At the opening of a session of Parliament, all eyes turn to the Red Chamber where an ancient tradition takes place.
The first item on the agenda before parliamentarians can start conducting business — introducing and studying bills, debating issues and making decisions — is the Speech from the Throne, a tradition borrowed from long-standing British practice.
Read in the Senate Chamber, the Speech from the Throne is an integral part of the opening of a new session of Parliament. It takes place after an election or when Parliament resumes following a prorogation. (There is no Speech from the Throne after an adjournment or parliamentary break.)
The governor general, who represents the Monarch in Canada, presides over this solemn and formal ceremony. Former prime ministers and Supreme Court justices are also invited to attend.
The Senate Speaker directs the Usher of the Black Rod — the Queen’s messenger in Parliament — to go to the House of Commons to summon Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Senate for the throne speech. However, MPs cannot enter the Chamber itself, so they remain behind the brass bar located at the entrance of the Senate Chamber. This bar marks the boundary of the Senate Chamber, and the respect for this boundary represents the importance of the two houses maintaining their independence. Only one MP — for the Speech from the Throne, normally the prime minister — crosses the bar, to accompany the Queen’s representative while she is in Parliament.
The governor general usually reads the speech, although Queen Elizabeth II has done so twice in the past — October 14, 1957 and October 18, 1977. The speech allows the government to announce its agenda for the next parliamentary session. So, even though the speech is read by the governor general, it is the Prime Minister’s Office that writes it.
The opening of every new session of Parliament requires a proclamation by the governor general; senators and MPs do not have the power to initiate a parliamentary session on their own. The proclamation sets the date on which Parliament is to reconvene.
Since Parliament’s Centre Block is undergoing major renovations, Governor General Julie Payette will read the Speech from the Throne in the Senate of Canada Building — the Senate’s temporary home — for the first time in 2019.