PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
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Oral Questions

More than any other segment of the parliamentary day, Question Period serves as a daily snapshot of national political life and is closely followed by Members, the press and the public, each sitting day of the House. It is that part of the parliamentary day where the government is held accountable for its administrative policies and the conduct of its Ministers, both individually and collectively. [2]  As has been noted, “Question Period is a free-wheeling affair, with tremendous spontaneity and vitality. The main topics raised are often those on the front pages of the major newspapers or raised on national television news the previous evening.” [3]  Any Member can ask a question, although the time is set aside almost exclusively for the opposition parties to confront the government and hold it accountable for its actions, and to highlight the perceived inadequacies of the government. “Question Period serves the opposition and to a lesser extent the government well in its present form… . it is not subtle or clever but it is effective in making points — for both sides.” [4] 

Historical Perspective

For most of the history of parliamentary government in Canada, there were no written rules expressly permitting the asking of oral questions, though the practice did exist. Prior to Confederation, oral questions had been asked essentially by consent and, as responsible government evolved, they became more frequent. [5]  When the House of Commons adopted its first set of rules in December 1867, only written questions were provided for. [6]  Nevertheless, the practice of oral questions had started even earlier on November 29, 1867, three weeks after the opening of the first session of Parliament, when an oral question was posed, not to a Minister but to the Chairman of the Printing Committee, before Orders of the Day were called. [7] 

By 1878, oral questions had become a frequent enough practice to warrant comment by Speaker Anglin: “It is customary for hon. members to ask the Government for any special information between the various calls from the Chair for the day, before Notices of Motion or the Orders of the Day. I am not aware that any hon. member has a positive right even to do that; but I think he must confine himself entirely to asking the information from the Government, and he must not proceed to descant on the conduct of the Government.” [8]  In the following years, the practice of Members asking oral questions in the House on matters deemed urgent [9]  became established as a right by convention. This practice would continue largely unregulated until 1964.

Over time, informal standards and guidelines developed and, by the 1940s, oral questions (“Questions on Orders of the Day” as it was then referred to) had become an established part of the parliamentary day. However, oral questions were still not sanctioned by any written rules. The legitimacy of the convention was augmented through statements made by Speakers in the House concerning guidelines, interpretations and advice on what kinds of questions and replies were acceptable. [10]  Furthermore, in the 1940s, procedure committees began to look at the practice of oral questions in an effort to recognize formally the de facto procedure by establishing rules to regulate its proceedings.

The first attempt of the House to codify the practice of oral questions occurred in 1944 when a special committee noted, “The custom of asking questions before the orders of the day are proceeded with has taken such a development that it is now part of our parliamentary practice. It is neither possible nor advisable to do away with it.” [11]  The committee proposed that a formal rule be adopted permitting oral questions to be asked with a minimum one hour’s notice to be followed by no more than three supplementary questions each; [12]  however, its report containing the new rule was never adopted. During the next few years, other committee reports proposed rules along similar lines but again none of them were adopted by the House. [13]  Meanwhile, beginning in 1947, the heading “Inquiries of the Ministry” appeared in the Debates when oral questions were posed in the House.

The continued absence of any rule governing oral questions necessitated further statements from the Chair on Question Period and, in 1955, resulted in the modification of the procedure for starred questions (written questions requiring oral answers). This was intended to reduce the number of oral questions on Orders of the Day, [14]  but in fact, Question Period continued to grow as a proceeding. In the early 1960s, however, the nature of Question Period was briefly changed when the Chair began to enforce several long-standing unwritten rules regarding question content, many of which were outdated. [15]  The resulting furor eventually led to the adoption, in 1964, of the first-ever codification of Question Period rules. [16] 

The urgency requirement was incorporated in the Standing Orders adopted by the House in 1964. [17]  It was also established that the House would begin its consideration of oral questions at the conclusion of Routine Proceedings and immediately before Orders of the Day were called. At that time, every sitting started at 2:30 p.m. with Routine Proceedings. Therefore, Question Period was always at approximately the same time, although it depended on the length of Routine Proceedings. Friday, however, was an exception as the sitting started at 11:00 a.m. with Routine Proceedings. A limit of 30 minutes for the consideration of oral questions on Wednesday was also introduced (no time limit for the remaining weekdays), probably due to the fact that Wednesday was a short day with no evening sitting. [18]  At the same time, a new procedure was established whereby Members who were dissatisfied with responses given to their questions during Question Period, or who were told by the Speaker that their question was not urgent, could raise these matters at the adjournment of the House.

