Parliament of Canada
A to Z Index
Senators and Members
Table of Contents
Parliaments and Ministries
Privileges and Immunities
The House of Commons and Its Members
The Physical and Administrative Setting
Ottawa as the Seat of Government
The Parliament Buildings and Grounds
Administrative Structures and Services
The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House
The Parliamentary Cycle
Sittings of the House
The Daily Program
The Process of Debate
Rules of Order and Decorum
The Curtailment of Debate
The Legislative Process
Committees of the Whole House
Private Members’ Business
Private Bills Practice
The Parliamentary Record
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
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6. The Physical and Administrative Setting
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For a complete history of the selection of Ottawa as a capital city, see Wilfrid Eggleston,
The Queen’s Choice
, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1961, ch. 5.
During a time of political and economic crisis, protest coalesced against the Governor’s assent to the Rebellion Losses Bill (compensating losses suffered in Lower Canada during the 1837 rebellion). There were days of rioting, in the course of which an angry mob invaded the House of Assembly. The building burned on April 25, 1849, and very little was saved. (See J.M.S. Careless,
The Union of the Canadas
,Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967, pp. 122-6.)
The choice of Ottawa as national capital is reflected in the Quebec resolutions of 1864, adopted by delegates from the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and the colonies of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island and the London resolutions of 1866, adopted by delegates from the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (The Quebec Resolutions, 1864, and the London Resolutions, 1866, may be found in M. Ollivier,
British North America Acts and Selected Statutes, 1867-1962
, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1962, p. 47, s. 52, and p. 58, s. 51, respectively.)
For a description of the original site, see
, p. 83.
Parliament of Canada Act
, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 80.
The report of a Royal Commission, appointed to inquire into the origin of the fire, was presented to the House later that year (
, May 16, 1916, p. 388). The commissioners were “ … of the opinion that there are many circumstances connected with this fire that lead to a strong suspicion of incendiarism”, but as the inquiry was taken no further, the true cause of the fire remains a mystery. The report noted that the fire started in the Reading Room, which was furnished and fitted in “highly inflammable” varnished white pine, and where many newspapers and files were kept. See also Jane Varkaris and Lucile Finsten,
Fire on Parliament Hill!
The Boston Mills Press, 1988.
Arrangements were quickly made and remarkably the House began sitting in the Museum’s auditorium the day after the fire (
, February 4, 1916, p. 53). The Senate, which was not sitting at the time of the fire, was accommodated in what had been the Geological Department (
, February 8, 1916, p. 50).
When the session opened on February 26, 1920, the Senate Chamber was not ready. The Senate met in the House of Commons, where the Speech from the Throne was read, and the House met in the Railway Committee Room; thereafter, until the Senate Chamber was ready, the Commons met in its Chamber and the Senate in the Railway Committee Room (
, February 26, 1920, p. 1; February 27, 1920, p. 2; see also pages 5 and 6 of the
Report of the Minister of Public Works for the Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 1919
, tabled on March 10, 1920 (
, p. 39)).
On being occupied in 1920, the building was still in an unfinished state. It was completed in 1922, the Peace Tower in 1927.
ed., p. 163.
The principal ones are the Confederation, Justice, Wellington, Victoria and La Promenade buildings.
The design and the construction of the fountain were the work of the then Department of Public Works. The flame was originally conceived as a project for the Centennial year and the intention was to extinguish it at the end of 1967. However, in response to popular demand, the government decided to continue the flame in perpetuity (
, December 11, 1967, p. 5260; December 12, 1967, pp. 5358-9).
Centennial Flame Research Award Act
, S.C. 1991, c. 17. The Act originated as a private Member’s bill introduced by Patrick Boyer (Etobicoke–Lakeshore); it established the Fund which is administered by the parliamentary committee whose mandate includes matters relating to the status of disabled persons. The Fund provides awards to disabled persons to conduct research and prepare reports on the contributions of disabled persons to the public life of Canada. Reports prepared by award recipients are presented in the House by the Chair of the committee. See
, June 14, 1993, p. 3204; December 13, 1994, p. 1043; April 23, 1997, pp. 1515-6; May 12, 1998, p. 775; June 10, 1999, p. 2090.
