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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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6. The Physical and Administrative Setting

Photo of Unicorn with the arms of Canada and the flag of Royal France from the Peace Tower Main Archway.

Ottawa as the Seat of Government


The Parliament Buildings and Grounds


*    Location and Disposition

Figure 6.1    Parliament Hill

Title, Management, Care and Control

*    The Centre Block

Figure 6.2    Floor Plan of the Centre Block

*    Peace Tower

*    Library of Parliament


The Chamber


Figure 6.3    The House of Commons Chamber

*    Seating

*    The Chair

*    The Table

*    The Mace

*    The Bar of the House

*    The Galleries


Disorder in the Galleries

*    Lobbies

*    Sound Reinforcement, Simultaneous Interpretation, and Broadcasting Systems

Provision for Still Photography

*    Other Uses of the Chamber


Committee Rooms


Members’ Offices


Administrative Structures and Services


*    Overall Authority of the Speaker

*    Board of Internal Economy



Mandate and Authority

By-laws and Decisions of the Board

*    Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

*    Office of the Clerk of the House


There is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons.

Speaker Gilbert Parent

(Debates, September 30, 1998, p. 8585)

While the House of Commons conducts its business in accordance with established procedures and practices, it does so in its own unique physical setting and under administrative structures of its own making. These two factors are an important backdrop to the procedural operations of the House. This chapter provides information about Ottawa as the seat of government, the Parliament Buildings, the House of Commons Chamber and the administrative framework through which are provided an array of facilities and services dedicated to the operations of the House and the needs of its Members.

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In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the seat of government for the Province of Canada. This followed years of intense rivalry among the elected representatives of the pre‑Confederation colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, who could not agree on a permanent site.[1] The itinerant Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada met in several different cities, beginning with Kingston in 1841. In 1844, it moved to Montreal where it remained until 1849 when the legislative building was burned by rioters.[2] Thereafter a system was adopted under which the Assembly met alternately in Quebec and Toronto before finally settling into its permanent home in Ottawa, where it met for the first time in 1866. With the advent of Confederation the following year, the capital of the Province of Canada became the national capital, in compliance with the Constitution Act, 1867, which states that “the seat of Government of Canada shall be Ottawa”.[3] Accordingly, the Parliament of Canada assembled in Ottawa on November 6, 1867 for the First Session of the First Parliament.

[1] For a complete history of the selection of Ottawa as the capital city, see Eggleston, W., The Queen’s Choice, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1961, pp. 99-110.

[2] 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 Parliament Building. The building burned on April 25, 1849, and very little was saved. See Careless, J.M.S., The Union of the Canadas, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967, pp. 122‑6.

[3] R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 16. The choice of Ottawa as the 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 Ollivier, M., British North America Acts and Selected Statutes, 1867‑1962, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1962, p. 47, s. 52; p. 58, s. 51.

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*   Location and Disposition

The Parliament Buildings are situated on a cliff, originally a primeval forest of beech and hemlock, whose southern approach consisted of dense cedar swamps and a beaver meadow. The site,[4] which was formerly the location of military barracks, overlooks the Ottawa River. It is bounded by Wellington Street to the south (the Wellington Wall, which was built in 1872, stands on the north side of Wellington Street, separating the lawns and buildings of Parliament Hill from the city street), the Rideau Canal to the east, the Ottawa River to the north and Bank Street to the west, and has the legal name of Parliament Hill.[5] (See Figure 6.1, Parliament Hill.) The original complex of buildings comprised the Parliament Building—fronted by a tower and backed by the Library of Parliament, a 16‑sided polygonal structure—as well as two extant departmental buildings styled East Block and West Block. The Parliament Building, including the Victoria Tower,[6] was destroyed by fire on February 3, 1916.[7] Only the Library survived intact, thanks to an employee who closed the great iron doors connecting the Library to the rest of the building. For the next four years, both Houses of Parliament met several city blocks south of Parliament Hill in the Victoria Memorial Museum, now called the Canadian Museum of Nature.[8]


Image depicting a map of the buildings around the Parliament Hill.

Sittings resumed in 1920 in the new but unfinished Centre Block, which was built on the same site as the old building.[9] The new building was completed in 1922. A new tower, called the Peace Tower in commemoration of Canada’s human and material contributions to World War I, was completed in 1927.

While originally sufficient to house the entire parliamentary and governmental apparatus, the Centre, East and West Blocks ceased to provide adequate accommodation as the size, complexity and functions of Parliament and government multiplied. Today, government departments are housed in office buildings throughout the National Capital Region and elsewhere in the country. The Parliamentary Precinct—those premises which both Houses of Parliament “occupy from time to time for their corporate purposes”[10]—has expanded to include several other buildings in the immediate vicinity of Parliament Hill.[11]

The House of Commons and Senate Chambers are located in the Centre Block. Offices for Members of Parliament are for the most part located in the Centre Block, East Block and West Block, as well as the Confederation Building and the Justice Building. Committee rooms are found in the Centre, East and West Blocks, as well as in other buildings located near Parliament Hill. Offices for House staff and parliamentary services are found in these and other locations in the capital.

The grounds around Parliament Hill have undergone several stylistic transformations since Confederation but have always included a wide central walk leading from the gateway at the south end of the grounds to the main entrance at the base of the Peace Tower. At the southern end of the walkway is a fountain; in its centre burns the Centennial Flame, which was lit on New Year’s Eve 1966 to mark the first hundred years of Confederation (1867‑1967).[12] The fountain is a 12‑sided truncated pyramid, each side holding a bronze shield bearing the coats of arms of a province or territory.[13] Water flows continuously around the shields; the flame, fed by natural gas, burns through the water and gives the impression of the flame dancing over the water. Coins tossed into the fountain are retrieved to fund the Centennial Flame Research Award Fund.[14]

The grounds of Parliament Hill are the site of 19 bronze statues, erected between 1885 and 2000.[15] Represented are seven former Prime Ministers (John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, Wilfrid Laurier, Robert Borden, William Lyon Mackenzie King, John Diefenbaker and Lester B. Pearson), five Fathers of Confederation (George‑Étienne Cartier, a joint memorial to Robert Baldwin and Louis‑Hippolyte Lafontaine, George Brown and Thomas D’Arcy McGee) and two monarchs (Victoria and Elizabeth II).[16] There is also a monument dedicated to the “Famous Five” and their victory in the 1929 Persons Case.[17]

There are several other notable features found on the grounds of Parliament Hill. Behind Centre Block and facing the Ottawa River is the Summer Pavilion, a replica of a gazebo originally built for the Speaker of the House of Commons, but demolished in 1956. In 1995, the Summer Pavilion was re-built as a tribute to Canadian police and peace officers killed in the line of duty. Nearby, the Canadian Police and Peace Officers Memorial Honour Roll, which lists the names of each officer killed in the line of duty, is mounted along the fence separating Parliament Hill from the cliffs along the Ottawa River. Next to the Summer Pavilion is a monument displaying the Victoria Tower bell, one of the few artefacts which remains from the original building.

Title, Management, Care and Control

Given Parliament’s right to administer its own affairs free from interference, including overseeing the areas used in the performance of official parliamentary functions, the Speakers of the two Houses have traditionally held authority and control over accommodation and services within the Parliamentary Precinct.[18] At Confederation, Parliament Hill (including the adjacent parcel of land on which the Confederation Building stands) was transferred by the imperial government to Canada as “ordnance property”.[19] As such, control of the grounds and construction, repair and maintenance of the buildings fell and continues to fall under the general mandate of the government department responsible for federal buildings and property.[20] The National Capital Commission, a federal body whose mandate is the improvement and beautification of the National Capital Region,[21] is charged with the landscaping and upkeep of the grounds of Parliament Hill.

The grounds of Parliament Hill, including the two lawns between the East and West Blocks, are treated as a public park, and are frequently used for recreational purposes by visitors. Organized public gatherings are also permitted on the grounds, although these require prior permission from the Committee on the Use of Parliament Hill. The Committee, which consists of the Sergeant-at-Arms and representatives of the Senate, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the National Capital Commission, the Privy Council Office, and the departments of Canadian Heritage and Public Works and Government Services, ensures that the proposed activity does not obstruct the work of Parliament or have a negative impact on the heritage character of the grounds.

*   The Centre Block

Built in a modern Gothic revival style, the rectangular Centre Block is some 144 metres long by 75 metres deep, and six stories high.[22] More than 25 different types of stone and marble were used in the building’s construction; however, much of the exterior is Nepean sandstone, quarried near Ottawa, and its interior walls are sheeted with Tyndall limestone from Manitoba. Inside, the history and traditions of Canada are reflected in many stone carvings which are the result of the ongoing, intermittent work of over 60 sculptors and carvers since 1916.[23]

The main entrance to the Centre Block is located at the base of the Peace Tower, where a broad flight of steps leads into a stately Gothic archway. The main doors open onto stairs leading up into the octagonal Confederation Hall (also called the Rotunda) and the Hall of Honour leading to the Library of Parliament (see Figure 6.2, Floor Plan of the Centre Block). In the centre of the Confederation Hall is a massive stone column dedicating the building to the Canadian soldiers who fought in World War I. On the eastern end of the Centre Block is found the Senate Chamber and on the western end, the House of Commons Chamber. Each House has a separate entrance to the building for its members.




*   Peace Tower

The Peace Tower with its four‑faced clock is the focal point of the Parliament Buildings. It commemorates Canada’s contributions to World War I and houses on its third floor the Memorial Chamber, which holds the seven Books of Remembrance naming those Canadians who have given their lives in service to Canada. An enclosed observation deck below the clock offers a view in all directions of the National Capital Region. The Tower, which is 92.2 metres high, is surmounted by a mast from which the flag is flown.[24]

The Peace Tower also contains a carillon of 53 bells, inaugurated on July 1, 1927, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation.[25] Regular recitals are given by the Dominion Carillonneur.[26] The bells chime every quarter‑hour, controlled by a mechanism connected to the clock.