In addition to the Standing Order changes, the House simultaneously approved content guidelines for oral questions and the answers to them. [19]  The guidelines stemmed from precedents which were still considered valid but had not been codified. Questions were to be asked on matters of sufficient importance requiring immediate, but not lengthy and detailed answers; there could be no questions in regard to statements made in newspapers; questions involving legal opinions or on sub judice matters were not permitted; and questions could not raise matters of policy too large to be dealt with as an answer to a question. Answers to questions were to be as brief as possible, deal with the matter raised and not provoke debate. Other issues, including the number of supplementaries, for example, were left entirely to the Speaker, who could direct that a question not be proceeded with or that it be placed on the Order Paper after due notice.

In 1975, a set time frame was established for Question Period. Originally Question Period came after Routine Proceedings and could begin anywhere from 2:00 p.m. on. As a result of the House concurring in a procedure committee’s report in March 1975, Question Period was placed before Routine Proceedings where it would begin without fail at 2:15 p.m. daily. [20] 

At the time of these rule changes, Speaker Jerome made a statement in the House which affects the conduct of Question Period to this day. As he explained in his autobiography, Mr. Speaker, when he assumed the Chair in 1974 the only guidance he had for conducting Question Period were precedents ruling questions out of order. [21]  He established that asking oral questions was a right, not a privilege of the Members, and he identified several principles for the conduct of Question Period. [22]  He also reiterated that the question and answer content requirements would continue to apply and added to them those which had evolved since 1964.

However, after 1975, Question Period became an increasingly open forum where questions of every description could be asked, often without regard to some of the guidelines that had been issued and, as well, without regard to the urgency requirement in the Standing Order. This was coupled with an apparent reluctance on the part of successive Speakers to use their discretionary powers to direct that non-urgent questions be placed on the Order Paper. In addition, the introduction of television to the House in 1977 affected the conduct of Members during Question Period:

It has also been argued that television has contributed to some less than positive developments. Perhaps the most common complaint is that television has led to the over-emphasis on Question Period. It is also felt that individual Members tend to play to the cameras — that they grandstand — in the hopes of getting a 15-second clip on the evening news. [23] 

In 1986, following a period of acrimonious and disorderly Question Periods during which several Members were named and suspended for the remainder of the sitting day, Speaker Bosley made a statement similar to that of Speaker Jerome in 1975. [24]  As explained later in this chapter, Speaker Bosley set down four principles for Question Period and its attendant guidelines, which are widely adhered to today.

In 1997, a further change was made to the guidelines for Question Period. Speaker Parent indicated to the House that he would no longer apply the long-established practice of ruling out of order questions anticipating an order of the day. Previously, questions in anticipation of an order of the day were disallowed to prevent the time of the House from being taken up with business to be discussed later in the sitting. [25]  In 1975, Speaker Jerome included this restriction in the list of guidelines for Question Period. [26]  However, during the budget debate and the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Chair permitted some relaxation of the rules as long as questions on these matters did not monopolize the limited time available. [27]  In 1983, Speaker Sauvé ruled that questions relating to opposition motions on Supply days could also be put. [28]  In 1997, after a point of order had been raised in the House about the guideline, [29]  the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented a report in which it recommended that the Speaker “no longer apply this guideline and that questions that anticipate Orders of the Day should not be ruled out of order on this basis alone.” [30]  On April 7, 1997, Speaker Parent informed the House that the Chair would follow the advice of the Committee. [31] 

Role of the Speaker During Question Period

Presiding over the daily Question Period is regarded as one of the most onerous and difficult tasks undertaken by the Speaker. [32]  The Speaker ensures that Question Period is conducted in a civil manner, that questions and answers do not lead to debate and that both sides of the House get to participate. As Speaker Fraser noted in The House of Commons at Work:

