted two years later in 1968, it was evident from its wording that the events of 1966 had been taken into account, as the new rule was similar to the one proposed at that time. In suggesting this new rule, the Special Committee on Procedure wrote:

… it seems reasonable to expect that the normal requirement of a notice of motion … might be dispensed with for the purpose of dealing with matters of urgency when the overwhelming majority of the House recognizes that it would be desirable to do so. It seems intolerable … that a single dissenting voice should be permitted to frustrate the otherwise unanimous will of the House…216

While intended to be used to waive notice requirements and to set times and dates for sitting, this Standing Order has been used mainly to outline terms of debate in a manner that resembles time allocation.217 In actual fact, it has been invoked infrequently since its adoption in 1968. It was used in 2016 when the Leader of the Government in the House moved that a motion relating to Senate amendments to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), be moved without the required 24 hours’ notice. As fewer than 10 Members rose to object, the motion was adopted.218 The motion relating to the Senate amendments was not only debated but also adopted that same day.219