*   Library of Parliament

At the north end of the Centre Block’s Hall of Honour, opposite the main entrance, are the doors to the Library of Parliament building. Its style of architecture is High Victorian Gothic Revival; its interior is circular in form and richly ornamented with carved white pine panelling. The Library survived the fire of 1916, but in 1952 a fire broke out in the cupola of the Library, causing extensive smoke and water damage. From 2002 to 2006, the historic Library of Parliament building was closed while craftspeople worked to conserve, rehabilitate, and upgrade the building. Damages which the building had sustained over the years were repaired and current building standards were met while preserving the Library’s existing features and heritage character. During this period, the Library’s collections were stored in various other buildings occupied by the Parliament of Canada, and its services were not interrupted. The Library of Parliament Building re-opened its doors on May 30, 2006. There are also branch libraries in some of the other buildings used by Parliament.[27]

The Library serves Parliament using state‑of‑the‑art information technologies and has more than 17 linear kilometres of materials in its collection (books, periodicals, government documents, CD-ROMS and videos). Under the direction of the Parliamentary Librarian,[28] the Library provides comprehensive information, research and analysis services to parliamentarians, their staff, parliamentary committees, parliamentary associations and delegations, and senior officials of both Houses. It also provides information about Parliament to the general public.[29]

[4] For a description of the original site, see Eggleston, p. 83.

[5] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 80.

[6] The Victoria Tower was the most prominent feature of the original Parliament Building. It stood in approximately the same place as the Peace Tower stands today.

[7] The report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the origin of the fire was presented to the House later that year (Journals, 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 Varkaris, J. and Finsten, L., Fire on Parliament Hill!, Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1988.

[8] Arrangements were quickly made and the House began sitting in the Museum’s auditorium the day after the fire (Journals, 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 (Debates of the Senate, February 8, 1916, p. 50).

[9] 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 (Debates of the Senate, February 26, 1920, p. 1; February 27, 1920, p. 2). See also Report of the Minister of Public Works for the Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 1919, tabled on March 10, 1920 (Journals, p. 39), pp. 5‑6.

[10] Maingot, J.P.J., Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, 2nd ed., Montreal: House of Commons and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997, p. 163.

[11] The principal ones are the Confederation, Justice, Wellington, Victoria and Chambers Buildings.

[12] 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 (Debates, December 11, 1967, p. 5260; December 12, 1967, pp. 5358‑9).

[13] Nunavut, which was created on April 1, 1999 as a result of the Nunavut Act, S.C. 1993, c. 28, and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, S.C. 1993, c. 29, is not represented on the Centennial Flame.

[14] 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 persons with disabilities. The Fund provides awards to disabled persons to conduct research and prepare reports on the contributions of persons with disabilities to the public life of Canada. Reports prepared by award recipients are presented to the House by the Chair of the committee. See, for example, Journals, June 14, 1993, p. 3204; June 10, 1999, p. 2090; November 28, 2005, p. 1349; April 30, 2007, p. 1294.

[15] 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 toward Parliament Hill, which is nearby. This location was considered to be in keeping with his distinguished legal career and service as Minister of Justice and Attorney General prior to becoming Prime Minister.

[16] The monument to Elizabeth II is the only monument on Parliament Hill not erected posthumously. It was unveiled in 1992, the year of the 40th anniversary of her accession to the Throne.

[17] The “Famous Five” were five women (Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung and Irene Parlby) who asked the Supreme Court in 1927 to consider whether the word “person” in section 24 of the British North America Act included female persons (Emily Murphy had been denied an appointment to the Senate of Canada because she was not a “qualified person”). The Court found that the Act did not include women. In 1929, they appealed the decision to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, which was the highest court of appeal available at the time. The Judicial Committee ruled that women were persons under the British North America Act and thus eligible for appointment to the Senate.

[18] For further information on Parliament Hill and the precincts of the Houses of Parliament, see Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 163‑78.

[19] Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 108, and The Third Schedule, item 9. See also Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 168‑9.

[20] Public Works and Government Services Canada.

[21] National Capital Act, R.S. 1985, c. N‑4, s. 10.

[22] Beauchesne, A., Canada’s Parliament Building: The Senate and House of Commons, Ottawa, Ottawa: 1948, p. 24. Figures converted from imperial to metric.

[23] The teams of sculptors who have worked on the stone carvings in the Centre Block have been led by a chief sculptor, who is responsible for overseeing the carving. Since the creation of the position in 1936, there have been five chief sculptors: Cléophas Soucy (1936-50), William Oosterhoff (1949-62), Eleanor Milne (1962-93), Maurice Joanisse (1993-2006) and Phil White (2006-present).

[24] On occasion, flags other than the Canadian flag have been flown from the Peace Tower. 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. For further information, see the Department of Canadian Heritage Web site at On January 19, 1943, the Dutch flag flew atop the Peace Tower to commemorate the birth of Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. Princess Margriet was born in the Ottawa Civic Hospital, which had been temporarily declared Dutch territory so that the Princess would have exclusive Dutch citizenship, and thus remain in the line of succession to the Dutch throne.

The flag atop the Peace Tower may be flown at half-mast as a symbol of mourning. This has occurred to mark the deaths of sitting or former parliamentarians, sovereigns, and their relatives or representatives, as well as to mark national or international tragedies. On May 10, 2006, Speaker Milliken advised the House that the decision to fly the flag at half-mast fell under the jurisdiction of the executive, not of the Speaker of the House (Debates, pp. 1188-9).

[25] See Speaker Milliken’s remarks on the 80th anniversary of the inauguration of the carillon (Debates, June 20, 2007, p. 10919).

[26] There have been five Dominion Carillonneurs since the inauguration of the carillon: Percival Price (1927-39), Robert Donnell (1940-75), Émilien Allard (1975-76), Gordon Slater (1977‑2008) and Andrea McCrady (2008‑present). From time to time, guest carillonneurs have also given recitals using the Peace Tower carillon.

[27] For further information on the history of the Library of Parliament, see Dubé, A. and Graham, M., Chronology of a Building: The Library of Parliament, Ottawa: House of Commons and Library of Parliament, 1995 and Binks, K., Library of Parliament, Canada, Ottawa: KCB Publications, 1979.

[28] The Parliamentary Librarian is responsible for the administration and management of the Library. Pursuant to Standing Order 111.1, the Parliamentary Librarian is appointed by Order in Council, following consideration of the proposed appointment in committee and ratification by the Senate and the House. See, for example, the appointment of William Robert Young (Journals, November 17, 2005, p. 1283; November 22, 2005, p. 1309, Order Paper and Notice Paper, p. III; Journals, November 23, 2005, pp. 1314-6; Journals of the Senate, November 24, 2005, p. 1320). There have been seven Parliamentary Librarians: Alpheus Todd (1870‑84), Martin Griffin (1885‑1920), Martin Burrell (1920‑38), Francis Hardy (1944‑59), Erik Spicer (1960‑94), Richard Paré (1994‑2005) and William Young (2005‑present).

[29] In addition, the Library of Parliament is responsible for the Parliamentary Tours Program, which provides guided tours of the Centre Block for guests of parliamentarians, student groups, and the general public.

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The South Corridor, where the portraits of former Prime Ministers are displayed, links Confederation Hall to the Commons Chamber. At the west end of the corridor is the spacious, high‑ceilinged foyer of the House of Commons, which may also be accessed from the Members’ entrance at the western end of the Centre Block. On the four walls of the foyer, just below the balcony which overlooks it from the floor above, is a series of 10 bas‑relief sculpture panels depicting 25,000 years of Canadian history from the arrival of the aboriginal peoples to that of the United Empire Loyalists in the late eighteenth century.[30] Opening off the foyer are the doors to the south lobby which leads into the Chamber itself.[31] The doors, known as the Canada Doors, are made of white oak and trimmed with hand‑wrought iron. The Canada Doors are usually open only for the Speaker’s Parade, the Speech from the Throne, and Royal Assent ceremonies. Members use the smaller doors on either side of the Canada Doors that lead into the south lobby. A second set of doors in the south lobby lead into the Chamber while doors on the west and east sides lead into the government and opposition lobbies. The lobbies also open onto the Chamber.

Each day when the House meets to conduct business, the Speaker’s Parade[32] leaves the Speaker’s office and passes through the Speaker’s Corridor, the Hall of Honour, and the hall connecting the Hall of Honour to the Chamber. The Parade enters the south lobby of the House through the Canada Doors and proceeds into the Chamber.

The Chamber itself is rectangular in shape, measuring approximately 21 metres in length and 16 metres in width; it is also sheeted with Tyndall limestone as well as white oak and, like its counterpart at Westminster, it is decorated in green.[33] (See Figure 6.3, The House of Commons Chamber.) The 14.7‑metre high ceiling is made of linen canvas, hand‑painted with the provincial and territorial coats of arms.

The floral emblems of the 10 provinces and 2 of the territories are depicted in 12 stained‑glass windows on the east, west and north walls of the Chamber.[34] On the east and west walls, above the Members’ galleries and between the stained‑glass windows, is the noted British North America Act (BNA) series of sculptures. It consists of 12 separate bas‑relief sculptures in Indiana limestone. Each one depicts, in symbolic and story form, the federal roles and responsibilities arising out of the BNA Act (now called the Constitution Act, 1867).[35]


Image of the physical layout of the House of Commons. At the top of the image are the public galleries. Below the galleries, in the centre of the image and the Chamber, are the Speaker's chair, the seats for the Pages, the Table for the Clerks and Table Officers, the Mace sitting on the Table, seats for the Proceedings and Verification Officers, and finally the Sergeant-at-Arms desk at the South end of the Chamber. To the left of the image are the seats for government members and above them various galleries for visitors. To the right of the image are the seats for opposition members and above them various galleries for visitors.