Originally planned for Parliament Hill, the statue of Louis St-Laurent (Prime Minister from 1948 to 1957) was erected in 1975 in front of the Supreme Court of Canada building and looks towards Parliament Hill, which is nearby. This location was considered to be in keeping with St-Laurent’s distinguished legal career and service as Minister of Justice and Attorney General prior to becoming Prime Minister. For further information about the statues on and near Parliament Hill, see
Statues of Parliament Hill
, National Capital Commission, 1986.
The monument to Elizabeth II is the only monument on Parliament Hill which was not erected posthumously. It was unveiled in 1992, the year of the fortieth anniversary of her accession to the Throne.
For information on Parliament Hill and the precincts of the Houses of Parliament, see
ed., pp. 163-78.
Constitution Act, 1867
, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 108, The Third Schedule, clause 9. See also
ed., pp. 168-9.
Formerly the Department of Public Works, it was reorganized and renamed in 1993-94; see
Department of Public Works and Government Services Act
, S.C. 1996, c. 16.
National Capital Act
, R.S.C. 1985, c. N-4, s. 10.
Canada’s Parliament Buildings: The Senate and House of Commons, Ottawa
, Ottawa: 1948,p. 24. Figures converted from imperial to metric.
When the Sovereign or the Governor General is present on Parliament Hill for a state or public function, the Canadian flag is replaced by Her Majesty’s Personal Canadian Flag or by the Governor General’s Flag, as the case may be (
The Arms, Flags and Emblems of Canada
ed., Deneau Publishers, 1981).
For additional information on the services offered by the Library of Parliament, see
Library of Parliament, A Guide to Services
, December 1997.
For further information on the history of the Library of Parliament, see Audrey Dubé and Mike Graham,
Chronology of a Building, the Library of Parliament
(1995), and Kenneth Binks,
Library of Parliament
, Canada, KCB Publications, 1979.
The “History of Canada” series was begun in 1962 by Eleanor Milne and her team of stonecarvers, and completed in 1974. The Loyalists were American colonists of diverse ethnic backgrounds who supported the British cause during the American revolution, and who left the United States at the end of the War of Independence or soon thereafter. (For further information on the United Empire Loyalists, seeWallace Brown and Hereward Senior,
Victorious in Defeat: The Loyalists in Canada
, Methuen Publications, 1984.)
Antechambers for the House and Senate were part of the design for the new Parliament Building constructed after the fire of 1916; the original building had no antechamber.
For information on the Speaker’s parade, see
Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”
The predominance of the colour red in the Senate Chamber and the British House of Lords can be explained by its history as a royal colour used in the room where the Sovereign met his Court and nobles, as was the case in Parliament’s earliest days. The association of the colour green with the Commons is not so easily determined. The colour green has been linked to the Commons’ meeting places at least since 1663 (date of the first authoritative written reference to green in the House of Commons). See J.M. Davies, “Red and Green” in
, Vol. XXXVII for 1968, pp. 33-40; as well as “House of Commons Green”, Factsheet No. 13, Public Information Office, House of Commons, London, 1987.
The windows were a special project, undertaken in 1967 by Speaker Lamoureux to mark Canada’s centennial. They were designed by Parliamentary Sculptor Eleanor Milne. The project was completed in 1973. See
The Stained Glass Windows of Canada’s House of Commons
, Ottawa, published under the authority of the Speaker of the House of Commons; see also
, September 7, 1971, p. 7545.
This 11-year project, completed in 1985, was undertaken by Parliamentary Sculptor Eleanor Milne and her team. On the east wall are featured civil law, freedom of speech, the Senate, the Governor General, Confederation, the vote; on the west wall are bilingualism, education, House of Commons, taxation, criminal law and communication. R. Eleanor Milne,
The British North America Act Series
, Ottawa: Department of Public Works, 1983.
This is said to originate with the formation of political parties and party government. In the parliaments of seventeenth century Britain, according to Redlich, the division into right and left was “ … quite unknown.” For information on the origins of this and other traditions associated with seating in the British House, see
, Vol. II, pp. 23-7.
