The House sometimes alters its normal
schedule of sittings to accommodate special events or ceremonies. These
“special” or “unusual” sittings have included: sitting for the sole
purpose of attendance at a Royal Assent ceremony; sitting for the purpose of electing
a Speaker; conducting a secret sitting; and sitting to hear addresses by
Royal Assent is the stage of the
legislative process at which a bill that is identical to the version passed by
the two Houses is approved by a representative of the Crown. Royal Assent may
be signified in one of two ways: either by written declaration, or by a
traditional ceremony in the Senate Chamber.
The Royal Assent Act provides that a
traditional ceremony must be held at least twice a year and there is a
requirement that the first appropriation bill in a session be given Royal
Assent in the traditional form. The ceremonies bring together the three constituent parts of
Parliament: the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons. It also
happens that Royal Assent
ceremonies take place when the House stands adjourned. When these occur, the
House must be recalled so that it may proceed to the Senate for Royal Assent.
In the late 1980s, the House followed the
practice of adopting special orders permitting the Speaker, during periods of
adjournment, to recall the House for the sole purpose of attending Royal
Assent. The Standing Order authorizing the Speaker to recall the House, if
it is deemed to be in the public interest, has also been invoked to recall the
House for this reason. In 1994, the House codified in the Standing Orders the practice of
recalling the House at the request of the government for the sole purpose of attending
A sitting for the sole purpose of attending
a Royal Assent ceremony is treated as a recall of the House with proper notice
given so that the Speaker, or his or her deputy, may make the necessary
preparations to reopen the House. The Speaker notifies the Clerk of the House
of Commons and asks that the necessary steps be taken to recall the House. The Clerk carries out this responsibility by informing the offices
of the Whips, House Leaders, Chair Occupants and independent Members of the
date and time of the special sitting.
The House does not need a quorum for the
Speaker to take the Chair when the Usher of the Black Rod appears in the
Chamber to request the attendance of Members in the Senate. In responding to a summons of the Crown, the House is simply being
asked to witness an event, rather than to make a decision. At the conclusion of
the ceremony, the Speaker returns to the House and, once in the Chair, reports
that the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty’s name, Royal
Assent to certain bills. The Chair then immediately adjourns the House without proceeding to any other business.
A sitting for Royal Assent is not
considered a regular sitting of the House or as a full sitting day. In order to
reflect this situation, the sitting number assigned to the last full regular
sitting completed by the House is again assigned to the sitting for Royal
Assent, followed by a letter.
The election of the Speaker of the House of
Commons is provided for in the Constitution. It is held at the opening of the
first session of a Parliament. An election must also be held if the Speaker resigns or indicates
his or her intention to resign during the Parliament, or if a vacancy occurs
for any other reason. This constitutional obligation serves as a basis for the Standing
Orders governing when and under what circumstances the election is to be held.
The House of Commons is not properly
constituted until the Speaker is elected. Therefore, until the Speaker has been
elected and takes the Chair, no other business may be addressed and no motion
for adjournment, nor any other motion, may be entertained. The process for the
election of the Speaker continues until one candidate has received a majority
of the votes cast. If necessary, the House may sit beyond the ordinary hour of
daily adjournment. When the Speaker has been elected and has taken the Chair, the
Sergeant-at-Arms takes the Mace, the symbol of the authority of the House of
Commons, from under the Table and places it on the Table, and this signifies
that the House is duly constituted. After the usual period of acknowledgments
and congratulations, the new Speaker usually informs the Members of the message
from the Governor General announcing the time and date for the Speech from the
Throne. The new Speaker then adjourns the House until the next sitting day.
Although not explicitly provided for in the
Standing Orders, the House has the privilege, the historical right and the
authority to conduct its proceedings in private. This has been referred to as a
“secret sitting”. The House may conduct an entire sitting or a portion of a
sitting where “strangers” (anyone who is not a Member or an official of the
House of Commons) are either not admitted or asked to withdraw from the
galleries of the House.
These meetings are regarded as sittings and are noted as such in the documents
of the House. To conduct a secret sitting, the House has either adopted a
special order to initiate the proceeding,
or has simply not opened the doors of the House to the public following the
prayers at the beginning of a sitting.
The House has met in secret on four
occasions, all during wartime.
As well, in the years shortly after Confederation, the House would, upon the
commencement of a sitting but prior to the doors being opened to the public,
conduct a portion of its sittings out of public view in order to discuss
internal or “domestic” matters.