*   Seating

The Chamber is divided by a wide central aisle and is furnished on either side with tiered rows of desks and chairs, facing into the centre. The desks are equipped with a locked compartment in which Members may store belongings, microphones, an electrical outlet for laptop computers, and access to the Internet. Government Members sit to the Speaker’s right, opposition Members to the left.[36] The Prime Minister and Cabinet sit in the front rows of the government side; directly across the floor from the Prime Minister sits the Leader of the Official Opposition who is flanked by Members of his or her party. The second‑ranked opposition party and all other recognized parties in the House sit with their leaders usually to the left of the Official Opposition, closer to the Bar of the House. Traditionally, the front‑row seats to the left of the Speaker are reserved for leading Members of the opposition parties, and opposition parties are allocated front‑row seats in proportion to their numbers in the House.[37] The distance across the floor of the House between the government and opposition benches is 3.96 metres, said to be equivalent to two swords’ length.[38] When there are more government Members than can be accommodated on the Speaker’s right, some are seated on the left, usually in the seats closest to the Speaker. Similarly, when there are more opposition Members than can be accommodated on the Speaker’s left, the remaining opposition Members are seated on the right, closer to the Bar of the House. Members of parties not recognized in the House and independent Members are assigned seats at the discretion of the Speaker.

All Members of Parliament have their own assigned seats in the Chamber. Should the number of seats in the House be increased following a decennial census, additional desks are installed. The allocation of seats in the House is the responsibility of the Speaker and is carried out in collaboration with the party Whips.[39] Seat assignments may change from time to time, but the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are always seated in the same places. It is customary for seats to be assigned near the Chair for the use of the Deputy Speaker and other Chair Occupants when they are not presiding over the House; no such allocation is made for the Speaker.[40]

*   The Chair

The Speaker’s Chair stands on a dais[41] at the north end of the Chamber with the flag displayed to the right of the Speaker.[42] In the years after Confederation, it was the custom for departing Speakers to take their chairs with them and a new Chair to be made for the incumbent.[43] This custom ceased in 1916 when the Chair then in use was destroyed in the fire. A new Chair arrived in 1921 as a gift from the British branch of what is now the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.[44] This Chair is an exact replica of the original Speaker’s Chair at Westminster, made circa 1849, and then destroyed when the British House of Commons was bombed in 1941. It is approximately four metres high, surmounted by a canopy of carved wood and the Royal Coat of Arms. The oak used for the carving of the Royal Arms was taken from the roof of Westminster Hall, which was built in 1397.

In recent years, the Chair has undergone some minor renovations. Microphones and speakers have been installed and lights placed overhead. The armrests now offer a writing surface and a small storage space. A hydraulic lift was also installed to permit more comfortable seating for the various occupants of the Chair.[45] At the foot of the Chair, visible only to its occupant, is a computer screen which allows the Chair Occupant to see information generated by the computers at the Table, the countdown timer used to monitor the length of speeches and interventions when time limits apply, and a portion of the unofficial rotation list for Members wishing to speak. The screen also displays a digital feed from the television cameras in the Chamber, allowing the Speaker to see the image being broadcast.[46]

At the foot of the dais below the Speaker’s Chair is a bench where some of the House of Commons pages are stationed during sittings of the House. The pages are first-year university students employed by the House of Commons to carry messages and deliver documents to Members during sittings of the House.[47]

A door behind the Speaker’s Chair opens onto a corridor, called the Speaker’s Corridor, leading directly to the Speaker’s chambers. Hanging in this hallway are portraits of past Speakers of the House.[48]

*   The Table

A short distance in front of the dais and the Speaker’s Chair is a long oak table where the Clerk of the House, chief procedural advisor to the Speaker, sits with other Table Officers.[49] The Clerk sits at the north end of the Table, with Table Officers along its right‑and left‑hand sides. The Clerk’s chair was made in 1873. After the death in 1902 of the then Clerk, Sir John Bourinot, the chair was presented to his widow. In 1940, it was donated back to the House by the family.

Each of the three seating positions at the Table is equipped with a computer with wireless keyboard, mouse and microphone. The computers are used to keep the records,[50] to manage the rotation lists of Members wishing to speak, to relay information to the Chair and to send and receive electronic mail to and from other branches of the House. The computers also have access to the digital feed from the television cameras in the Chamber. The Mace rests at the south end of the Table. Also on the Table is a collection of parliamentary reference texts for consultation by Members and Table Officers, as well as a pair of bookends, a calendar stand, inkstand and seal press.[51]

*   The Mace

The Mace is the ornamental staff, symbol of the authority of the Speaker, which rests on the Table during sittings of the House. In the Middle Ages, the mace was an officer’s weapon; it was made of metal with a flanged or spiked head and was used to break through chain‑mail or plate armour.[52] In the twelfth century, the Sergeants‑at‑Arms of the King’s Bodyguard were equipped with maces. These maces, stamped with the Royal Arms and carried by the Sergeants in the exercise of their powers of arrest without warrant, became recognized symbols of the King’s authority. Maces were also carried by civic authorities.

Royal Sergeants‑at‑Arms began to be assigned to the Commons early in the fifteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Sergeant’s mace had evolved from a weapon of war to an ornately embellished emblem of office. The Sergeant‑at‑Arms’ power to arrest without warrant enabled the Commons to arrest or commit persons who offended them, without having to resort to the ordinary courts of law.[53] This penal jurisdiction is the basis of the concept of parliamentary privilege and, since the exercise of this privilege depended on the powers vested in the Royal Sergeant‑at‑Arms, the Mace—his emblem of office—was identified with the growing privileges of the Commons and became recognized as the symbol of the authority of the House and of the Speaker through the House.[54]

At Confederation, the House of Commons’ Mace was that of the former Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.[55] It had survived the burning of the Parliament building in Montreal in 1849,[56] as well as two fires in Quebec City in 1854,[57] but was lost in the great fire of February 3, 1916. When the House met in the Victoria Memorial Museum (as it was then known) in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the Senate lent the House its Mace. For the following three weeks, the Mace belonging to the Ontario Legislature was used until a temporary Mace, made of wood, was fashioned. The Mace currently in use is a replica of the original. Made of silver covered with heavy gilt, it is 1.47 metres long and weighs 7.9 kilograms. It was a gift from the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs of London and was presented in May 1917.[58] The wooden Mace was kept and since 1977 has been used in the Chamber on the anniversary of the date of the fire.[59]

The Mace is integral to the functioning of the House; since the late seventeenth century it has been accepted that the Mace must be present for the House to be properly constituted.[60] The guardian of the Mace is the Sergeant‑at‑Arms,[61] who carries it on the right shoulder in and out of the Chamber at the beginning and end of each sitting of the House.[62] At the opening of a sitting of the House, the Mace is laid across the foot of the Table with its crown pointing to the government side of the House. When the House sits as a Committee of the Whole, it is placed on brackets below the foot of the Table.[63] During the election of a Speaker, the Mace rests on a cushion on the floor beneath the Table. During a sitting, it is considered a breach of decorum for Members to pass between the Speaker and the Mace.[64] Members have also been found in contempt of the House for touching the Mace during proceedings in the Chamber.[65] When the House is adjourned, the Mace is kept in the Speaker’s office. During longer adjournments and recesses, it may be displayed in or near the Commons Chamber, although this has not occurred in recent years.

*   The Bar of the House

The Bar is a brass rod extending across the floor of the Chamber inside its south entrance. It is a barrier past which uninvited representatives of the Crown (as well as other non‑Members) are not welcome.[66] The Sergeant‑at‑Arms, or an assistant, sits at a desk on the opposition side of the Chamber and inside the Bar.

Individuals may be summoned to appear before the Bar of the House in order to answer to the authority of the House. If someone is judged to be in contempt of the House—that is, guilty of an offence against the dignity or authority of Parliament—the House may summon the person to appear and order that he or she be reprimanded by the Speaker in the name of and with the full authority of the House. On a number of occasions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, individuals were summoned to appear before the Bar of the House. Since 1913, there have been only two instances of the House requiring someone to appear at the Bar to be reprimanded.[67]

On occasion, individuals may be summoned to the Bar for reasons other than to be admonished by the Speaker. Witnesses to be examined by the House may stand at the Bar and reply to questions posed by Members.[68] As well, the House may call individuals to the Bar in order to pay tribute to them.[69]

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*   The Galleries

Overlooking the floor of the House on both sides and at both ends of the Chamber are galleries which can accommodate more than 500 people. (See Figure 6.3, The House of Commons Chamber.) In the gallery facing the Speaker’s Chair, called the Ladies’ Gallery,[70] the first rows are reserved for the diplomatic corps and for other distinguished guests; the remaining rows are reserved for the visiting public. At the opposite end of the Chamber, immediately above the Speaker’s Chair, is the Press Gallery. Admittance is restricted to members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery[71] (one of the galleries in which note‑taking is permitted). Immediately behind the Press Gallery is another public gallery.[72] On the side of the Chamber facing the government benches are three galleries: one for guests of government Members, another for Senators and their guests, and another one for guests of the Prime Minister and the Speaker. Only from the Speaker’s Gallery can distinguished visitors (such as heads of state, heads of government and parliamentary delegations invited to Canada and celebrated Canadians) be recognized and introduced to the House, and only by the Speaker. Members other than the Speaker may not refer to the presence of any visitors in the galleries at any time.[73] On the other side of the Chamber, facing the opposition benches, a gallery is reserved for departmental officials (the other gallery in which note‑taking is permitted), another for guests of the Leader of the Opposition, and two others for guests of Members of other opposition parties.

The doors to the galleries are opened at the start of each sitting of the House, after prayers are read.[74] For reasons of decorum and security, photography, reading and sketching materials, and note‑taking (with the above exceptions) are not permitted in the galleries. Coats, briefcases, notebooks, photographic equipment and the like may not be carried into the galleries.[75] During the taking of recorded divisions, no one may enter or leave the galleries.