Question Period places heavy demands on the Speaker of the House. He must at all times remain keenly alert and attentive, keep a perceptive eye on the whole assembly, be aware of the mood of the House and be familiar with the national and international issues likely to be raised. Insofar as possible, he must be aware of the inter-party tensions over particular issues. [33] 

The Speaker has implicit discretion and authority to rule out of order any question posed during Question Period if satisfied that it is in contravention of House rules of order, decorum and procedure. [34]  In ruling a question out of order, the Chair may suggest that it be rephrased in order to make it acceptable to the House. [35]  Or, the Speaker may recognize another Member to pose the next question. [36]  In cases where such a question has been posed, if a Minister wishes to reply, the Speaker, in order to be equitable, has allowed the Minister to do so.

The Speaker has in the past directed that certain questions posed during Question Period should be placed on the Order Paper[37]  These are questions which, in the opinion of the Chair, are not urgent or are of such a technical or detailed nature as to require a similar response. In recent years, the Speaker has not invoked this procedure, opting instead to suggest to the Member asking the question that perhaps it would be more appropriately posed in written form. [38] 

Given that only 45 minutes are set aside each day for Question Period, the Speaker has often expressed concern that shorter questions and answers would allow more Members to participate. Since the Speaker retains sole discretion in determining the time that individual questions and answers may take, the Chair may interrupt any Member consuming more than a reasonable share of time in posing or responding to a question. [39]  While it is not the Chair’s responsibility to determine the length of answers given during Question Period, [40]  the Speaker has pointed out to the House that, in the interests of fairness, questions should be as concise as possible in order to encourage answers of similar brevity and thereby allow the Chair to recognize as many Members as possible. [41] 

Conduct of Question Period

On each sitting day at no later than 2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m. on Friday), the 45-minute Question Period begins. [42]  At this time, the Speaker recognizes the Leader of the Opposition, or the lead questioner for his or her party, for a round of three questions. From the start of the Thirty-First Parliament in 1979 to the end of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament in 1997, the practice had been to allow the party leader of any other officially recognized party in the House, or his or her representative, to pose an initial question followed by two other questions as supplementary to the initial question. [43]  At the beginning of the Thirty-Sixth Parliament in 1997, a new arrangement for the conduct of Question Period was put in place by the Speaker after consultations with the House Leaders of all five officially recognized parties in the House. The lead questioner of the Official Opposition poses an initial question followed by two other questions. The lead questioners of the other officially recognized parties are permitted an initial question and only one additional question. Throughout the rest of Question Period, the same pattern of questioning [44]  also applies to other Members representing parties in opposition to the government. [45] 

Members representing the governing party are also recognized to ask questions though not as often as opposition Members. During the final minutes of Question Period, the Speaker will normally not permit any Member an additional question in order to allow as many Members as possible the opportunity to ask a question that day. [46] 

Participation in Question Period is managed to a large extent by the various caucuses and their Whips and can be the subject of negotiations among the parties. [47]  Each party decides daily which of its Members will participate in Question Period and provides the Speaker with a list of the names and the suggested order of recognition of these Members. [48]  Each party’s list is typically compiled by the Whip or the Member or Members managing that party’s strategy for Question Period. Although the Speaker is under no obligation to use such lists, it has become an accepted practice of the House. [49]  With this list as a guide, the Speaker uses his or her discretion in recognizing Members to ask questions. The recognition pattern varies depending on party representation in the House and the number of Members in each party. These factors often determine the number of questioners recognized and the number of questions allowed each party. Since the start of the Thirty-First Parliament (1979), Speakers have recognized, as the questioner immediately following the Leader of the Opposition, a Member also representing the Official Opposition to proceed to the next round of questioning. [50] 

Members of a political party not officially recognized in the House and Independent Members are permitted to ask questions although not as frequently as those Members belonging to recognized parties. During the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), when their numbers climbed as high as 17 over the life of the Parliament, the Speaker attempted to recognize at least one of them every other Question Period, if not every day, generally towards the end of the proceedings. [51] 

