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What is dissolution of Parliament?
November 28, 2019

Dissolution marks the end of the parliamentary cycle, paving the way for the next general election. It brings an end to all business of the Senate and the House of Commons.

How is Parliament dissolved?

Neither the Senate nor the House of Commons has to be sitting in order for Parliament to be 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.

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 all standing, special and joint committees cease to exist. The lone exception is the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, which continues to exist as per section 19.1 (2) of the Parliament of Canada Act. 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, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators may also provide general direction to the Senate Ethics Officer during dissolution.

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 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. In practice, however, Parliament has always been dissolved, even if dissolution has sometimes taken place only a few days before the five-year limit. Parliament can sit longer than five years only in very exceptional circumstances and if two thirds of the House of Commons votes for a continuation.

That said, a 2007 amendment to 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.

In 2019, this means an election must be held on October 21. 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.