“Stranger” is a term of long-time use in the procedural lexicon; it refers to anyone who is not a Member or an official of the House of Commons (for example, Senators, diplomats, government officials, journalists or members of the general public). It underlines the distinction between Members and non‑Members and gives emphasis to the fact that strangers or outsiders may be present in the galleries or within the House precincts only under the authority of the House.[76] Strangers are not permitted on the floor of the House of Commons when the House is sitting.[77]

The right of the House to conduct its proceedings in private—that is, without strangers present—is centuries old. Until 1845 in the British House, sessional orders excluded strangers from every part of its premises (while in practice the presence of strangers came to be tolerated in areas not appropriated to the exclusive use of Members).[78] In Canada, at Confederation, the House adopted a rule giving individual Members the power to order the galleries to be cleared.[79] In 1876, the rule was substantially amended to allow Members only to move a motion “that strangers be ordered to withdraw”; this non‑debatable and non‑amendable motion was then left for the House to decide.[80] Since 1994, in addition to Members being allowed to move the motion, the Speaker has had the authority to order the withdrawal of strangers without putting the question to the House.[81] In practice such occurrences are not frequent and strangers are welcome so long as there is space to accommodate them and proper decorum is observed.

Disorder in the Galleries

The Sergeant‑at‑Arms, one of the senior officials of the House, is responsible for maintaining order and decorum in the galleries.[82] From time to time there have been instances of misconduct in the galleries and the Sergeant‑at‑Arms and security staff have acted to remove demonstrators or strangers behaving in a disruptive way.[83] In cases of extreme disorder, the Speaker has directed that the galleries be cleared.[84] In addition, should the House adopt the motion “That strangers be ordered to withdraw”, it would be the duty of the Sergeant‑at‑Arms and security staff to clear the galleries of strangers.

*   Lobbies

Adjacent to the government and opposition sides of the Chamber is a long, narrow room known as a lobby. The one behind the government benches is reserved for government Members; the other, on the opposition side, is for Members of the opposition parties. Connected by doors to the Chamber, the lobbies are furnished with tables and armchairs and equipped with telephones, fax machines, photocopiers, computer terminals and the like for Members’ use. Members attending the sitting of the House use the lobbies to converse, discuss matters, make telephone calls, attend to correspondence or other business and are able to return to the Chamber at a moment’s notice. The party Whips assign staff to work from the lobbies and pages are stationed in the lobbies to answer telephones and carry messages. The lobbies are not open to the public. The House of Commons security staff controls access to the lobbies in accordance with guidelines set by the Whips.

*   Sound Reinforcement, Simultaneous Interpretation, and Broadcasting Systems

In 1951, a special committee of the House recommended the installation of a sound reinforcement system “similar to the one in the House of Commons Chamber at Westminster”.[85] For some years, there had been complaints about the acoustics in the Chamber and the difficulty that Members and those in the galleries had in following the proceedings. The challenge in providing effective sound amplification lay in devising a system for use in an assembly where Members speak from their places (rather than from a rostrum) and only when recognized by the Speaker. The committee’s report was adopted; the system was installed during a recess and used for the first time in the session which opened on November 20, 1952.[86] Each Member’s desk, as well as the Speaker’s Chair, is equipped with a microphone. A microphone switching console, staffed by console operators, is located at the front of the gallery at the south end of the Chamber. Individual microphones are activated when a Member is recognized by the Speaker. Only the Speaker has the power to activate his or her own microphone (it may also be activated by the console operator); when the Speaker’s microphone is activated, the Members’ microphones will not function.

In 1958, the House agreed to the installation in the Chamber of a system for simultaneous interpretation in both official languages.[87] Members were of the opinion that this would give further expression to the Constitution, which provides for the equal status of the official languages and for their use in parliamentary debate.[88]

Enclosed booths for interpreters are located in the corners of the Chamber opposite the Speaker’s Chair. Members’ desks are equipped with interpretation devices in order to receive simultaneous interpretation of the proceedings into French or English. Visitors in the galleries also have access to the sound reinforcement and interpretation systems and may choose to listen to the proceedings with interpretation in the official language of their choice, or without interpretation.

In 1977, the House decided to televise its proceedings.[89] Following this decision, the Chamber became the site of extensive construction to equip it for this purpose. During the summer adjournment, the Chamber was refitted: the sound systems were upgraded, appropriate lighting installed, cameras were added (operated manually and later replaced with remote‑controlled cameras), and a control room was constructed above the Ladies’ Gallery situated at the south end of the Chamber.[90] In 2003, the House approved the broadcast of its proceedings over the Internet via the Parliament of Canada Web site.[91] Since then, sittings of the House, televised committee meetings, and the audio feed from non-televised committee meetings have been broadcast over the Internet.[92]

During the summer adjournment in 2003, significant upgrades to the technological equipment in the Chamber were installed. The broadcasting infrastructure was replaced, and a wireless simultaneous interpretation system for special events was added. Further improvements followed during the summer adjournment in 2004 when a new sound system and a new simultaneous interpretation system for the galleries were installed.[93]

Provision for Still Photography

Before the advent of broadcasting of House of Commons’ proceedings, photographs of the House during a sitting were taken with the permission of the House.[94] In the late 1970s, once the House had dealt with the question of broadcasting, the matter of still photography arose. There were no provisions for print media to take pictures of the House at work, except by special arrangement, whereas the electronic media now had access to images of every sitting of the House.[95] On a trial basis, and now standard practice,[96] a photographer was allowed behind the curtains on each side of the House during Question Period. The photographers are employed by a news service agency which supplies other news organizations under a pooling arrangement. When in the Chamber, they operate in accordance with the principles governing the use of television cameras, described in Chapter 24, “The Parliamentary Record”. Only these photographers, and the official photographers employed by the House of Commons, are authorized to take photographs of the Chamber while the House is in session; even Members are forbidden from taking photographs.[97]

*   Other Uses of the Chamber

At times, the House of Commons Chamber is used for purposes other than a parliamentary sitting. Some are recurring events such as addresses by distinguished visitors,[98] orientation sessions for new Members,[99] and educational and other programs.[100] At other times, the Chamber has been used for special events.[101] Since these events are not actually sittings of the House, the Mace is not on the Table.

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[30] 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.

[31] Lobbies 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 lobbies.

[32] A parade consisting of the Speaker, the Sergeant-at-Arms with the Mace, the Clerk of the House and other House officials. For further information on the Speaker’s Parade, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.

[33] 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 Davies, J.M., “Red and Green”, The Table, Vol. XXXVII, 1968, pp. 33‑40 as well as United Kingdom, House of Commons, “House of Commons Green”, Factsheet G10,, 2006.

[34] The windows were a special project, undertaken in 1967 by Speaker Lamoureux to mark Canada’s centennial. They were designed by Dominion Sculptor Eleanor Milne. The project was completed in 1973. See Canada, House of Commons, 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 Debates, September 7, 1971, p. 7545.

[35] This 11‑year project, completed in 1985, was undertaken by Dominion Sculptor Eleanor Milne and her team. On the east wall are featured civil law, freedom of speech, the Senate, the Governor General, Confederation, and the vote; on the west wall are bilingualism, education, the House of Commons, taxation, criminal law and communication. See Milne, R.E., Captured in Stone: Carving Canada’s Past, with K.B. Lambert and E. Moore, Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press, 2002.

[36] If a Member is unable to occupy a desk due to a disability or physical restriction (such as a wheelchair), the desk may be altered or removed. See Standing Order 1.1, which permits the Speaker to make such arrangements as may be required to allow Members with disabilities to perform their duties.

[37] This is said to have originated 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 Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. II, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), pp. 23‑7.

[38] This relates to times gone by in the British House. Members in the British House no longer wear swords, but red lines marked on the carpet two swords’ length apart still serve as a reminder to seek resolutions by peaceful means.

[39] 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” (Debates, September 30, 1998, pp. 8584‑5). For further information on the assignment of seats, see Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.

[40] 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.

[41] 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.

[42] 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” (Journals, February 14, 1973, p. 119). With the exception of the tenure of Speaker Parent (1994-2001) when the flag was displayed on both sides of the Chair, Speakers have chosen to display one flag to the right of the Chair.

[43] Debates, May 20, 1921, p. 3691.

[44] Journals, June 8, 1920, p. 324; Debates, May 20, 1921, pp. 3689‑96.

[45] The lift was installed in 1981 during the tenure of Speaker Sauvé (1980‑84).

[46] At one point, there was both a television monitor and a computer screen at the foot of the Chair. At the beginning of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament (2001‑04), a single computer screen was installed combining the functions of the previous two screens.

[47] See Speaker Jerome’s comments about the Page Program, Debates, March 22, 1978, pp. 4026‑7; October 10, 1978, p. 6953.

[48] The portraits are normally commissioned before a Speaker leaves office, but hung only after a Speaker has left office. An unveiling ceremony is held when a new portrait is added to the collection.

[49] The Table, with its elaborately carved base, was designed by John A. Pearson, who, along with Jean‑Omer Marchand, also designed the reconstructed Centre Block.

[50] In keeping with a long-established practice, Table Officers produce a scroll for every sitting day. This is a handwritten record of proceedings in the House and is used to produce the Journals.

[51] 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 (Debates, May 26, 1926, p. 3731). For a description of their design, see Journals, May 28, 1926, pp. 364‑5. Mr. Beau was also responsible for many of the ironwork items found elsewhere in the Centre Block. See Pepall, R., Paul Beau, Montreal: Musée des beaux‑arts de Montréal, 1982.

[52] The Mace developed from the club (prehistoric weapon) and the staff (ancient symbol of age, wisdom and authority). See Grant‑Dalton, E., “The Mace”, The Table, Vol. XXV, 1956, pp. 15‑20; Thorne, P., “Maces: Their Use and Significance”, The Parliamentarian, Vol. 44, January 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 Building: The Senate and House of Commons, Ottawa, p. 55).

[53] May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 23rd ed., edited by Sir W. McKay, London: LexisNexis UK, 2004, pp. 156‑7.

[54] 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 Hatsell, J., Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons, Vol. I, South Hackensack, New Jersey: Rothman Reprints Inc., 1971 (reprint of 4th ed., 1818), pp. 53‑9. See also Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[55] The legislative assemblies of the other provinces joining Confederation did not use maces (Bourinot, J.G., Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 2nd ed., rev. and enlarged, Montreal: Dawson Brothers, Publishers, 1892, 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.