While the rules place no restriction on who may ask questions during Question Period, by convention only private Members do so. Members must be in their own seats to be recognized to pose questions. [52]  Members have been recognized more than once to ask questions in the same Question Period. [53]  Ministers do not ask oral questions either of other Ministers or of private Members. Because of their responsibilities in answering questions on behalf of the government, Parliamentary Secretaries do not pose questions during Question Period. [54]  Finally, the Speaker neither poses nor responds to oral questions. [55] 

Points of Order and Questions of Privilege During Question Period

Generally, points of order or questions of privilege are not entertained during Question Period. [56]  In his 1975 statement concerning the conduct of Question Period, Speaker Jerome indicated that any points of order or questions of privilege arising out of the proceedings of Question Period should be raised at the end of Question Period. [57]  Despite this directive, there have been instances of points of order or questions of privilege being raised during Question Period, but they have been deferred, at the request of the Chair, until after Question Period. [58]  However, if a situation arises during Question Period that the Speaker believes to be sufficiently serious to require immediate consideration, for example, unparliamentary language, then the matter is addressed at that time. [59] 

Principles and Guidelines for Oral Questions

The guidelines which govern the form and content of oral questions are based on convention, usage and tradition. The written rules state only that oral questions are to be based on “matters of urgency” and that a specific period of time is to be set aside each sitting day for that purpose. [60]  There is no formal notice requirement for the posing of oral questions, although some Members, as a courtesy, inform the Minister of the question they intend to ask. Practice, precedents and statements made by various Speakers in the House have helped over time to define the conduct of Question Period. While the rules concerning oral questions and Question Period have not changed since 1975, such has not been the case for the various sets of guidelines that have governed the form and content of oral questions. Even the interpretation of “urgent” in the Standing Order has evolved. Each Speaker has felt the need to comment on the way he or she would conduct Question Period.

There exists a vast body of traditional guidelines, many of which are no longer valid or have fallen into disuse. [61]  Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between valid and outdated precedents, Speaker Bosley addressed this question in 1986, [62]  stating that the appropriate rules for Question Period should recognize the following principles:

  • Time is scarce and should, therefore, be used as profitably as possible by as many as possible.
  • The public in large numbers do watch, and the House, recognizing that Question Period is often an intense time, should be on its best possible behaviour.
  • While there may be other purposes and ambitions involved in Question Period, its primary purpose must be the seeking of information from the government and calling the government to account for its actions.
  • Members should be given the greatest possible freedom in the putting of questions that is consistent with the other principles.

Drawing in part on the statement from Speaker Jerome in 1975, Speaker Bosley elaborated further:

Mr. Speaker Jerome, in his statement 11 years ago, put his view with regard to the first principle of brevity so well that I would merely quote it:
There can be no doubt that the greatest enemy of the Question Period is the Member who offends this most important principle. In putting the original question on any subject, a Member may require an explanatory remark, but there is no reason for such a preamble to exceed one, carefully drawn sentence.

It is my proposal to ask all Hon. Members to pay close attention to this admonition and to bring them to order if they fail to do so. It bears repeating that the long preamble or long question takes an unfair share of the time, and invariably, in provoking the same kind of response, only compounds the difficulty.
I agree with these comments and would add that such comments obviously also apply to answers by Ministers. I would also endorse Mr. Speaker Jerome’s view that supplementary questions should need no preambles; they should flow from the Minister’s response and be put in precise and direct terms without any prior statement or argument. It is the Chair’s view that it equally follows from the first principle, that time is scarce, that Members should seek to avoid merely repeating questions that have already been asked. I do not mean that other questions on the same subject should not be asked — as apparently I have been interpreted — just that subsequent questions should be other than ones already asked.

