From the House – This week presents another opportunity

John Rafferty MP
John Rafferty MP

John Rafferty MPTHUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – This week presents another opportunity to share some of the hard work of the New Democrat caucus research team who are always busy discovering new and interesting things about our federal government and our party.

The parliamentary session resumes in just over a couple of short weeks and we’ll kick things off with the 146th sitting of the session. But what does that even mean? We often talk about ‘sittings’ and ‘sessions’ and the terms ‘recess’, ‘prorogation’ and ‘dissolution’ are all too familiar, as well. All of these terms are used to describe our time here in Ottawa, so let’s break them down and sort them out.

Parliament- not just the institution itself or the name of the hill that Centre Block sits on, a “Parliament” is a period of time in which the institution of parliament exercises its powers. The opening (aka beginning) of a new Parliament always follows a general election. After the 41st general election just over a year ago the Governor General opened the 41st Parliament.

Sitting – a meeting of the House within a session. Basically a typical day at work; the Speaker opens (aka starts) a sitting every day after the Speaker’s Parade and closes (aka finishes) the sitting with the daily adjournment.

Adjournment – the termination of a sitting. An adjournment covers the period between the end of one sitting and the beginning of the next. It can be of varying duration – a few hours, overnight, over a weekend, a week or longer.

Session – this is the most-often confused term. A session consists of a number of separate sittings and it begins with a Speech from the Throne and only ends with a prorogation or dissolution (more on those in a second). We are currently in the “1st Session of the 41st Parliament” which began on June 6, 2011. Despite the House being adjourned over the summer periods and over the longer break in January we have remained in the first session. People often say that we are “starting a new session this September”, but that’s not really procedurally true. It would only be true if the Governor General prorogued parliament at some point this summer.

Prorogation – the dirty “p” word, prorogation is simply the end of a parliamentary session. The Governor General prorogues parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister and this has historically been done as a symbolic benchmark at the end of a ‘legislative agenda’. A new Speech from the Throne opens a new session and the government begins its next phase/chapter of legislation in that Parliament.

If Parliament prorogues, all government bills and motions on the Order Papers in both the House and the Senate that have yet to receive Royal Assent (passing a final vote in the Senate) cease to exist. Once the new session begins the government has to either start again from the beginning with first reading and introduction, or else they can try to get agreement to pass a motion to reinstate the bill(s) at the stage(s) they were at prior to prorogation. All private members’ bills and motions are automatically reinstated from one session to the next.

Recess – who doesn’t love recess? The prorogued time between the ending of one session and the opening of the next can be called a recess. In practice, though, the term ‘recess’ is also used in reference to a lengthy adjournment such as the ‘summer recess’.

Dissolution – the formal ending of a Parliament by proclamation of the Governor General. A general election follows dissolution. In the event of a dissolution (and subsequent election), all bills and motions currently before both houses simply die, as with all committees, since nothing is allowed to automatically carry over to the next Parliament.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about parliamentary procedures and the terminology that the media and my staff and I use when discussing the goings-on in Ottawa. Have a great week.

John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.