[56] Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 277‑8, note 5.

[57] McDonough, J., “The History of the Maces of the British and Canadian Parliaments”, Canadian Regional Review: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Vol. II, No. 2, June 1979, p. 29.

[58] Journals, May 16, 1917, p. 216. For a description of the design of the Mace, see Debates, May 16, 1917, pp. 1468‑9. See also Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972, pp. 455‑6 for information on maces in other Commonwealth Parliaments.

[59] See, for example, Debates, February 3, 2005, p. 3011. The tradition began in 1961 during the tenure of Speaker Michener (1957-62) (Debates, February 3, 1961, p. 1701), and was revived by Speaker Jerome in 1977 (Debates, February 3, 1977, p. 2665).

[60] United Kingdom, House of Commons, “The Mace in the House of Commons”, House of Commons Library Document No. 3, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1957, p. 7. See also Hatsell, Vol. II, p. 141.

[61] Standing Order 157(1).

[62] The Mace is left on the Table whenever a sitting is suspended for a short period of time; however, during an emergency such as a fire alarm, the Sergeant-at-Arms removes it from the Chamber.

[63] This long‑standing custom may have originated in the Elizabethan period, when the large committees of the time began to meet in the Chamber as an alternative to less convenient locations outside the precinct. The position of the Mace—on the Table or below it—would have provided a clear indication as to whether Members were sitting as a House or as a committee (“The Mace in the House of Commons”, pp. 9‑10).

[64] For further information on this custom, see Chapter 13, “Rules of Order and Decorum”.

[65] Debates, October 30, 1991, pp. 4269‑70; October 31, 1991, pp. 4271‑85, 4309‑10; April 22, 2002, pp. 10654‑70; April 23, 2002, pp. 10747‑8; April 24, 2002, p. 10770. For further information, see the section below, “The Bar of the House”.

[66] In 1642, in a conflict over the respective rights and authority of the monarch and the British Parliament, Charles I issued a warrant for the arrest of five Members of the British House of Commons. The King himself went to the Commons Chamber, crossed the Bar—the first and last monarch to do so—and took the Speaker’s Chair, demanding the presence of the five Members. The King’s intentions were foiled by Speaker Lenthall whose famous words (“May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here, and I humbly beg Your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me”) established the precedence of the privileges of the Commons over the authority of the Crown (Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., pp. 708‑9).

When the House sits as a Committee of the Whole, typically two departmental officials are permitted onto the floor of the House in order to assist the Minister. Members requiring assistance in the Chamber due to a disability may also have an aide present on the floor of the House. See Standing Order 1.1.

[67] On October 30, 1991, angry at having missed a vote, Ian Waddell (Port Moody–Coquitlam) attempted to take hold of the Mace as it was borne out of the Chamber at the end of the sitting. The Member’s actions were judged to be an attempt to obstruct the House, as well as a challenge to the Chair’s authority to adjourn the sitting. A prima facie breach of privilege was found and a motion was adopted calling the Member to the Bar to be admonished by the Speaker (Debates, October 30, 1991, pp. 4269‑70; October 31, 1991, pp. 4271‑85, 4309‑10). On April 17, 2002, angry with the outcome of a vote on his private Member’s bill, Keith Martin (Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca) took hold of the Mace. This action was considered to be in contempt of the House and a prima facie breach of privilege was found (Debates, April 22, 2002, pp. 10654-70). On April 23, 2002, the House adopted a motion calling not only for the Member to appear at the Bar of the House, but also to apologize for his actions (Journals, pp. 1337-8). The next day, Mr. Martin appeared at the Bar and apologized to the House (Journals, April 24, 2002, p. 1341, Debates, p. 10770).

[68] For further information, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[69] On March 1, 2002, a motion was adopted by unanimous consent calling for a former Member of Parliament, Herb Gray, to appear at the Bar to hear remarks by one representative of each party, and to respond to them (Journals, p. 1149). On March 13, 2002, Mr. Gray appeared at the Bar and Members paid tribute to his long service as a Member of Parliament (Journals, p. 1171, Debates, pp. 9588-93).

[70] At one time the Ladies’ Gallery was reserved for women (who tended to be the wives and daughters of Members), as is the Ladies’ Gallery in the British House. See Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., p. 424; Redlich, Vol. II, pp. 22, 35.

[71] The Parliamentary Press Gallery is a non‑profit corporation whose membership comprises journalists assigned by media organizations to cover Parliament.

[72] All persons going into the galleries must first go through a security screening station.

[73] For further information on the recognition of visitors in the galleries, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.

[74] On Wednesdays, the doors are not opened until after the prayers are read and the national anthem has been sung.

[75] In March 1997, the House was made aware that an Aboriginal visitor carrying an eagle feather had been refused admission to the public galleries. The House took note of the sacred character of the eagle feather for Aboriginal peoples, and the Speaker stated that it is permissible for an Aboriginal person to bring an eagle feather into the House (Debates, March 12, 1997, pp. 8946, 8954‑5).

[76] For further information on the authority of the House over its precincts, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”. When it came to the attention of the House in June 1998 that Ernst Zündel (notorious for having published his claims that the Holocaust never occurred) had been granted use of the Centre Block press conference facility managed by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (Debates, June 4, 1998, pp. 7608‑9, 7616), the House agreed that, for the remainder of the session, Mr. Zündel would be denied admission to the House of Commons precinct (Journals, June 4, 1998, p. 937). In October 2007, the House adopted a similar motion denying admittance to the precincts of the House for the remainder of the parliamentary session to two representatives of a white supremacy organization who had planned to hold a press conference in the Centre Block (Journals, October 17, 2007, p. 12).

[77] There have been rare exceptions. In 1944, the House twice agreed to permit the Minister of National Defence, who was newly appointed and not an elected Member, to address the House during a sitting (Journals, November 23, 1944, p. 926; November 24, 1944, p. 928). In addition, the House met in a secret session at which the Minister was present and participated (Journals, November 28, 1944, p. 931, Debates, p. 6634). In 2007, when the House met in a Committee of the Whole to consider emergency legislation, 10 witnesses were seated at a table on the floor of the Chamber. Some of the witnesses made statements and answered questions (Journals, December 11, 2007, pp. 295‑6, Debates, pp. 2049‑78). In 2008, pursuant to two Special Orders adopted by the House, the House met in a Committee of the Whole and guests representing the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples were permitted on the floor of the Chamber to hear the Prime Minister’s statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools and the responses of the leaders of the opposition parties. Five of the representatives were also permitted to make statements in response to the apology. See Journals, June 10, 2008, p. 952; June 11, 2008, pp. 963‑4, Debates, pp. 6849‑57. Moreover, since 2005, a Member with a disability has required the presence of an aide in the Chamber. See Standing Order 1.1.

On several occasions, the House has sat as a Committee of the Whole in order to receive Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes onto the floor of the Chamber to be recognized for their achievements. See Journals, October 1, 1996, p. 699, Debates, pp. 4944‑6; Journals, April 22, 1998, p. 691, Debates, pp. 5959‑60; Journals, April 15, 2002, p. 1288, Debates, p. 10394; Journals, November 1, 2004, p. 174, Debates, pp. 1011-2.

[78] For historical background, see May, T.E., A Treatise Upon the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, South Hackensack, New Jersey: Rothman Reprints Inc., 1971 (reprint of 1st ed., 1844), pp. 163‑4; A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings, and Usage of Parliament, 5th ed., rev. and enlarged, London: Butterworths, 1863, pp. 238‑40; Redlich, Vol. II, pp. 34‑5.

[79] Rules and Forms of Proceedings of the House of Commons of Canada, 1868, Rule 6. See Debates, March 27, 1871, col. 655, for an example of its use.

[80] Debates, March 29, 1876, p. 905. No such motion has ever been adopted, although attempts have been made. See, for example, Journals, September 7, 1950, p. 38; Debates, April 4, 1990, pp. 10186‑7. In the 1990 example, Speaker Fraser ruled that a Member could not propose the motion on a point of order.

[81] Standing Order 14 (Journals, June 10, 1994, p. 563).

[82] Standing Orders 157(2) and 158.

[83] For example, on May 2, 2001, two demonstrators unfurled a banner in the galleries and tossed stuffed animals onto the floor of the House. Security staff took the initiative to remove the demonstrators before an objection was raised in the House. The RCMP later charged the demonstrators with causing a disturbance. On March 13, 2008 during the taking of a vote on a motion to extend Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, 26 visitors in one of the galleries stood up and began chanting in protest to the motion. Security staff advised the demonstrators to leave the gallery and they did so without incident.

[84] See, for example, Debates, May 11, 1970, p. 6796; November 28, 1989, pp. 6342‑3. On October 18, 1990, a question of privilege was raised accusing a Member of complicity in a demonstration in the galleries on the previous day, when some 20 individuals identified as students had shouted and pelted Members with macaroni and messages of protest before being escorted from the galleries by security staff (Debates, pp. 14359‑68). The Speaker ruled out the allegation of complicity, but found a prima facie breach of privilege in the demonstration. The matter was referred to committee, which recommended that participants in such demonstrations be charged or otherwise punished for their actions (Journals, November 6, 1990, p. 2228, Debates, pp. 15177‑81; Journals, March 6, 1991, pp. 2666‑7). For the text of the report, see Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, March 6, 1991, Issue No. 39, pp. 3‑8. The report was not taken up by the House.

[85] The development of the system in the British House was watched with interest. See reports tabled by the Speaker in Journals, December 5, 1947, pp. 7, 30‑2; March 15, 1951, pp. 177‑9. The special committee’s report was presented to the House and adopted on June 19, 1951 (Journals, pp. 517‑8).

[86] Journals, February 29, 1952, p. 9 (tabling of an Order in Council authorizing the Minister of Public Works to contract for the supply, installation and operation of a sound system); Debates, June 25, 1952, p. 3732 (questioning of the Minister in Committee of Supply); November 21, 1952, p. 11; November 26, 1952, p. 123 (Members’ comments on the new system).