For similar reasons it has always been a fundamental rule of questioning Ministers that the subject matter of the question must fall within the collective responsibility of the Government or the individual responsibility of one of its Ministers. This is the only basis upon which Ministers can be expected to answer questions. [63] 

These two statements, along with some of the guidelines adopted by the House in 1965, are used today by the Speaker as a reference in managing the Question Period. In summary, when recognized in Question Period, a Member should

  • ask a question;
  • be brief;
  • seek information; [64] 
  • ask a question that is within the administrative responsibility of the government or the individual Minister addressed. [65] 

Furthermore, a question should not

  • be a statement, representation, argument or an expression of opinion; [66] 
  • be hypothetical; [67] 
  • seek an opinion, either legal or otherwise; [68] 
  • seek information which is secretive in its nature, such as Cabinet proceedings or advice given to the Crown by Law Officers; [69] 
  • reflect on the character or conduct of Chair occupants, Members of the House and of the Senate or Members of the judiciary; [70] 
  • reflect on the Governor General; [71] 
  • refer to proceedings in the Senate; [72] 
  • refer to public statements by Ministers on matters not directly related to their departmental duties; [73] 
  • address a Minister’s former portfolio or any other presumed functions, such as party or regional political responsibilities; [74] 
  • be on a matter that is sub judice[75] 
  • deal with the subject matter of a question of privilege previously raised, on which the Speaker reserved his decision; [76] 
  • create disorder; [77] 
  • make a charge by way of a preamble to a question; [78] 
  • be a question from a constituent. [79] 

Finally, all questions and answers must be directed through the Chair. [80] 

Sub judice Convention

Over the years, a practice has developed in the House whereby Members are expected to refrain from discussing matters before the courts or under judicial consideration in order to protect those involved in a court action or judicial inquiry against any undue influence through the discussion of the case. This practice is referred to as the sub judice convention and it applies to debate, statements and Question Period. [81]  It is deemed improper for a Member, in posing a question, or a Minister, in responding to a question, to comment on any matter that is sub judice.

In December 1976, a special committee was established to review the rights and immunities of Members. [82]  The Committee decided to study how Members’ freedom of speech was affected by the sub judice convention. Its First Report remains the definitive study of the convention. [83]  In the report, the Committee stated: “It is the view of your Committee that the responsibility of the Chair during the question period should be minimal as regards the sub judice convention, and that the responsibility should principally rest upon the Member who asks the question and the minister to whom it is addressed.” [84]  The Committee clarified further that while all Members share in the responsibility of exercising this restraint, the Speaker is the final arbiter in determining whether a subject matter raised during the consideration of oral questions is sub judice. As Speaker Parent noted in a 1995 ruling, the approach of most Chair occupants has been to discourage all comments on sub judice matters, rather than to allow Members to experiment within the limits of the convention and to test the Speaker’s discretion, given that it is speculative to determine how a comment might influence a matter before the courts. [85]  Although Members themselves customarily observe the convention during Question Period, the Speaker has ruled out of order questions concerning criminal cases, noting that the Chair has the duty to balance the legitimate right of the House with the rights and interests of the ordinary citizen undergoing the trial. [86]  However, as the Committee noted in 1977, if a question to a Minister touches upon a matter that is sub judice, it is likely that the Minister will have more information concerning the matter than the Speaker and can determine whether answering the question might cause prejudice. The Minister could refuse to answer the question as is his or her prerogative. [87] 

Questions Concerning the Administration of the House

The Speaker is the Chairman of the Board of Internal Economy, the body which oversees the administration of the House. It had been the practice that no questions dealing with the management and administration of the House could be put to the Speaker during Question Period even though he or she was the chair of the Board. Questions on these matters, it was held, could be dealt with by communicating directly with the Speaker. [88]  In June 1985, the House adopted a new rule allowing questions concerning matters of financial or administrative policy affecting the House itself to be directed not to the Speaker, but to those members of the Board of Internal Economy designated by the Board to respond on its behalf. [89]  In explaining the procedure for such questions to the newly elected Members of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), the Speaker stated: “All questions relating to the internal and financial management of the House of Commons fall within the statutory responsibilities of the Board of Internal Economy … Such matters do not fall within the administrative responsibilities of the government. That is why responses to these questions cannot be expected from the ministry.” [90] 

Questions Concerning Matters Before Committees

Questions seeking information about the schedule and agenda of committees may be directed to chairs of committees. [91]  Questions to the Ministry or a committee chair concerning the proceedings or work of a committee may not be raised. [92]  Thus, for example, a question would be disallowed if it dealt with a vote in committee, [93]  with the attendance of Members at a committee meeting, [94]  or with the content of a committee report. [95]  Questions to the Ministry on legislation or on a subject matter that is before a committee, when appropriately cast, are normally permitted as long as the questioning does not interfere with the committee’s work or anticipate its report. [96]  When a question has been asked about a committee’s proceedings, Speakers have encouraged Members to rephrase their questions. [97] 