From time to time, the House of Commons
Chamber is the site for a joint address to Parliament by a distinguished
visitor (usually a head of state or head of government). Since the early 1940s,
numerous distinguished visitors have addressed Members of the Senate and the
House of Commons from the floor of the Chamber (see Figure 9.1).
Figure 9.1 Joint
Addresses to Parliament Since 1940
Churchill, Prime Minister, Great Britain
Curtin, Prime Minister, Australia
Fraser, Prime Minister, New Zealand
R. Attlee, Prime Minister, Great Britain
S. Truman, President, United States
Jewaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister, India
Ali Khan, Prime Minister, Pakistan
Auriol, President, French Republic
D. Eisenhower, President, United States
Anthony Eden, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Gronchi, President, Republic of Italy
Sukarno, President, Republic of Indonesia
Mollet, Prime Minister, French Republic
Heuss, President, Federal Republic of Germany
Macmillan, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Nkrumah, Prime Minister, Ghana
Kennedy, President, United States
Thant, Secretary-General, United Nations
M. Nixon, President, United States
Echeverria, President, Mexico
Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister, India
Ohira, Prime Minister, Japan
Lopez Portillo, President, Mexico
W. Reagan, President, United States
Thatcher, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Ziyang, Premier, State Council, People’s Republic of China
Miguel de la Madrid, President, Mexico
Perez de Cuellar, Secretary‑General, United Nations
Nakasone, Prime Minister, Japan
Mitterand, President, French Republic
Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
Kohl, Chancellor, Federal Republic of Germany
Herzog, President, State of Israel
Majesty King Hussein Bin Talal, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Mandela, Deputy President, African National Congress
Carlos Salinas de Gortari, President, Mexico
Yeltsin, President, Federation of Russia
J. Clinton, President, United States
Zedillo, President, Mexico
Mandela, President, Republic of South Africa
Havel, President, Czech Republic
Blair, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Annan, Secretary-General, United Nations
Fox Quesada, President, Mexico
Howard, Prime Minister, Australia
Karzaï, President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Yushchenko, President, Ukraine
Since the 1970s, the normal practice has
been for the House to adopt a motion for a joint address, without debate, prior
to the delivery of the address.
In addition to the order to append the address and related speeches to the Debates,
the motion has also included the date and time of the adjournment of the House,
as well as other conditions for the order of business on the day of the
address. By 1980, the motion also included permission for the transmission of
the address and related speeches by the media.
When a joint address takes place, Senators
and Members of the House of Commons assemble in the House of Commons Chamber.
However, the assembly does not constitute a sitting and the Mace is not on the
Table. An established protocol is nonetheless followed.
The seating arrangements in the House are
not what they would be for a regular sitting. The Speaker of the House takes
the Chair, with the Speaker of the Senate seated in a chair to his or her
right. The Table is cleared of the usual paraphernalia and a lectern placed at
its head. The Prime Minister and the distinguished visitor are seated along the
side of the Table to the Speaker’s right; the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk
of the House of Commons are seated along the other side of the Table. Seating
for the rest of the official party, the Justices of the Supreme Court and the
Senators is arranged on the floor of the House in front of the Table.
On arrival at the Centre Block, the
distinguished visitor is met in the Rotunda by the Prime Minister and the
Speakers of both Houses, the leaders of the parties in both Houses, the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Commons, the
Usher of the Black Rod and the Sergeant-at-Arms. The Speaker of the Senate and
the Speaker of the House of Commons invite the distinguished guest to sign the
visitors books for the Senate and the House of Commons. Then the Prime
Minister, the distinguished visitor, the two Speakers and the two Clerks are
escorted to the office of the Speaker of the House of Commons by the Usher of
the Black Rod and the Sergeant-at-Arms, while the party leaders are escorted to
the House of Commons by pages from the Senate and the House of Commons.
At the appointed hour, the official party
enters the House of Commons Chamber. The Speaker of the House of Commons
presents the Prime Minister and invites him or her to address the assembly. The
Prime Minister takes the floor and presents the distinguished visitor.
Afterwards, the distinguished visitor is thanked by the Speaker of the Senate,
followed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, who then concludes the
assembly. The official party then exits the Chamber: the
Usher of the Black Rod first, followed by the distinguished
visitor and the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the
Senate, the Clerk of the Senate, the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Speaker of the House
of Commons and the Clerk of the House of Commons, proceeding
to the office of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
For further information on Royal Assent, see Chapter 16, “The Legislative
S.C. 2002, c. 15, ss. 3(1) and (2).