[87] Journals, August 11, 1958, p. 402.

[88] See Debates, August 11, 1958, pp. 3331‑40. See also Debates, November 25, 1957, pp. 1456‑99.

[89] Journals, January 25, 1977, p. 287.

[90] See the Speaker’s statement when the House began broadcasting its proceedings (Debates, October 17, 1977, pp. 8201‑2).

[91] See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915) and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995), par. 23 to 30.

[92] The subject of broadcasting as an “electronic Hansard” is addressed in Chapter 24, “The Parliamentary Record”.

[93] In an effort to meet possible future needs, an electronic voting infrastructure was also installed, although such technology has not yet been required by the House. For further information on the upgrades which took place during the summer adjournments of 2003 and 2004, see the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915) and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995), par. 16 to 22.

[94] See, for example, the Special Order adopted on May 11, 1961 (Journals, p. 535). On another occasion, when a Member objected, the Speaker sought the consent of the House for photographs to be taken during a sitting (Debates, November 27, 1964, p. 10597; December 17, 1964, p. 11263). In January 1967, the Speaker wrote to all Members, informing them of arrangements made in consultation with the House Leaders for photographs to be taken of the House in session.

[95] Debates, October 24, 1979, p. 557.

[96] Debates, January 25, 1983, p. 22194.

[97] Members have been warned by the Chair not to take photographs while the House is in session (Debates, December 7, 1999, pp. 2419-20; February 29, 2000, p. 4151; April 22, 2004, p. 2298; April 26, 2004, p. 2394; April 27, 2004, p. 2469). See also Debates, October 31, 2007, p. 624.

[98] From time to time, the House of Commons Chamber is the site for an address by a distinguished visitor to assembled Senators and Members. In order for such a meeting to take place, the House first adopts a motion to that effect. See, for example, Journals, October 8, 2004, p. 75; May 5, 2006, pp. 134-5. When a joint address takes place, an established protocol is followed. It does not constitute a sitting of the House and the House is not in session. For further information on joint addresses to members of both Houses, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.

[99] Orientation sessions are provided to Members following a general election, and before the opening of Parliament. They have been held in the Chamber following each general election since 1993, with the exception of the orientation session in 2004, which was held in a reception room in the West Block due to renovations that were taking place in the Chamber.

[100] For example: The Teachers’ Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, a professional development seminar held annually since 1996; the annual meetings of the Forum for Young Canadians, a program operated by the non‑profit Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada for secondary school aged students to learn about the workings of government and the responsibilities of citizenship; Model Parliaments for various Canadian universities; and the annual swearing‑in ceremony for the pages.

[101] In 1921, Senators and Members assembled in the House of Commons Chamber for a ceremony to receive the Speaker’s Chair, a gift to replace the Chair lost in the fire of 1916. The gathering was not a sitting of the House and the Mace was not laid on the Table. When the House sat later the same day, Special Orders were adopted to prefix the remarks made at the ceremony to that day’s Debates (Journals, May 20, 1921, pp. 305‑6).

Sessions were held in the House of Commons Chamber when the Parliament of Canada hosted the XIth and XVIIIth General Assemblies of the Association internationale des parlementaires de langue française in 1980 and 1991 respectively, the XXVth General Assembly of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie in 1999, and the inaugural meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas in 2001.

In 1996, Senators and Members past and present gathered in the Chamber and galleries to witness a ceremony unveiling the first of a series of plaques commemorating the service of individual parliamentarians since Confederation. The event was not a sitting of the House. (The ceremony was televised but the official documents contain no written record; see references in Debates, May 29, 1996, pp. 3124, 3133.)

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The House of Commons delegates much of its work to committees which are composed of Members (and in the case of joint committees, Members and Senators).[102] Aside from Committees of the Whole House which meet in the Chamber,[103] committees meet in rooms outside the Chamber, often while the House is sitting. Committee rooms are located principally in the Centre, East and West Blocks. They are outfitted with sound amplification systems as well as the necessary equipment to record the proceedings and to provide simultaneous interpretation in both official languages. Two rooms are set up for television broadcasting, with an adjoining control room and cameras operated by remote control.[104] When required, temporary broadcasting equipment may be installed in other committee rooms. Although certain rooms are designated and equipped as committee rooms, they are all multifunctional and are used for other purposes. Committees may meet anywhere in the Parliamentary Precinct provided the requirements for interpretation and recording are met.[105]

Typically a committee room is set up with several tables placed in a rectangular formation. The Chair sits at the centre of one end with the committee clerk and other committee advisors. The Members take seats on either side; as in the House, the government Members normally sit to the Chair’s right and the opposition Members to the left. Witnesses are seated at the end opposite the Chair. Tables are available for representatives of the press, usually behind the witnesses’ chairs, together with additional seating for individuals viewing the proceedings.

While a committee may tend to hold its meetings in a particular room, no such formal room assignments are made. In the years immediately following Confederation, committees were fewer and larger and much business was conducted in Committees of the Whole. Certain rooms were set aside for committee meetings. For example, the room known informally as the Railway Committee Room came to be so called because (although it was used by other committees) it was the home of the standing committee dealing with railways.[106] Committees book rooms as needed; priority of use may be established from time to time by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.[107]

[102] For further information, see Chapter 20, “Committees”.

[103] For further information, see Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”.

[104] For further information on broadcasting arrangements for committee proceedings, see Chapter 24, “The Parliamentary Record”.

[105] For further information on the recording of committee proceedings, see Chapter 20, “Committees”. On May 29, 2003, a point of order was raised regarding a committee meeting held in camera in the Parliamentary Restaurant, which some Members contended did not meet the requirements for simultaneous interpretation and recording. On June 3, 2003, Deputy Speaker Kilger stated that since Members present at the meeting had not objected to the ad hoc arrangements made for interpretation, and since an in camera meeting did not require recording, the committee meeting had been properly conducted (Debates, May 29, 2003, pp. 6643-6; June 3, 2003, pp. 6773-5).

[106] The Standing Committee on Railways, Canals and Telegraph Lines existed from 1867 to 1965, when its name was changed. The Railway Committee Room opens off the Hall of Honour. It is one of the largest committee rooms, and it has been equipped to broadcast committee proceedings.

[107] Standing Order 115(4). The priority system is based on a report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs adopted by the House on September 19, 1994. See the Twenty‑Eighth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, June 10, 1994, Issue No. 16, pp. 9-10; Journals, September 19, 1994, p. 682. See also the Nineteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (presented to the House and concurred in on May 16, 2001 (Journals, pp. 419, 421)), which recommended that, on an experimental basis, disputes between committees regarding the allocation of committee rooms with broadcasting capabilities be resolved by the House Leaders, or by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs if the House Leaders could not come to an agreement. These recommendations have been continually renewed since their adoption. See, for example, the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House and concurred in on April 27, 2006 (Journals, p. 99). See also Chapter 20, “Committees”.

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Members are accommodated mostly in suites of offices located in the Centre Block, East Block, West Block, Confederation Building and Justice Building. Ministers have offices on Parliament Hill as well as in their departments. Office space is assigned to Members in consultation with their party Whips. Members of parties not officially recognized in the House and Members with no party affiliation (usually referred to as independent Members) are allocated offices by the Speaker.[108]

At Confederation, the newly‑built Centre Block, or “Parliament Building” as it was then known, housed the entire Parliament of Canada. The East and West Blocks, or “departmental buildings”, were occupied by government departments and included offices for Cabinet Ministers. The Speaker was the only Member to have an office in the Centre Block. Members were provided with desks in the Chamber, lockers nearby, and facilities for dressing, reading and smoking; the nature of the Members’ work and the length of sessions were such that this was considered adequate to their needs.[109]

The Centre Block was designed for the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, which was composed of 130 members; at Confederation in 1867, it was required to house 181 Members of the House of Commons. By the 1880s, the basements and attics were fully utilized and parliamentarians demanded improvements in their accommodations. By 1916, the year in which fire destroyed the building, some Members were allocated private offices (i.e., the Speaker, Cabinet Ministers, leading Opposition Members); others shared rooms. Conditions for Members improved in the new Centre Block, though not to the extent of offering private offices for all.[110] Over the years, the membership of the House increased and so did Members’ requirements for space and staff, in line with the evolving role and worklife of Parliament and its elected representatives. Gradually, additional space became available as administrative services were moved to other locations, and as other buildings were converted for House of Commons use.[111]

[108] In 1991, Louis Plamondon (Richelieu), a Member of a non‑recognized party, raised a question of privilege about the reassignment of his office by the Speaker without his authorization. Speaker Fraser ruled that the Member’s complaint was an administrative rather than procedural matter (Debates, April 8, 1991, pp. 19126‑7; April 9, 1991, pp. 19232‑3; April 11, 1991, p. 19340). Prior to the opening of the Thirty‑Sixth Parliament in 1997, John Nunziata (York South–Weston), a former Member of a recognized party who had been re‑elected as an independent Member, was reassigned office space by the Speaker against his will.

[109] At that time, sessions of Parliament were on average well under six months in length. See Appendix 13, “Parliaments Since 1867 and Number of Sitting Days”.

[110] The original building had residences for the Speaker and Sergeant‑at‑Arms as well as modest living quarters for housekeepers, servants and messengers in the basement. The new building was two storeys higher and additional space was made available by eliminating the residences, though the Speaker retained a suite of rooms in order to offer the traditional hospitality. See Livermore, J.D., “A History of Parliamentary Accommodation in Canada, 1841‑1974”, published as Appendix III of the Report of the Advisory Commission on Parliamentary Accommodation, November 1976, tabled on December 17, 1976 (Journals, p. 254).

[111] The West Block was renovated and reopened for Members in 1963, and the Confederation Building in 1973. Since 1980, the East Block (which had always been used by the Prime Minister) has been used by other Members. Since 2001, office space has also been available to Members in the Justice Building.