Supplementary Questions

Members may seek to clarify the answer to a question or solicit further information through the use of supplementary questions. A supplementary question is posed immediately following a response to an initial question. In conformity with parliamentary tradition, the Speaker retains the authority to determine when supplementary questions may be permitted. [98]  The same guidelines which apply to initial questions apply to supplementary questions. They are to be constructed as “a follow-up device flowing from the response and ought to be a precise question put directly and immediately to the Minister, without any further statement”. [99]  In the past, Speakers used their discretion to insist that a supplementary question be on the same subject and as a general rule be asked of the same Minister. [100]  However, at the beginning of the Thirty-Sixth Parliament in 1997, Speaker Parent allowed the practice to be modified by not insisting that an additional question be, strictly speaking, supplementary to the main question. [101]  He indicated that he would find it acceptable for a party to split a round of questioning between two Members, with each one asking a different question to a different Minister. [102] 

As a supplementary question is meant to flow from or be based upon the information given to the House in the response of the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary to the initial or preceding question, the Speaker has indicated that supplementary questions should not be permitted when a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary, in responding to the question, informs the House that the question will be taken under advisement. [103]  However, Members are occasionally permitted to put a supplementary question even under these circumstances. [104] 

Historical Perspective

The guidelines for supplementary questions have evolved in much the same way as those for oral questions. The practice of asking supplementary questions began in the early 1940s, despite the Speaker’s disapproval. [105]  In 1943, Speaker Glen stated that supplementary questions would only be allowed where “explanations or statements by ministers might reasonably be requested, in circumstances where the minister would no doubt wish to have his remarks made as clearly as possible”. [106]  In 1944, a procedure committee recommended that the number of supplementary questions be limited to three for each original question; although this proposal was considered in a Committee of the Whole, no decision was made. [107]  In 1948, another procedure committee recommended that an oral question be followed by such supplementary questions as necessary to clarify the answer given by the Minister; the report was not considered by the House. [108] 

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the continued absence of any rule governing oral questions necessitated a number of statements from various Chair occupants who included remarks on supplementary questions. Some Chair occupants allowed up to two supplementary questions for each initial question; others used their own discretion in permitting a supplementary question. [109]  In 1964, when the rules for Question Period were finally codified, some practices, including the number of supplementary questions, were still left to the discretion of the Speaker.

In 1975, Speaker Jerome stated that there should be no preambles to supplementary questions and that they should flow from the Minister’s response and be put in precise and direct terms without any prior statement or argument. [110]  In a 1984 ruling, Speaker Francis reiterated these remarks, [111]  and in 1986, Speaker Bosley further clarified that Members should avoid merely repeating questions that have already been asked, given that the time in Question Period was scarce. [112] 

Replies to Oral Questions

There are no explicit rules which govern the form or content of replies to oral questions. According to practice, replies are to be as brief as possible, to deal with the subject matter raised and to be phrased in language that does not provoke disorder in the House. As Speaker Jerome summarized in his 1975 statement on Question Period, several types of responses may be appropriate. Ministers may

  • answer the question;
  • defer their answer;
  • take the question as notice;
  • make a short explanation as to why they cannot furnish an answer at that time;
  • say nothing. [113] 

Questions, although customarily addressed to specific Ministers, are directed to the Ministry as a whole. It is the prerogative of the government to designate which Minister responds to which question. [114]  The Prime Minister (or the Deputy Prime Minister or any other Minister acting on behalf of the Prime Minister) may respond to any or all questions posed during Question Period. [115]  Only one Minister may respond to a question, and it need not be the one to whom the question is addressed who actually answers it. [116]  A different Minister may, under certain circumstances, reply to a supplementary question. [117]  The Speaker has no authority to compel a particular Minister to respond to a question. [118] 

As all Members are bound by the rules to attend the sittings of the House unless otherwise occupied with parliamentary activities and functions or on public or official business, [119]  no roster system exists to determine which Ministers will be in attendance on a given day. [120]  In general, most Ministers are present during Question Period. If a question is asked pertaining to the portfolio of a Minister who is absent from the House, it may be answered by the Prime Minister, another Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary. [121]  However, if the Minister to whom the question is addressed is present, his or her Parliamentary Secretary may not answer it. [122] 

Members may not insist on an answer [123]  nor may a Member insist that a specific Minister respond to his or her question. [124]  A Minister’s refusal to answer a question may not be questioned or treated as the subject of a point of order or question of privilege. [125] 

The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. [126]  In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. [127]  As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.

