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A Day in the Chambers

Senators and members of Parliament follow an established set of rules and traditions to debate, study and vote on proposed legislation. To organize the business of Parliament effectively, each chamber divides its daily agenda into specific segments.

Before the Proceedings

Before the start of every sitting day – when parliamentarians meet in the Senate and House of Commons Chambers – bells ring throughout the Parliament Buildings to signal to parliamentarians that chamber business is about to begin.

Each sitting day starts with the Speaker’s Parade – a traditional procession of the Speakers and other officials through the halls of Parliament. In the Senate, the parade is led by the Usher of the Black Rod, followed by the Mace Bearer. In the House of Commons, the Sergeant-at-Arms (who carries the Mace) is at the head of the parade. The two Maces are symbols of the Speakers’ and chambers’ authority to conduct their business.

After the parade, the Speaker orders the doors to the public galleries to be opened and the broadcast of chamber proceedings begins.

The House of Commons Speaker’s Parade
Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Dividing up the Day

Both the Senate and the House of Commons have their own rules and practices that dictate what happens during a typical day. Despite these differences, the two chambers typically allocate time to the following segments in their daily agendas:

  • Routine Proceedings
  • Government Business
  • Statements
  • Oral Questions
  • Non-Governmental Bills
  • Adjournment Proceedings (House of Commons only)

The amount of time allowed for each segment differs between the Senate and the House of Commons. It is the Speakers’ responsibility to ensure that parliamentarians respect the rules for the conduct of debate and to maintain order. The clerks and other table officers help to keep things running smoothly.

Routine Proceedings

During Routine Proceedings, the chambers conduct housekeeping-type business. Parliamentarians bring a variety of matters to the attention of the chambers or the Speakers. Some examples of Routine Proceedings are:

  • Tabling documents: During this segment, parliamentarians formally present various reports or documentation that each chamber needs to do its work.
  • Proposing or giving notices of motions: A motion is a proposal moved by a parliamentarian to do something, order something done or express an opinion. During this segment, parliamentarians propose or give notice of motions. Most types of motions require notice before they can be debated.
  • Presenting petitions: This allows a parliamentarian to present petitions from the people or the region they represent.

Government Orders / Government Business

Government Orders take up a large part of each sitting day. During this time, proposals for new laws (that is, bills) are debated and legislation is voted on based on the government’s priorities for governing the country. In the House of Commons, the choice of which bill to debate, and when it will be debated, is made by the Government House Leader. In the Senate, all bills are up for debate every day, but the government can determine the order in which they are called for debate.

Question Period in the House of Commons
Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld


The time set aside for Statements gives parliamentarians a chance to make a statement about subjects that they consider to be important. During this time, a parliamentarian may choose to recognize the contribution of a member of their community for exceptional service, congratulate an organization on its success or call attention to a topic that is vital to their region. During Statements, other parliamentarians can hear about what is happening in different parts of the country and what is on the minds of Canadians from outside their region or constituency.

Oral Questions

During Oral Questions, also known as Question Period, parliamentarians hold the government accountable. In the House of Commons, members of Parliament (MPs) ask questions to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet or committee chairs. In the Senate, senators direct their questions to the Government Representative in the Senate, a senator who is a minister, or committee chairs. Questions, except to committee chairs, are usually related to the government’s policies, its decisions or bills under discussion.

In the House of Commons, MPs have 35 seconds to ask the question and the response is given an equal amount of time. In the Senate, Question Period lasts for about 30 minutes and senators can ask supplementary questions on a topic, but there are no time limits on individual questions or answers.

Non-Governmental Bills

Parliamentarians who are not part of the government (that is, not a Cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary) can present their own bills on topics that are important to their constituents or are personally important. In the Senate, these bills are called Senate public bills. In the House of Commons, they are called private members’ bills.

Each chamber chooses which of these bills will be debated during the length of a Parliament (the period between elections) in different ways. In the House of Commons, a random draw is held at the start of each Parliament to set the order in which private members’ bills will be debated. In the Senate, all bills that have been put on notice are called for debate and the Senate can decide either to proceed with the item or to postpone it until a later date.

Adjournment Proceedings

The final segment of a typical sitting day in the House of Commons is called Adjournment Proceedings. For the last 30 minutes of the sitting day, MPs revisit subjects that were discussed during Question Period.

Differences in Approach

While both the Senate and the House of Commons use similar basic structures to divide up their sitting days, there are important differences.

The Daily Order of Business

The Senate and the House of Commons have different approaches for determining which bills they will deal with during a sitting day. In the Senate, the Order Paper contains a list of all business currently before the Senate. Every item listed in the Order Paper is called every day, unless the Senate is adjourned before an item is called, to determine whether it will be debated or dealt with.

In the House of Commons, the Order Paper is published every day the House is in session and lists the business that the House can deal with on that day. Each calendar year, 22 days are designated as “opposition days” in which opposition parties can bring forward a motion of their choosing for debate during the time that would normally be dedicated to Government Orders.


Another difference is in the timing of events in both chambers. In the Senate, business follows the order on the agenda but is not strictly tied to specific times. In the House of Commons, many segments of the day’s proceedings are scheduled for a specific time and specific duration.

Committee Work

The Senate and the House of Commons also handle the division of work in the chambers and in committees in different ways.

The Senate has 105 seats. That number does not allow for work in committees and debate in the chamber to take place at the same time. The Senate generally designates times before and after sittings of the Senate for committee work.

With 338 MPs, the House of Commons can conduct committee work and debates in the chamber at the same time.

A Senate committee room

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