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The House of Commons is one of three constituent elements of the Parliament of Canada.[112] The other two elements are the Senate and the Sovereign, represented in Canada by the Governor General. The House of Commons is not a department of the Government of Canada, although its administrative structure may be described as generally comparable to that of a government department. One of the privileges of the House is its right to independent regulation of its own internal affairs.[113] The House may voluntarily adopt the administrative policies of the government as its own, but it cannot be compelled to do so, and it is also free to develop new policies and practices.[114]

The House Administration exists to support the activities of Members individually and collectively in their various roles as legislators in the House and in committees, as representatives of their constituents, and as members of their respective party caucuses. As well as serving Members elected for the duration of a Parliament, the Administration also serves the House as an institution.

In 1964, the administrative structure of the House of Commons was the subject of an important review which noted significant changes in the nature, volume and complexity of House services and recommended an administrative reorganization.[115] The origins of the modern administrative structure of the House may be traced to a major comprehensive audit carried out by the Auditor General in 1979 and 1980. In 1978, wishing to support a program of expenditure restraint undertaken by the government, Speaker Jerome asked the Standing Committee on Management and Members’ Services to suggest possible economy measures for the House.[116] Out of this came a recommendation from the Committee for a complete and independent review of the administration of the House.[117]

At the Speaker’s request, the Auditor General reviewed the administration of the House of Commons, submitting an interim report in October 1979 and a final report early in 1981.[118] The Auditor General noted that services to Members were of high quality; however, fundamental weaknesses and a number of significant deficiencies were identified.[119] These findings led to a major realignment of the administrative structure of the House, which has continued to evolve to meet changing circumstances and demands. Another comprehensive audit undertaken by the Auditor General in 1990‑91 found a greatly improved quality of general and financial administration.[120]

The administrative structure of the House is not set out in any single text or piece of legislation. The organization required to support the activities of the House has evolved and developed over the years in response to the needs of an increasingly complex system of government. Provisions for various aspects of the administration are found in legislation,[121] the Standing Orders,[122] by‑laws made by the Board of Internal Economy, internal policy manuals and in the unwritten practices developed over time.

*   Overall Authority of the Speaker

Elected by the Members of the House, the Speaker holds a position of authority and represents the Commons in all its powers, proceedings and dignity.[123] The Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, and spokesperson for the House in its relations with the Senate, the Sovereign and other authorities outside Parliament. When in the Chair, he or she is responsible for regulating debate and preserving order in accordance with the rules of the House.[124]

In addition to the more visible roles as representative of the House and presiding officer in the Chamber, the Speaker is at the head of the administration of the House of Commons and holds extensive responsibilities in that regard. The Speaker is responsible for the overall direction and management of the House of Commons administration,[125] much as a Cabinet Minister is responsible for a department.

The House has a number of unique characteristics that have a direct impact on how it functions and is managed. As part of its corporate rights and privileges, the House of Commons, through the Speaker, holds exclusive jurisdiction over its premises and the people within. The administrative activities of the House are numerous and diverse. All matters of finance and administration are overseen by the Board of Internal Economy, a statutory body of Members of Parliament. The House is accommodated for the most part in heritage buildings, which are recognized national symbols. These and other characteristics inevitably produce a necessarily complex administrative decision‑making process.

*   Board of Internal Economy

The Board of Internal Economy is the governing body of the House of Commons. It has a long statutory history, originating in 1868 with the passage of An Act respecting the internal Economy of the House of Commons, and for other purposes.[126]


The membership of the Board consists of the Speaker, who acts as its Chair, two Ministers of the Crown (appointed to the Board by the Governor in Council), the Leader of the Opposition or his or her representative, and additional Members appointed in numbers resulting in an overall equality of government and opposition representatives (apart from the Speaker), regardless of the composition of the House of Commons.[127] All recognized opposition parties (i.e., those holding at least 12 seats in the House) are given representation on the Board. The Speaker informs the House of appointments no later than 15 sitting days after they are made.[128] Each member of the Board is required to take an oath or affirmation “of fidelity and secrecy”, administered by the Clerk of the House.[129]

The Clerk of the House is the Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.[130] When Parliament is dissolved, members of the Board retain their functions until they are replaced.[131] This ensures continuity in the administrative leadership of the House; the practice has been that decisions taken by the Board while Parliament is dissolved are confined to those of a housekeeping nature.


Meetings of the Board of Internal Economy are chaired by the Speaker of the House. Five members, including the Speaker, constitute a quorum.[132] In the event of the death, disability or absence of the Speaker, five members of the Board constitute a quorum; one must be a Minister. The members present then designate one of their number to chair the meeting.[133]

Mandate and Authority

The powers and authority of the Board flow from provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. Under the Parliament of Canada Act, the Board has legal authority to “act on all financial and administrative matters respecting the House of Commons, its premises, its services and its staff; and the Members of the House of Commons”.[134] The Board examines and approves the annual budget estimates of the House before the Speaker transmits them to the President of the Treasury Board, who will then lay them before the House with the estimates of the government.[135] All sums of money voted for the House by Parliament are released by order of the Board. In other words, the Board of Internal Economy manages all operating and administrative expenses of the House, including employee salaries and amounts payable to Members (i.e., their sessional allowances, and travel and communications costs). In administrative matters, the Board is responsible for managing the premises, services and staff of the House as well as those goods, services and premises made available to Members to carry out their parliamentary functions.

Pursuant to the Standing Orders of the House, the Board approves and controls the budgetary expenditures of the committees of the House of Commons, and must cause to be tabled an annual financial report outlining the expenses incurred by each committee.[136] The rules further require that when the Board has reached a decision concerning any budget presented to it, the Speaker shall lay upon the Table the record of the Board’s decision.[137]

In accordance with the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Board is deemed to be the employer of the staff of the House of Commons, as defined in the Act (the chief exception being Members’ staff, who are deemed to be employed by the Members).[138] As employer, the Board approves rates of pay for unrepresented employees and authorizes officials of the House to negotiate the renewal of the collective agreements of unionized employees and ratifies such agreements.

Pursuant to the Standing Orders, two members of the Board, one government representative and one opposition representative, are designated to be responsible for answering any questions pertaining to the administration of the House which may be put during Question Period.[139] These spokespersons may also respond to points of order in the House on behalf of the Board.[140]

By-laws and Decisions of the Board

The Board is authorized by the Parliament of Canada Act to make by-laws governing Members’ use of the funds, goods, services and premises made available to them. When the Board makes a by-law, it must be tabled in the House within 30 days of its making, or deposited with the Clerk if the House is not sitting.[141]

The Standing Orders require the Speaker to table at the beginning of each new session of Parliament a report of decisions of the Board of Internal Economy for the previous session.[142] Early in the Thirty‑Fifth Parliament (1994‑97), a new practice was instituted whereby records of the Board’s decisions (typically in the form of minutes) are tabled in the House as soon as they have been approved by the Board.[143]

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*   Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Some of the duties of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also deal with the administration of the House. The Committee’s mandate includes, among other things, reviewing and reporting to the House and to the Board of Internal Economy on issues concerning the management of the House and the provision of services and facilities to Members.[144] Moreover, the Committee reviews the effectiveness and management of operations under the joint control of the House of Commons and the Senate, radio and television broadcasting of proceedings of the House and its committees, and matters relating to the election of Members.[145]

In addition, the Committee considers the budgetary estimates of the House of Commons[146] as well as the main estimates of Elections Canada, and the annual report of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner pertaining to activities in relation to Members of Parliament.[147]

*   Office of the Clerk of the House

Members are supported in their parliamentary functions by services administered by the Clerk of the House[148] who, as the chief executive of the House Administration, reports to the Speaker. The Clerk is appointed by Order in Council, following the referral of the name of the proposed appointee to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the ratification of the appointment by the House.[149] The Clerk is the senior permanent official of the House. The Clerk advises and supports the Speaker, the House and its committees in all procedural and administrative matters, and acts as Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.[150] The staff and administration of the House come under the control of the Clerk.[151] The Standing Orders establishing the procedural and administrative functions of the Clerk have changed little since Confederation; however, the responsibilities of the office have evolved considerably as the administrative apparatus of the House has become more complex.

The Clerk is responsible for maintaining records of the proceedings of the House and for keeping custody of these records and other documents in the possession of the House.[152] The Standing Orders also require the Clerk to provide the Speaker, prior to each sitting of the House, with the official agenda for the day’s proceedings, published under the title Order Paper and Notice Paper.[153] This rule has traditionally been interpreted to mean that the Speaker must be in possession of the current Order Paper and Notice Paper in order for the day’s proceedings to begin.

All decisions of the House are authenticated by signature of the Clerk. At the beginning of a Parliament, the Clerk administers the oath of allegiance to all duly‑elected Members. The Clerk also administers an oath to Members joining the Board of Internal Economy.[154] In addition, the Clerk is responsible for administering the oath of allegiance to all employees of the House Administration.[155]

Reporting to the Clerk are senior officials who are responsible for the various organizational units of the House Administration:

*       the Deputy Clerk,[156] responsible for providing procedural services to the House of Commons and its committees;

*       the Sergeant-at-Arms,[157] responsible for providing services pertaining to security[158] and accommodation matters and for providing food services;

*       the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel,[159] responsible for providing legal counsel services to the Speaker, the Board of Internal Economy, Members, the Clerk and officials of the House of Commons Administration along with legal and legislative counsel services to Members and committees of the House of Commons;

*       the Chief Information Officer/Executive Director, Information Services, responsible for providing information management and information technology, multimedia, publishing and printing services to the House of Commons;

*       the Chief Financial Officer, responsible for providing services pertaining to financial management as well as material and resource information management to the House of Commons; and

*       the Director General, Human Resources and Corporate Planning Services, responsible for providing human resources and corporate planning services to the House of Commons.

Along with the Clerk of the House, the Deputy Clerk, the Sergeant‑at‑Arms, and the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel also have duties in the Chamber when the House is sitting.

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[112] Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 17.

[113] Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 183‑5. See also Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[114] An example would be the House‑wide program of environmental awareness and conservation, known as “Greening the Hill”, established in 1990 by Speaker Fraser, well in advance of other such initiatives in the public sector.

