Legal and Social Affairs Division
The 2015 election is in the history books. Soon, 338 members of Parliament – a large number of them elected for the first time – will take their seats in the House of Commons to begin the first session of the new Parliament.
And as the dust settles, many are now likely wondering what happens in the meantime. And when will Parliament actually return?
On 2 August 2015, the Governor General issued three proclamations, all of them published in the Canada Gazette. One dissolved the 41st Parliament. A second, the Proclamation Issuing Election Writs, set the election day for 19 October and specified that the writs of election indicating who won in each riding were to be returned to the Chief Electoral Officer by 9 November.
The third summoned the House of Commons to meet on 16 November to begin the 42nd Parliament. However, the date for convening the new Parliament is not carved in stone. It can be changed by issuing another proclamation.
The election of a member of Parliament becomes official once the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice to that effect in the Canada Gazette and sends a letter of confirmation to the Clerk of the House of Commons.
Before they may take their seats in the House of Commons, MPs must swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen, as set out in section 128 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The swearing-in ceremony is normally conducted by the Clerk of the House of Commons prior to the opening of Parliament. It occurs on an individual basis at the convenience of the MP. All MPs, not only those elected for the first time, must be sworn in.
As certified in the writ issued by the Chief Electoral Officer, new members begin receiving a sessional allowance – or salary – on the date of their election.
Formal opening of Parliament
Parliament formally opens on the day set by the proclamation. At this point, the members of the House of Commons have already taken their oaths of allegiance. Since 1986, the opening of the first session of a Parliament has taken place over two days.
Typically, on the first day, the Senate meets to receive a message confirming when the Governor General will arrive to formally summon Parliament, as well as to acknowledge the new Speaker of the Senate (if a new one has been appointed) and to swear in any new senators.
In the House of Commons, MPs’ first order of business is to elect a Speaker, as stipulated in section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
On the second day, the Governor General attends the Senate Chamber to read the Speech from the Throne, which sets out, in very general terms, the new government’s program for the parliamentary session that will follow.
Traditionally, the members of the House of Commons are summoned to the Senate Chamber by the Usher of the Black Rod to hear the Speech.
Afterwards, they return to the House of Commons, where, after some formalities, they proceed with the debate on the Speech from the Throne, referred to as the “Address to the Governor General in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.” The debate is initiated by a member of the governing party.
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons allow for up to six additional days of debate after the Speech is delivered. At the conclusion of debate, the motion on the Address to the Governor General in Reply to the Speech from the Throne is voted on. This vote is generally considered the first “vote of confidence” in the government.
Parliamentary committees serve an essential role in Parliament. They review legislation, scrutinize government spending and study issues of national interest.
To establish the committees, the House of Commons at the beginning of a new Parliament appoints the membership of its Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Within 10 sitting days of its appointment, this committee prepares a report setting out the proposed membership of each standing committee and the House membership of each standing joint committee.
Within 10 days of the adoption of this report by the House, the committees are convened for the purpose of electing a chair and two vice-chairs. After these officers have been elected, each committee adopts a series of routine procedural motions so that it can organize its work.
In the Senate, a Selection Committee, consisting of nine senators, is appointed. The committee nominates a senator to preside as Speaker pro tempore (an acting Speaker who serves whenever the Speaker is unable to attend a sitting of the Senate), as well as senators to serve on most standing committees and standing joint committees. (There is a separate procedure for the Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators.)
As in the House of Commons, once the membership of committees has been established, each committee holds an organizational meeting at which it elects the chair and deputy chair and adopts certain procedural motions that allow it to function.
For more information: The Library of Parliament’s “Understanding Parliament” series
The Library of Parliament has prepared a series of six publications to provide parliamentarians, their staff and the public with an overview of the basics of Parliament. They are: