PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
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14. The Curtailment of Debate

Time Allocation

The time allocation rule allows for specific lengths of time to be set aside for the consideration of one or more stages of a public bill. [72]  While the term “time allocation” connotes ideas of time management more than it does closure, a motion to allocate time may be used as a guillotine by the government. Indeed, although the rule permits the government to negotiate with opposition parties towards the adoption of a timetable for the consideration by the House of a bill at one or more stages (including the stage for the consideration of Senate amendments), [73]  it also allows the government to impose strict limits on the time for debate. [74] While it has become the most used mechanism to curtail debate, time allocation remains a means of bringing parties together to negotiate an acceptable distribution of the time of the House.

Historical Perspective

Like the closure rule, the time allocation rule came about in the aftermath of a controversy. During the Pipeline Debate of 1956, [75]  closure was the only rule the government could use to advance its legislation. Closure had come to be perceived as somewhat inflexible for the demands of a modern parliamentary democracy and inadequate as a tool with which to conduct the business of the House. Deliberations began, in the House and in committees, with a view to identifying ways in which the time of the House could be allotted for the consideration of specific items of legislation and for the planning of the session’s work, something the closure rule could not provide since the process of giving notice, moving the motion and voting on it must be repeated at every stage of a given bill. [76] 

Throughout the period of minority governments in the 1960s, the House attempted, unsuccessfully, to establish a procedural mechanism which would have formally structured the time of the House to facilitate the efficient conduct of debate. Members recognized that the amount and complexity of House business was increasing and that measures were necessary to ensure that the business would be expedited within a reasonable amount of time. [77]  Throughout these years, the House agreed to establish a number of special committees charged with considering the procedures of the House and making suggestions to expedite public business. [78] 

From the very beginning, the committees explored measures that would allow co-operation among parties. In the Tenth Report of the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented to the House in 1964, reference was made to the difficulty of reaching all-party agreement on a proposal to deal with the fundamental question of the allocation of time. [79]  Although the Committee indicated it would “continue to explore this basic question”, it did not report further on this matter. Early in the following session, the government took the initiative by moving a motion, which, among other proposals, addressed the issue of time allocation. The motion called for a new Standing Order establishing a “Business Committee” comprised of a representative of each party of the House. Upon the request of a Minister, the Business Committee would consider, and, if agreement were reached, would recommend in a report to the House within three sitting days, an allocation of time for the specific item of business or stage of the matter referred to it. A motion could then be presented without notice by a Minister for concurrence in the report, to be decided without debate or amendment. If, however, the Business Committee were unable to reach unanimous agreement or if it failed to report within the three-day period, a Minister could then give notice during Routine Proceedings that, at the next sitting of the House, he or she would move a motion allocating the time for the item of business or the stage. [80] 

The motion was debated in the House for 12 days [81] and, throughout the debate, specific concerns were expressed with respect to the Business Committee proposal. The proposal was thus separated from the main motion and referred to a special committee for further study. [82]  The special committee recommended in its report to the House another version of the time allocation proposal. The report was concurred in and a provisional rule, referred to as Standing Order 15-A, was adopted. [83]  It was invoked on only three occasions from 1965 to 1968, but it became clear that the opposition parties were dissatisfied with it and frequent points of order were raised on how to interpret some of its provisions. In 1967, for example, the Speaker ruled that oral notice was sufficient for the purpose of the time allocation rule and that such a notice did not have to appear on the Notice Paper[84] 

When the Twenty-Eighth Parliament assembled in September 1968, the House decided that Provisional Standing Order 15-A would not be in effect. [85]  A special procedure committee was established shortly thereafter [86]  to consider, among other things, the issue of time allocation. In its Fourth Report, the Committee recommended a new rule on time allocation. [87]  However, on December 20, 1968, the House agreed again to refer the issue to the new Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization for further consideration. [88] 

Tensions continued between the government and the opposition as to the balance to be achieved between debating at length and perceived curtailment brought about by the provisional rules. It was not until 1969 that the House adopted a report recommending a measure for allocation of time, a forerunner to the present rule. [89]  In its simplest form, the newly adopted Standing Order envisaged three options under which a time allotment order could be made, ranging from agreement between all parties to the government acting alone after negotiation had failed to rally the support of any other party. Members of the opposition later expressed dissatisfaction with the interpretation of this Standing Order. [90]  The fact that negotiations were to be held between parties, thus excluding independent Members, was also raised. [91] 

In November 1975, the President of the Privy Council indicated his intention to bring proposals with implications for time allocation before the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization. [92]  Although it did not report to the House, the Committee created a sub-committee on the use of time which, among other items, reviewed and proposed alternative text to the Standing Order on time allocation. [93] 

The wording of the Standing Order continued to cause procedural concern. In December 1978, after a point of order was raised, Speaker Jerome ruled that a time allocation motion could be moved covering both report and third reading stages, even though third reading had not yet been reached. [94]  A position paper on reform, tabled by the government in November 1979, noted the ambiguity in the wording of the Standing Order and proposed that it be rewritten. [95]  In March 1983, Speaker Sauvé confirmed that notice of intention to move a time allocation motion could be given at any time during the sitting. [96]  In October 1983, she ruled that once the question on the motion for time allocation was proposed, the vote would be taken two hours after that proceeding had begun, and any superseding motions proposed during that time period would be disposed of at the end of the two-hour allotment and before voting on the time allocation motion. [97] 

From May 1985, a new practice developed whereby time allocation motions were moved and debated following written government notices of motions under Government Orders. This written notice was in addition to the oral notice of intention to move such a motion which had been given to fulfil the requirements of the Standing Order. The new practice was confirmed by Speaker Bosley as an acceptable way of proceeding. [98] 

In June 1987, amendments were adopted to provide that time allocation motions, after only oral notice, would be moved under “Government Orders” rather than under “Motions” during Routine Proceedings, as had been the practice. The revisions also provided that debate on the item of business under consideration at the time the motion was moved would be deemed adjourned. [99] 

In August 1988, Speaker Fraser ruled that an oral notice of a time allocation motion need only be a notice of intention and not a notice of the text of the motion itself. In the same ruling, the Speaker further stated that the initiative of announcing any agreements (or lack thereof) to allot time rested with a Minister, who had to be a party to any such agreements. [100] 

In 1991, following a further change to the Standing Order, the motion for time allocation moved without the agreement of all parties ceased to be a subject of debate or amendment. [101]  Until then, such a motion was subject to amendment and could be debated for up to two hours, at which point all questions necessary to dispose of the motion were to be put by the Chair.

The Three Options

The time allocation rule is divided into three distinct sections. Each section specifies the conditions applying to the allocation of time, depending on the degree of support among the representatives of the recognized parties [102]  in the House.

  1. All Parties Agree: The first section of the rule envisages agreement among the representatives of all the recognized parties in the House to allocate time to the proceedings at any or all stages of a public bill. [103]  Notice is not required. In proposing the motion, a Minister first states that such an agreement has been reached [104]  and then sets out the terms of the agreement, specifying the number of days or hours of debate to be allocated. [105]  The Speaker then puts the question to the House, which is decided without debate or amendment.
  2. Majority of Parties Agree: The second section of the rule envisages agreement among a majority of the representatives of the recognized parties in the House. [106]  In these circumstances, as in the case of all-party agreement, the government must be a party to any agreement reached. [107]  The motion may not cover more than one stage of the legislative process. It may, however, apply both to report stage and third reading, if it is consistent with the rule requiring a separate day for debate at third reading when a bill has been debated or amended at report stage. [108]  Again, no notice is required. Prior to moving the motion, the Minister states that a majority of party representatives have agreed to a proposed allocation of time. [109]  The motion specifies how many days or hours are to be allocated. The day on which the motion is adopted is counted as one sitting day for this purpose, if it is moved and carried at the beginning of Government Orders. [110] 
  3. No Agreement: The third section of the rule permits the government unilaterally to propose an allocation of time. [111]  In this case, an oral notice of intention to move the motion is required. [112]  The motion can propose only the allocation of time for one stage of the legislative process, that being the stage then under consideration. However, the motion can cover both report stage and third reading, provided it is consistent with the rule which requires a separate day for third reading when a bill has been debated or amended at report stage. [113]  The amount of time allocated for any stage may not be less than one sitting day.

Notice

Oral notice is required when the government wishes to propose its own timetable in the absence of any time allocation agreement among representatives from all or a majority of the recognized parties. [114]  The notice may be given only after debate has begun on the stage of the bill to which the time allocation motion is to apply. [115]  It must be given by a Minister, from his or her place in the House, [116]  any time during the course of the sitting; [117]  the time allocation motion can then be moved at any future sitting of the House, even several days or weeks later.

The notice is to state that agreement could not be reached under the other provisions of the rule and that the government therefore intends to propose a motion to allocate time in respect of a particular stage of a particular bill. [118]  The notice need only express the intention of the government; it need not include the terms of the motion to follow. [119]  Once given, a notice of time allocation may be withdrawn; similarly, notice may be given without a motion being moved subsequently.

Motion to Allocate Time

The wording of a motion for time allocation must be specific as to the terms of the allocation of time. In most cases, time is allocated in terms of sitting days or hours; however, on at least one occasion, time was allocated in increments of less than one hour per stage of the affected bill. [120]  In all cases, a motion for time allocation must be moved by a Minister in the House, and is neither debatable nor amendable. [121] 

In cases when there is agreement among the party representatives, the motion has normally been moved under “Motions” during Routine Proceedings. In circumstances when a majority agree on the allocation of time, or when no agreement has been reached, the motion is moved under Government Orders. Debate on any item of business interrupted by the moving of a motion for time allocation is deemed adjourned. [122]  Once the motion is moved, the question is put forthwith.

After the adoption of a motion for time allocation, debate at the stage or stages of the bill in question then becomes subject to the time limits imposed by the motion. The day on which the time allocation motion is adopted may be counted as one sitting day for that purpose, provided the motion is moved and adopted at the beginning of Government Orders and the bill is taken up immediately. [123]  The bill may also be taken up at a future sitting of the House. [124]  The normal rules of debate apply. At the expiry of the time allocated for a given stage, any proceedings before the House are interrupted, and the Chair puts every question necessary for the disposal of the bill at that stage. If a recorded division is demanded, the bells summoning the Members will ring for not longer than 15 minutes. [125]  Recorded divisions on bills under time allocation are not ordinarily deferred, though deferrals may take place by special order, [126]  by automatic deferral of the vote pursuant to rules of the House, [127]  or by agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties. [128]  When debate concludes prior to the end of the allotted time, if a recorded division is demanded, the bells will ring for not more than 30 minutes, and the vote may be deferred by either the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip. [129] 

At times, objections have been raised as to the circumstances in which agreement was reached or to the nature of the consultations undertaken by the government. As with closure, the Speaker has ruled that the Chair possesses no discretionary authority to refuse to put a motion of time allocation if all the procedural exigencies have been observed. [130]  The Speaker has stated that the wording of the rule does not define the nature of the consultations which are to be held by the Minister and representatives of the other parties, and has further ruled that the Chair has no authority to determine whether or not consultation took place nor what constitutes consultation among the representatives of the parties. [131] 


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