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What is Dissolution of Parliament?

A Parliament is the period between two elections. Dissolution marks the end of a Parliament, paving the way for the next general election. It brings an end to essentially all parliamentary business before the Senate and the House of Commons and their respective committees. Dissolution should not be confused with a prorogation of Parliament, which marks the end of a parliamentary session.

How is Parliament dissolved?

The governor general, following the advice of the prime minister, issues three proclamations to begin dissolution. These usually appear in the same issue of the Canada Gazette, the official bulletin of the Government of Canada. Neither the Senate nor the House of Commons has to be sitting in order for Parliament to be dissolved.

The first proclamation states that Parliament is dissolved and declares that “the senators and members of Parliament are discharged from their meeting and attendance.” The second calls the next Parliament, orders the issuing of election writs to constituencies across the country and sets dates for polling and for the return of the writs. The third proclamation sets the date on which Parliament is summoned to meet after the election.

What happens to the work under way in Parliament?

As soon as the governor general proclaims the dissolution of Parliament, all business in the Senate and the House of Commons comes to a halt and the memberships of all standing, special and joint committees are dissolved, with the exception of three Senate committees.

The first exception is the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, which is given certain powers through section 19.1 (2) of the Parliament of Canada Act to continue managing the internal business of the Senate during a dissolution or a prorogation. The committee deals with administrative matters — such as budgets and human resources — and needs to be able to make decisions despite the fact Parliament is dissolved.

Should the need arise, members of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators may also be directed to meet under restricted conditions or to provide general direction to the Senate Ethics Officer during a dissolution. Similarly, members of the Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight may meet under restricted conditions to continue some of the committee’s work reviewing the Senate’s financial operations.

In order for legislation that hasn’t been passed to be considered in the next session of Parliament, it must be reintroduced, starting the review process over again. Legislation that fails to pass during a session is often described as having “died on the Order Paper.”

When does dissolution happen?

Canada’s Constitution limits the length of each Parliament to five years, at the end of which that Parliament expires if it hasn’t been dissolved before the deadline or extended by the House of Commons in the case of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection. In practice, however, Parliament has always been dissolved, even if dissolution has sometimes taken place only a few days before the five-year limit.

That said, the Canada Elections Act restricts the duration of a Parliament to four years. Section 56.1 of the act states that a general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth year following polling day for the last general election, unless Parliament is dissolved earlier.

In 2021, an election will be held on September 20. Following the election, a new Parliament will open with a Speech from the Throne delivered by the monarch or her representative in Canada, the governor general.


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