The House of Commons operates according to a fixed calendar set out in the written rules (called the Standing Orders), with scheduled sittings from mid-September to late June every year. Each day of the Chamber's weekly schedule includes time for various kinds of business-for example, tabling of documents, statements by Members, presentation of petitions and committee reports, introduction and first reading of bills, Question Period, and debating of legislation and motions. Please refer to the daily order of business on page 8 to learn more about the different kinds of business that take place in the Chamber every day.
Meetings in the Chamber of the House of Commons are
called sittings. The Speaker oversees the sittings,
managing the debate and preserving order in accordance
with the Standing Orders and the practices of the House.
The Speaker is a Member of Parliament who is chosen to be
Speaker in a secret ballot vote by all Members.
Members re-elected Peter Milliken, the Member for
Kingston and the Islands (Ontario), to be Speaker of the
40th Parliament. As the Speaker he does not attend caucus
meetings even though he is a member of the Liberal Party.
As well as presiding over the sittings in the Chamber,
the Speaker is Chair of the Board of Internal Economy,
which oversees the House Administration. Also, he is the
spokesperson and formal representative of the
To assist the Speaker, three Members are elected as
deputies by the other Members. These Chair Occupants have
formal titles: Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of
the Whole; Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole; and
Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. In the
40th Parliament, those positions are held by Mr. Andrew
Scheer, Ms. Denise Savoie and Mr. Barry Devolin
The Clerk of the House of Commons is not an elected Member but the senior officer of the House Administration. She is the senior permanent official and chief executive of the House Administration. Audrey O'Brien has held the position since October 2005. In her role as Clerk, she keeps the official record of proceedings and advises and supports the Speaker, the Chair Occupants, the House and its committees on all procedural and administrative matters.
One of the most important functions of the House of
Commons is to make laws. A proposal to either create a
new law or amend an existing one is referred to as a
bill. Before it becomes law, a bill must be approved by
the House of Commons and the Senate and receive Royal
Assent. This can take varying lengths of time, depending
on the urgency and the complexity of the bill and the
level of agreement among the Members of the House and
Bills can be either public or private. Public bills
concern matters of public policy-for example, finance or
national security-while private bills, which are rare,
deal with private interests. Public bills can be either
government or private Members' bills. Government bills
are introduced by a Cabinet Minister, while private
Members' bills are introduced by a Member who is not a
Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary. Bills can be
introduced in either the House of Commons or the Senate,
but any that involve raising or spending public funds
must be introduced in the House of Commons.
Over the past fiscal year, the government introduced 50 bills covering a variety of issues. Here are some examples:
From April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010, private Members introduced 140 bills in the House, covering issues such as:
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
The second edition of House of Commons Procedure
and Practice was launched in November 2009. This
book is the pre-eminent authority on Canadian
parliamentary procedure. Staff frequently consult it
when providing advice to the Chair during sittings of
the House. When a procedural issue arises, the Chair
will consult House of Commons Procedure and
Practice, or alternatively, staff will approach
the Chair for a brief discussion and reference to the
appropriate section(s) of the book. When delivering
rulings, the Speaker and other Chair Occupants
frequently cite passages from it.
Members of Parliament who approach staff for advice are often referred to the relevant section(s) of the book. Members, their party Whips and their party House Leaders consult and cite it when raising points of order and questions of privilege in the House.
The daily activities in the House of Commons are governed
by a set of written rules called the Standing Orders and
by other practices and traditions. Some of these have
been handed down over hundreds of years and some have
been developed more recently. The House of Commons
continues to add to and modify its rules and practices to
reflect changes in the way the House works and Members
perform their duties-for example, the increasing use of
Another way House practices change and evolve is through
decisions made by the Speaker. These rulings involve the
Speaker's interpretation of the rules and precedents of
the House. When a Member raises a point of order or a
question of privilege in the House, the Speaker may hand
down a ruling immediately. Alternatively, if the
situation demands a more in-depth examination of the
facts and a review of precedents, the Speaker will take
the matter under advisement and make a ruling at a later
Over the course of the last fiscal year, the Speaker ruled on questions of privilege, requests for emergency debate, points of order and several other matters. Rulings on questions of privilege dealt with such issues as mailings to constituents, disorder in the galleries of the House and the premature disclosure of a bill. The rulings on points of order included subjects such as the admissibility of a motion of instruction to a committee, parliamentary language, the admissibility of an amendment to a bill adopted in committee and the use of a particular Standing Order to prevent amendments to a motion for second reading.
This is the time for private Members to present bills
and motions for debate. The order in which Members can
present items is established in a random draw at the
opening of Parliament. All private Members' bills and
motions can be voted on, provided they meet certain
Government Orders are any items of business (such as
motions or bills) that the government places on the
agenda under the heading "Government Orders."
Discussion and votes on these items take up the bulk of
the House's time.
Members can make one minute statements on matters of
importance to them and their constituents.
This segment of the day lasts only 45 minutes, although
it attracts media coverage disproportionate to its
short duration. Also known as Question Period, it is a
chance for opposition Members, and some Members of the
governing party, to seek information from the
government. In the last fiscal year, 4,226 questions
were asked during Oral Questions.
Routine Proceedings cover many different items, such as
the tabling of documents, statements by Ministers, the
presentation of petitions and committee reports, the
introduction and first reading of bills, and reports
from interparliamentary delegations. In the past year,
2,126 documents were tabled during Routine
On Wednesdays, daily House business does not begin in
the Chamber until 2:00 p.m. so Members can attend
meetings of their respective political parties in the
morning. In these meetings, Senators and Members who
belong to the same political party meet to discuss
policy and the parliamentary agenda. Caucus meetings
are closed and they are governed by rules of secrecy.
(Caucus meetings are the only item listed on this Daily
Order of Business that does not take place in the
A Member who is dissatisfied with a reply received in
Question Period can ask, in writing, for the matter to
be raised again during Adjournment Proceedings, often
referred to as the "late show." A Cabinet Minister or
Parliamentary Secretary responds.
Each day in the Chamber requires considerable preparation, not just by the Members but also by the House Administration. Members prepare themselves in a number of ways, often with help from the House Administration. For example, procedural staff attend a briefing to review the previous day and prepare for issues that might arise in the coming sitting, while other employees prepare the Chamber or work behind the scenes.