This relates to times gone by in the British House; its Members no longer wear swords, but red lines marked on the carpet two swords’ length apart serve as a reminder to seek resolutions by peaceful means.
In response to a point of order, Speaker Parent explained the process followed in assigning seats to parties and stated, “There is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons” (
, September 30, 1998, pp. 8584-5). For further information on assignment of seats, see
Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”
Seating plans for the House indicate that at one time the Speaker, a government Member, was assigned a desk on the government side near the Chair. It appears the practice was discontinued in the Thirty-First Parliament (1979) when, following a change of government, Speaker Jerome was elected to a second term, becoming the first opposition Member to be nominated by the governing party to preside over the House.
This design element may be related to the fact that the Chair is a replica of the original Speaker’s Chair at Westminster, which is also raised above floor level. In St. Stephen’s Chapel, the home of the British Commons from 1547 to 1834, the Speaker’s Chair was located atop the steps leading to the altar.
In 1973, the House adopted a motion authorizing the Speaker to “display the Canadian Flag in the House of Commons in such location as he chooses” (
, February 14, 1973, p. 119). For some years the flag was displayed on the Speaker’s right. Since the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), the flag has been displayed to either side of the Chair.
, May 20, 1921, p. 3691.
, June 8, 1920, p. 324; see also
, May 20, 1921, pp. 3689-96.
The lift was installed in 1981 during the tenure of Speaker Sauvé.
See comments of Speaker Jerome on the Page Programme,
, March 22, 1978, pp. 4026-7; October 10, 1978, p. 6953.
The portraits are normally commissioned before a Speaker leaves office, but hung only after a Speaker has left office; a hanging ceremony is held when a new portrait is added to the collection.
The Table, with its elaborately carved base, was designed by J.A. Pearson, one of the architects of the reconstructed Centre Block.
The scroll is the (traditionally handwritten) record of proceedings in the House, kept by the Table Officers. It is the basis of the
. The time book, also kept by Table Officers, is an account of how time is used in the House.
The calendar stand, inkstand and seal press are the handiwork of ironmaster Paul Beau; they were placed on the Table in 1926 to replace items lost in the fire of 1916 (
, May 26, 1926, p. 3731). For a description of their design, see
, May 28, 1926, pp. 364-5. Mr. Beau was also responsible for many of the ironwork items found elsewhere in the Centre Block (see
by Rosalind Pepall, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1982).
The Mace developed from the club (prehistoric weapon) and the staff (ancient symbol of age, wisdom and authority). See Erskine Grant-Dalton, “The Mace”,
, Vol. XXV for 1956, pp. 15-20; see also Peter Thorne, “Maces: Their Use and Significance”,
, Vol. 44, 1963, pp. 25-30. It is said that the mace rather than the sword was carried into battle by the medieval warrior bishops, in conformity with canonical rule forbidding priests to shed blood (Beauchesne,
Canada’s Parliament Buildings
, p. 55).
ed., pp. 136-7.
At this time, the British Commons was at the start of its centuries-long struggle to assert and win the privileges essential to establishing its distinct role in Parliament. In the Ferrers case of 1543, the House of Commons successfully challenged the City of London authorities, securing the release of an arrested Member (Ferrers) “by their Serjeant without writ, only by shew of his mace, which was his warrant”; see the account in
, Vol. I, pp. 53-9. See also
Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”
The legislative assemblies of the other provinces joining Confederation did not use maces (
ed., pp. 277-8, note 5). Nova Scotia and New Brunswick obtained maces in 1930 and 1937 respectively. In Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), maces were used in the houses of assembly from the time of their first meetings in 1792.
ed., pp. 277-8, note 5.
John McDonough, “The History of the Maces of the British and Canadian Parliaments,”
Canadian Parliamentary Review
, Vol. II, No. 2, June 1979, p. 29.
, May 16, 1917, p. 216. For a description of the design of the Mace, see
, May 16, 1917, pp. 1468-9. See also
Wilding and Laundy
, pp. 455-6 for information on maces in other Commonwealth parliaments.