Adjournment Proceedings

Any Member who is dissatisfied with the response given to his or her question during Question Period, or who has been told by the Speaker that a question is not urgent, may give notice to speak on the subject matter of the question during a portion of time reserved at the conclusion of most sitting days. This period of House business, known as the Adjournment Proceedings, is also commonly referred to as the “late show”. [128]  In addition, any Member who is concerned that a written question he or she has submitted for the Order Paper has not been responded to within 45 days may give notice of his or her intention to transfer the question to the Adjournment Proceedings. [129]  The Member’s name is then placed on a list along with the names of other Members who have given such notice. At the commencement of this 30-minute period, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday (there are no Adjournment Proceedings on Friday), a motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been moved and seconded; no mover or seconder is required. [130]  After debate, the motion to adjourn is deemed carried and the House adjourns.

The adjournment debate is used as a vehicle for brief exchanges (questions from Members and responses from Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries) on predetermined topics. Several topics stemming from questions either first raised during Question Period or written questions transferred from the Order Paper may be debated. A question ruled out of order during Question Period for any reason other than its lack of urgency is not admissible for debate during the Adjournment Proceedings. [131]  Questions addressed to committee chairs during Question Period may also not be the subject of debate during the Adjournment Proceedings. [132] 

Historical Perspective

In a review of the Standing Orders in 1964, the House adopted a procedure committee proposal for the first-ever Standing Order to regulate Question Period. At the same time, the House agreed to the committee’s suggestion that a rule on the Adjournment Proceedings be adopted to complement the Question Period Standing Order. [133] 

The committee’s rationale in proposing the Adjournment Proceedings Standing Order was that

… merely to impose restrictions on the Orders of the Day Question Period, by itself, … would not retain the rights that are inherent in the asking of questions. We therefore propose … that on three nights in the week, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, there be available a possible half hour period during which there might be short submissions on three different subjects on each of these three nights. Our proposal is that if during the Question Period a Member feels dissatisfied with the answer he gets from the government, … he may give notice that he wishes to raise that matter at the time of adjournment. [134] 

By the 1970s, the “late show” had become a popular vehicle for Members wishing to discuss at greater length matters initially raised during Question Period. With the number of notices given for debate far exceeding the time available, several suggestions were periodically made: to reduce by half the time allotted to each Member participating in the Adjournment Proceedings; [135]  to extend the time allotted to late show questions to allow for the number of topics to be debated to increase from three to five and to permit the lapsing of uncalled items after 20 sitting days; [136]  and to hold the Adjournment Proceedings at 6:00 p.m. even though the applicable adjournment hour was 10:00 p.m. [137]  Eventually, in 1982, the decision to eliminate evening sittings resulted in 6:00 p.m. late shows [138]  and, in 1991, the Standing Orders were amended to allow a maximum of five topics to be debated. [139] 

Notice

Members who wish to raise, during the Adjournment Proceedings, the subject matter of a question originally posed during Question Period must provide the Table with written notice of their desire to do so, no later than one hour following the conclusion of Question Period on the day the question was raised. [140] 

A Member may also be included on the list to take part in the adjournment debate by giving oral notice in the House with reference to a question on the Order Paper not being answered within the required 45-day period. [141]  This is done when the rubric “Questions on the Order Paper” is called during Routine Proceedings.

If, for whatever reason, the subject matter of a question has not been debated during the Adjournment Proceedings 45 sitting days following the notice given by a Member, the notice is deemed withdrawn. [142] 

Selection of Questions to Be Raised

The Speaker typically receives more notices to debate a matter during the Adjournment Proceedings than there is time available for debate. Consequently, the subject matter for which notice has been given may not be raised during the Adjournment Proceedings on the same day. Needless to say, when no notices have been filed with the Table, or when no Members are prepared to proceed on a particular day, the Adjournment Proceedings do not take place.