[115] Sixth Report of the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented to the House on May 20, 1964 (Journals, pp. 331‑7).

[116] For a description of the administrative review, see comments of Speaker Jerome in Debates, November 1, 1979, pp. 841‑3.

[117] See the exchange of correspondence between the Speaker of the House and the Auditor General, tabled on November 1, 1979 (Journals, p. 162) and printed by Order of the House (Journals, November 2, 1979, p. 168) as an Appendix to the Debates (pp. 922‑6).

[118] The interim report was tabled in the House (Journals, November 1 and 2, 1979, pp. 162, 168) and a summary report appeared as Chapter 5 of the Auditor General’s report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1980 (tabled in the House on December 11, 1980 (Journals, p. 840)). The full audit report was filed as an exhibit with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Minutes of Proceedings, February 10, 1981, Issue No. 21, p. 3).

[119] Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1980, par. 5.8 to 5.10.

[120] Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Audit of the House of Commons Administration, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, November 1991, p. 9, tabled on November 21, 1991 (Journals, p. 703, Debates, pp. 5158‑9).

[121] See, for example, Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1; Salaries Act, R.S. 1985, c. S‑3; Official Languages Act, R.S. 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.); Canada Post Corporation Act, R.S. 1985, c. C‑10, s. 35.

[122] See, for example, Standing Orders 107, 121 and 148 to 159.

[123] May, 23rd ed., p. 218.

[124] For further information on the role of the Speaker, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.

[125] See the Report of the House of Commons to Canadians, tabled each spring by the Speaker and posted on the Parliament of Canada Web site (, for budgetary and staffing figures.

[126] S.C. 1868, c. 27.

[127] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P-1, s. 50(2). Until November 1997, when these provisions came into effect (Bill C‑13, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (composition of the Board of Internal Economy) received Royal Assent on November 27, 1997), the Deputy Speaker was automatically a member of the Board of Internal Economy. Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands), who was Deputy Speaker at the time, was subsequently appointed to the Board as one of the government’s representatives (Journals, December 11, 1997, p. 391). His successor, Bob Kilger (Stormont–Dundas–Charlottenburgh), was also appointed to the Board (Journals, January 31, 2001, p. 17). Subsequent Deputy Speakers have not been appointed.

[128] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 50(4). See, for example, Journals, April 4, 2006, p. 12 (appointment of several members at the beginning of a Parliament); February 1, 2005, p. 373 (appointment of one member to replace another).

[129] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 50(5). The text is set out as Form 3 of the Schedule to the Act.

[130] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 51.

[131] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 53.

[132] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52(1).

[133] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52(2).

[134] R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.3.

[135] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.4.

[136] Standing Order 121.

[137] Standing Order 148(2).

[138] R.S. 1985, c. 33 (2nd Supp.), ss. 3 and 4(2). The Board of Internal Economy issues guidelines to Members in connection with their role as employers.

[139] Standing Order 37(2). See, for example, Debates, May 30, 2001, p. 4400. See also Chapter 11, “Questions”.

[140] On November 20, 2002, a point of order was raised regarding a breach in security which had occurred on Parliament Hill the previous day. The point of order pertained to the responsibilities of the Board of Internal Economy. The Speaker declined to respond on behalf of the Board, stating that the Board had designated spokespersons (Debates, p. 1662). The next day, the Member designated by the Board responded to the point of order (Debates, November 21, 2002, pp. 1743‑4).

[141] R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.5(3).

[142] Standing Order 148(1).

[143] Debates, February 17, 1994, p. 1507.

[144] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(i).

[145] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(ii), (v) and (vi). For further information on this Committee, see Chapter 20, “Committees”.

[146] Standing Order 81(4). See, for example, statements of the Speaker in appearances before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Evidence, April 14, 2005, Meeting No. 29; May 11, 2006, Meeting No. 6.

[147] Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vii).

[148] Since Confederation, 12 Clerks have served the House of Commons (see Appendix 9, “Clerks of the House of Commons Since 1867”). The office of Clerk has a long history in British parliamentary tradition. The first official appointment of a Clerk to the Commons took place in 1363, though from much earlier times kings had employed officials to record their decisions and those of their advisors. In the language of the time, the word “clerk” simply indicated a person who could read and write. Thus, the early Clerks of the House were servants of the Crown appointed to assist the Commons with its business. Their duties included reading petitions and bills. As the Commons gained in stature and recognition, its Clerk became more identified with the institution. In the mid‑sixteenth century, Clerks began keeping notes on proceedings in the House, and these evolved into the Journals. During the tumultuous sittings of the Long Parliament (1640‑53), the role of Clerk grew to include advising the Chair and the House on procedural matters (Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., pp. 134‑5). For a historical account, see Marsden, P., The Officers of the Commons 1363‑1978, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1979.

[149] Standing Order 111.1. This Standing Order was established following the adoption of the Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons on October 4, 2001 (Journals, pp. 691-3), par. 42 to 44. Audrey O’Brien was the first Clerk of the House appointed pursuant to Standing Order 111.1 (Journals, September 30, 2005, p. 1068; Order Paper and Notice Paper, October 5, 2005, p. III; Journals, October 6, 2005, p. 1121; October 7, 2005, p. 1152).

[150] Occasionally, in appreciation of their service to the House, former Clerks have been designated as Honourary Officers of the House, and granted an entrée to the Chamber and a seat at the Table. See, for example, the designations of Robert Marleau (Journals, September 18, 2000, p. 1906) and William Corbett (Journals, October 7, 2005, p. 1152) as Honourary Officers. This honour has also been extended to a former Member of Parliament in recognition of his long service to the House. See the designation of Stanley Knowles (Journals, March 13, 1984, p. 244).

[151] Standing Order 151.

[152] Standing Order 151.

[153] Standing Order 152.

[154] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 50(5).

[155] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 49(1). This section of the Act also requires the Clerk to swear the oath before the Speaker of the House.

[156] From time to time since Confederation, the Clerk of the House has been assisted by a Deputy Clerk and one or more Clerks Assistant, who act as Table Officers. Table Officers are part of a corps of procedural staff, trained by means of an established career structure which provides experience in a variety of procedural fields. See Koester, C.S., “The Clerkship as a Profession: An Account of the Development of the Concept in the Canadian House of Commons 1980‑1986”, The Table, Vol. LVII, 1989, pp. 35‑43. The appointment to the position of Deputy Clerk has been made by Order in Council. See, for example, the appointments of Mary Anne Griffith (Journals, September 18, 1987, p. 1485), Camille Montpetit (Canada Gazette, Part I, November 7, 1998, p. 3036; Journals, February 11, 1999, p. 1498), William Corbett (Canada Gazette, Part I, October 30, 1999, p. 3126), Audrey O’Brien (Canada Gazette, Part I, July 15, 2000, p. 2212) and Marc Bosc (Canada Gazette, Part I, October 29, 2005, p. 3454). Appointments to the position of Clerk Assistant have been made at various times either by the Speaker (see, for example, the appointments of John George Bourinot (Journals, February 17, 1879, p. 8, Debates, cols. 5‑6) and Arthur Beauchesne (Journals, February 15, 1916, pp. 79‑80; February 17, 1916, p. 85)), or by Order in Council (see, for example, the appointments of Charles Beverley Koester (Journals, October 14, 1975, p. 754), Philip A.C. Laundy (Journals, March 4, 1983, p. 5672), Robert Marleau (Journals, March 4, 1983, p. 5672), Mary Anne Griffith (Journals, January 21, 1985, p. 224), Audrey O’Brien (Canada Gazette, Part I, January 15, 2000, p. 64), Marc Bosc (Canada Gazette, Part I, July 15, 2000, p. 2212) and Marie-Andrée Lajoie (Canada Gazette, Part I, October 29, 2005, p. 3454)).

[157] The office of Sergeant‑at‑Arms originated in the early years of the British Parliament, when mace‑bearing members of the Royal bodyguard were assigned to attend the Speaker at sittings of the House of Commons. With the Sergeant‑at‑Arms and the Mace, the House could exercise its powers of arrest, trial and imprisonment and pursue its lengthy struggle to establish its rights and privileges. For a detailed history of the office, see Marsden. The Sergeant‑at‑Arms also assists the Clerk in performing certain ceremonial functions. The ceremonial role of the Sergeant‑at‑Arms entails accompanying the Speaker, as Mace bearer in the Speaker’s Parade to and from the Chamber, in the parade to the Senate Chamber for the reading of the Speech from the Throne, and for Royal Assent ceremonies. When engaged in ceremonial functions and when attending sittings of the House, the Sergeant‑at‑Arms is attired formally in black tailcoat and cocked hat, with a sword signifying the authority of the office. In 1849, when rioters entered the Parliament Building in Montreal, the Sergeant‑at‑Arms reportedly drew his sword while attempting to protect the Mace (Beauchesne, Canada’s Parliament Building: The Senate and House of Commons, Ottawa, pp. 56‑7). The appointment to the position of Sergeant-at-Arms has been made by Order in Council. See, for example, the appointments of Lt. Col. David Currie (Debates, January 14, 1960, p. 5), Maj. Gen. Gaston Cloutier (Debates, May 4, 1978, p. 5139) and Kevin Vickers (Debates, September 18, 2006, p. 2892). See Appendix 11, “Sergeants‑at‑Arms of the House of Commons Since 1867”.

[158] This includes personal security for the Prime Minister in the precinct of Parliament and maintaining order in the Chamber and all the parliamentary buildings as well as the protection and security of Members, employees, visitors and property within the House precinct. Prior to the creation of the House of Commons Security Services in 1920, security was the responsibility of the Dominion Police (which in 1920 was merged with the Royal North West Mounted Police to create a new national force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). For further information, see Canada, House of Commons, Security Services Directorate, History of the House of Commons Security Services 1920‑1995, Ottawa, 1995.

[159] The Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel has also traditionally been a Table Officer and, like the Deputy Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms, is also an Order-in-Council appointee. At present, the Deputy Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel is a Table Officer as well. See Appendix 10, “Law Clerks of the House of Commons Since 1867”.

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