See, for example, Journals, December 23, 1988, p. 80;
June 27, 1989, p. 463; December 20, 1989, p. 1060;
December 19, 1990, pp. 2513‑5; June 16, 1993, pp. 3321‑2.
For further information on recalls of the House, see Chapter 8, “The
Standing Order 28(3). See also Debates, June 23, 1994,
Standing Order 28(4). See the Twenty‑Seventh Report of the Standing
Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings and
Evidence, June 8, 1994, Issue No. 16, p. 16:3, presented
to the House on June 8, 1994, (Journals, p. 545), and
concurred in on June 10, 1994 (Journals, p. 563). On June
23, 1994, the House was recalled for the first time pursuant to Standing Order 28(4)
(Journals, p. 668).
Standing Order 29(5). Though a “sitting” for the sole purpose of Royal Assent
is not a regular sitting, it has become practice for the Speaker to read
Prayers prior to receiving the message from the Governor General for the
House’s attendance in the Senate. For further information, see the section in
this chapter entitled “Quorum when the Attendance of the House Is Requested in
See, for example, Journals, December 15, 2004, p. 358,
Debates, p. 2817.
This also precludes the deposit of any document with the Clerk of the House and
the reading of any Senate message except for those regarding Royal Assent. See,
for example, Journals, December 15, 2004, pp. 357-8; June 22,
2007, pp. 1583-5.
See, for example, Journals, June 20, 2007, p. 1565 (regular sitting (No.
175) of the House); June 22, 2007, p. 1583 (sitting convened (No. 175A) solely
to attend a Royal Assent ceremony). Standing Order 28(5) provides that, during
adjournments of the House, upon receipt of a message signifying Royal Assent by
written declaration, the Speaker shall inform the House of the receipt of the
message by causing it to be published in the Journals. See, for example,
Journals, July 20, 2005, pp. 1013-4. Journals with a
letter added to the sitting number are also published when Parliament is
prorogued or dissolved during a period of adjournment and the Speaker must
publish the list of documents, if any, deposited with the Clerk during the
adjournment. See, for example, Journals, May 23, 2004, p. 429; September
14, 2007, p. 1587.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5,
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5,
Standing Order 2(1) and (2).
Standing Order 2(3).
For further information on “strangers”, see Chapter 6, “The Physical and
Journals, April 15, 1918, p. 151.
Journals, November 28, 1944, p. 931. Prior to the adjournment
of the House on the day preceding the secret sitting, Members discussed various
ways by which the House could conduct a sitting in secret. It was decided, on
the invitation of the Speaker, that, upon commencing the sitting the following
day, the prayers would be read but the doors would not be opened. The Speaker
then indicated that he would leave it to the House, at that point, to proceed
as it deemed fit (Debates, November 27, 1944, pp. 6632‑3).
Journals, April 17, 1918, p. 160; February 24, 1942,
p. 93; July 18, 1942, p. 553; November 28, 1944,
See, for example, Debates, December 6, 1867, p. 199;
December 19, 1867, p. 317.
See, for example, Journals, March 29, 1972, p. 232; February
24, 2004, p. 119; October 8, 2004, p. 75; May 5, 2006, pp. 134-5.
Prior to 1970, the motions to append the text of the address and introductory
and related speeches were normally adopted at the sitting following the
delivery of the address by distinguished visitors. See, for example, Journals,
January 21, 1942, p. 655; May 18, 1961, p. 561.
See, for example, Journals, May 5, 2006, pp. 134-5; Debates,
May 18, 2006, pp. 1579-84. The joint address by U Thant, Secretary‑General
of the United Nations, on May 26, 1964, was not printed in the Debates.
There have been occasions when speeches by distinguished visitors were not
given in Parliament, but rather on Parliament Hill, before Members of the
Senate, the House of Commons and the general public. See, for example, Journals,
January 26, 1944, p. 721, Debates, pp. 5435‑9
(speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of
America); Journals, July 11, 1944, p. 541, Debates,
pp. 4748‑51 (speech by General Charles de Gaulle).
See, for example, Journals, April 29, 1980, p. 94; February
24, 2004, p. 119; October 8, 2004, p. 75; May 5, 2006, pp. 134-5.