What happens on the first day of Parliament in Canada

Shelby Thevenot
Published: November 22, 2021

A new session of Parliament is beginning today, November 22, after pausing for the summer months and to make way for Canada's 44th federal election.

Once Parliament is open, Canadian members of Parliament (MPs) can engage in the making of new laws, and represent their constituents in the House of Commons. There are two things that typically happen before MPs resume their regular duties: the election of a new Speaker, and the throne speech.

The throne speech opens each new session of Parliament, not necessarily just after a general election. It is written by the government, and approved by the prime minister. It outlines the government's view of the issues that affect Canadians, and their vision for the future.

According to the prime minister's office, the throne speech for the 44th Parliament will to discuss the government's plans to "finish the fight against COVID-19 and build a better future for everyone." Tradition dictates that the governor general, Mary Simon, will deliver the speech. Simon was appointed to the position by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this past summer.

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Among other items, the government will likely also address immigration. Last year's throne speech, hailed immigration as "a driver to Canada's economic growth." The section on immigration also said that the government should make it easier for people who "make sacrifices in support of Canada" to formally become Canadian. In the months that followed, Canada created a one-time immigration pathway for essential workers and international student graduates, despite the fact that the immigration backlog has continued to grow.

The throne speech is meant to be a broad brush of the government's objectives. Specific changes in policy are not likely to come up. More nuance will be added when the government releases the mandate letters to ministers of the Cabinet.

Traditions of the first day in Parliament

Before Parliament can officially begin, the House of Commons must first elect a Speaker. It is the Speaker's job to observe parliamentary rules and maintain order during debates. The previous Speaker of the House was Anthony Rota, the Liberal Party Member of Parliament for Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ontario.

It is tradition that the first day of a new Parliament starts with the ceremonial motions of preparing for the throne speech. Then the Usher of the Black Rod arrives at the House of Commons on behalf of the Senate. The Usher invites the MPs to the Senate Chamber. When they get there, the Speaker of the Senate tells the MPs that they need to choose a Speak of the House of Commons before the Governor General can give the throne speech.

The MPs return to the House of Commons and elect a Speaker by secret ballot. Once the Speaker has been chosen, the prime minister and Official Opposition drag them into their chair. These days, the newly-elected Speaker may feign reluctance, which is a throw back to when the British speakers risked execution if they reported news that displeased the monarch.

After the Speaker is chosen, the MPs go back to the Senate and the Governor General delivers the throne speech, which could happen the following day.

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