The House of Commons Calendar

On Monday, January 25th, 2016, the House of Commons will resume sitting in accordance with Standing Order 28.2(a) which provides that the House shall resume sitting following a holiday recess on the last Monday in January. The House of Commons has a unique parliamentary calendar that is driven by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Historically, the calendar has changed significantly since Confederation for many reasons. In the modern Canadian parliament, the parliamentary calendar is fixed and provides for periods of recess over holidays, long weekends when required and, mechanisms to increase sittings for emergency debates. The modern parliamentary calendar also compliments requirements in other Standing Orders that demand time allocation for opposition business of supply and private members’ business, perhaps most importantly, the calendar also permits the closure and re-opening of parliament at any point when required (for elections, prorogations, etc). In this post we will examine the modern parliamentary calendar for the House of Commons (author’s note: all times are in EST).

The General Parliamentary Calendar

The Calendar Stand on the Table in the House of Commons displays the sitting day of the House.
The Calendar Stand on the Table in the House of Commons displays the sitting day of the House.

Chapter 3 of the Standing Orders provides provisions for the formation of the House of Commons calendar. The current calendar provides for a House of Commons that meets “…on Mondays at 11:00 a.m., on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 10:00 a.m. and on Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m…” (24.1). The Speaker shall also adjourn the House of Commons at 6:30 p.m. everyday except Friday, when the House shall adjourn at 2:30 p.m. (24.2).

The Standing Orders also provide for “statutory” holidays for members. Namely, “New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, St. John the Baptist Day, Dominion Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day and Christmas Day” (28.1). The House of Commons also extends long weekends on to certain holidays, “[w]hen St. John the Baptist Day and Dominion Day fall on a Tuesday, the House shall not meet the preceding day [Monday]; when those days fall on a Thursday, the House shall not meet the following day [Friday]” (28.1).

Between holiday periods there are extended recesses placed upon the House through the Standing Orders. For this reason, the House of Commons has been in recess since December 2015 until Monday. Standing Order 28.2(a,b) detail this provision through a chart as follows:

A: B:
The Friday preceding Thanksgiving Day. The second Monday following that Friday.
The Friday preceding Remembrance Day. The second Monday following that Friday.
The second Friday preceding Christmas Day. The last Monday in January.
The Friday preceding the week marking the mid-way point between the Monday following Easter Monday and June 23. The second Monday following that Friday or, if that Monday is the day fixed for the celebration of the birthday of the Sovereign, on the Tuesday following that Monday.
June 23 or the Friday preceding if June 23 falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or a Monday. The second Monday following Labour Day.

The House of Commons has an extended recess for two weeks following Thanksgiving, two weeks following Remembrance Day, two weeks (or a little more) following Easter and nearly two and a half months from the end of June (summer recess). These recesses are important for several reasons beyond simply time away from the Chamber for members. Indeed, these are merely the days in which the House of Commons as whole is not sitting, it does not provide that committees not longer meet or function during these periods, or that MPs are not busy within their own offices (particularly back in their home ridings). It is also important to note here, that although the Senate does sit along a similar timeline, it is free to meet on its own accord (within the confines of the parliament as a whole, of course). The Senate often does conduct business outside of the typical cycle of the House of Commons for many reasons.

Provisions for Certain Business

There are a host of Standing Orders that provide for moments where the attention of the House must be drawn to business selected by the opposition and private members. There arises a need for the parliamentary calendar to balance the requirements of these provisions against the cycle of the calendar (allowing for extended periods of recess, or a break in parliament). Specifically for business of supply (otherwise known as opposition days), the Standing Orders break the calendar in the three parts: “[i]n any calendar year, seven sitting days shall be allotted to the Business of Supply for the period ending not later than December 10 [period 1]; seven additional days shall be allotted to the Business of Supply in the period ending not later than March 26 [period 2]; and eight additional days shall be allotted to the Business of Supply in the period ending not later than June 23 [period 3]” (81.10(a)).

The Calendar still reads Wed Jun 13 when it was Thurs Jun 14, the House sat over midnight, but the sitting day remain the same.
The Calendar still reads Wed Jun 13 when it was Thurs Jun 14, the House sat over midnight, but the sitting day remain the same.

From these periods, the parliamentary calendar can be further broken into a ratio allotment of days. For example, when parliament resumed in early December, a single supply day was given to the opposition prior to the House rising for the holidays because the ratio of time from the resumption of parliament to the Dec 10 end of the allotment period would translate into a singe day. Had parliament been resumed earlier, suppose start of November, the opposition would have been given another “opposition day.” The Standing Orders provide that these days are allotted by the Government House Leader who, in turn, works with the Speaker and other House Leaders to draft the legislative calendar for the House of Commons (more on that in another post).

Impact on Business

When the House of Commons rises each day into the evening or at the start of an extended recession period, there is no impact on business within the House of Commons. Bills remains at the their various stages and motions do not change in the order from when the House of Commons last sat. However, committees may still meet outside of the sitting days of the actual House of Commons chamber to debate legislation, so there is some movement within the legislative cycle. This is in contrast to when parliament is prorogued or when parliament comes to an end (for an election, for example). In those instances business does change, and in the most extreme, ceases to exist entirely without Royal Assent. The impact on the House rising for an extend period of time is akin to a person leaving their office for a long holiday. Work cannot be officially processed, but you might think about a project while in vacation or answer emails related to minor work items. Parliament, as a whole, would operate in the same fashion during these extended periods of recess for the House of Commons. It is ironic that the importance of the House of Commons as the central democratic institution within parliament, becomes clear when it is in recess.

The individual calendar of the MP however is quite different. Periods when parliament are in session are busy times for everyone involved in the parliamentary process, but periods where the House of Commons itself stands in a recess, are often the most challenging times for MPs. These are periods where an MP may find time to rest, but more often than not are pulled toward riding issues that require their attention (what isn’t being currently used up by parliament). The summer recess for example is known as the “BBQ circuit” among the Canadian Press Corp because of how active politicians become across the country developing their message and meeting directly with Canadians.

Photo credit: Parliamentary pages prepare the House of Commons, Thursday, October 10, 2013 in Ottawa. Ottawa Citizen.