The Speaker has the discretionary power to determine the specific questions to be raised and the order of their consideration. The Chair, when making this decision, considers the order in which notices were given, the urgency of the matters raised and the apportioning of opportunities to Members of the various parties in the House to debate such matters. [143]  The Speaker may also discuss with and consider the advice of party representatives in arriving at a sequence for the consideration of notices received. [144]  In practice, debates during the Adjournment Proceedings are arranged by procedural staff on behalf of the Speaker.

At no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the Speaker rises and indicates to the House which matter or matters are to be raised that day at the adjournment of the House. [145]  The Speaker retains the authority to control the order of debate during the Adjournment Proceedings and may change the order of those scheduled to speak should the need arise. [146] 

Length of Debate

During this 30-minute period, debate on any one item can last no longer than six minutes. [147]  Within this six-minute time frame, the Member raising the matter may speak for no longer than four minutes, with the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary speaking in response thereto for no longer than two minutes. [148]  However, a Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary is not compelled to respond to any question raised at this time. Any Minister or Parliamentary Secretary may answer on behalf of the government, and the answer, or refusal to answer, may not normally be the subject of a point of order or a question of privilege. [149] 

The time limits for these debates are strictly enforced by the Chair and extensions are neither requested nor granted. The full 30-minute period need not be completely used. [150]  If the full period is not used, the remaining time lapses and the House is adjourned. After 30 minutes or upon completion of debate, whichever comes first, the motion to adjourn is deemed to have been adopted and the House is adjourned to the next sitting day. [151]  If Members fail to proceed with their question during the Adjournment Proceedings on their scheduled day, then the time provided is reduced accordingly.

Suspension or Delay of the Proceedings

Until 1994, the Adjournment Proceedings were cancelled whenever any specified business was to be disposed of or concluded in that sitting or to be continued beyond the ordinary time of daily adjournment. This requirement was deleted from the Standing Orders in June 1994. [152]  Since then, the Adjournment Proceedings are suspended pursuant to the Standing Orders only when the sitting has been extended for an emergency debate, [153]  on the day designated for the budget presentation, [154]  or on any day when the House continues to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the election of a Speaker. [155] 

The Adjournment Proceedings may be delayed until later in the day when a sitting is extended due to a ministerial statement[156]  or when Private Members’ Business has been extended on the second sitting day set aside for the consideration of the report and third reading stages of a bill. [157]  The Adjournment Proceedings may be delayed similarly on the last allotted day in the Supply periods ending March 26, June 23 and December 10. [158]  If a motion has been adopted to extend the hours of sitting during the last ten sitting days in June, the Adjournment Proceedings are delayed until the agreed-upon hour of adjournment. [159]  If a motion has been adopted to continue a sitting pursuant to Standing Order 26, the Adjournment Proceedings would take place at the end of the extension. [160]  On other occasions when the adjournment of the House has been extended for the consideration of legislation or for a special debate, the House has opted to preserve the adjournment debate at its normal time and, after the debate, to deem the motion to be withdrawn. [161]  The Adjournment Proceedings have been interrupted by Royal Assent and resumed upon the return of the House from the Senate following the ceremony. [162] 

Points of Order and Questions of Privilege

Points of order and questions of privilege may not be raised during the Adjournment Proceedings. [163]  The only matters to be considered during this 30-minute period are questions previously raised during Question Period or transferred for debate from the Order Paper and on this basis the House operates without a quorum. Speakers have been reluctant to deal, at that time, with points of order and questions of privilege because these matters could affect the whole House. For the same reason, the Speaker would not propose to the House at this time a motion moved by unanimous consent. Aside from unparliamentary language which, on occasion, has been dealt with immediately by the Speaker without any point of order being raised, [164]  Speakers have ruled that matters arising from the conduct of the Adjournment Proceedings are to be deferred until the next sitting day. [165]  Nonetheless, Speakers have allowed Members on occasion to raise a point of order. [166] 


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