Governing by Time Allocation: The Increasing Use of Time Allocation in the House of Commons, 1971 to 2021

Article 1 / 10 , Vol 44 no 4 (Winter)

Governing by Time Allocation: The Increasing Use of Time Allocation in the House of Commons, 1971 to 2021

In its Winter 2000–2001 issue, the Canadian Parliamentary Review published the first study on the use of Standing Order 78 (commonly known as “time allocation”) in the House of Commons. “Silencing Parliamentary Democracy or Effective Time Management? Time Allocation in the House of Commons” chronicles the use of time allocation between December 1971 and June 2000. This article by the same author provides an update on the use of time allocation in the two subsequent decades, thus covering the periods from the 28th Parliament (1968–1971) to the 43rd Parliament (2019–2021).

Yves Y. Pelletier

The centralization of political powers in the hands of senior staffers within the Office of the Prime Minister and central agencies of the federal government cannot alone account for the reduction in the legislative role of Canadian Parliamentarians. In fact, changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons by its members over the years have limited the opportunities of private members to influence the final wording of government bills. With growing intervention by the Government of Canada in the post-war economy, the amount of government organizations, initiatives and measures increased rapidly, adding to the work of the House. Accordingly, it became necessary to set up mechanisms to manage the time allocated to debate each government bill, so that a final decision could be made in a reasonable period. A balance had to be struck between the right to speak for an appropriate length of time and Parliament’s right to reach decisions. Since the use of closure upset this balance, the House of Commons adopted a new procedure (or Standing Orders) in 1971 whereby a fixed period could be allocated for debate. By 2001, there had been 150 time allocation motions adopted by the House of Commons. In the following two decades, that number had more than doubled, reaching 331 adopted time allocation motions by the end of the 43rd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2019-2021). This article examines the use of time allocation motions and determines which Parliaments, from the 28th Parliament (P. Trudeau, 1968-1972) to the 43rd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2019-2021), have made most frequent use of this Standing Order, and comparing its use to the number of seats held by the government, sitting days and bills introduced and passed in each Parliament.

Towards Time Allocation

The passage of a bill in 1956 on public funding for a pipeline by a company partly owned by American interests set a precedent in the history of Canada’s Parliament. The St-Laurent government, using its majority in the House of Commons and imposing closure at each stage of the bill, ensured its passage in less than fifteen days. Finding his right to speak denied at each stage of the bill, Conservative MP Donald Fleming said: “The Canadian House of Commons has been gagged and fettered in this debate by a despotic government. You [the government] are jeopardizing the institutions that have proven themselves the bastions of democratic freedom and destroying the rights of the minority in the House. This stratagem was not given birth in any democratic mentality.”1 The passage of this bill, and the vigorous reaction of opposition MPs and the public, gave rise to longstanding resentment over the use of closure. Furthermore, the Pearson government’s decision to apply closure to the debate on the Canadian flag in 1964 reinforced the need to pass a new means of time management less stringent than closure.

Between 1964 and 1969, the House of Commons modernized its Standing Orders by adopting new rules for a trial period to find another way to manage the time of the House of Commons. Several procedural committees examined the question, but in the absence of a unanimous decision, they all agreed that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons could not be amended without unanimous consent. In June 1969, during the 28th Parliament (P. Trudeau, 1968-1972), the government majority on a newly created procedure committee proposed three new ways to apply time allocation to debates in the House. Standing Order 78 (1) would permit the allocation of a specified period of time when “there is agreement among the representatives of all parties”; Standing Order 78 (2) would apply when “a majority of the representatives of several parties have come to an agreement in respect of a proposed allotment of days or hours”; and Standing Order 78 (3), the most contentious of the three, would permit, “[when no] agreement could be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78 (1) or 78 (2), that a minister of the Crown [may] propose a motion for allotting time.”2 Although the opposition parties endorsed the first two recommendations of the report, Standing Order 78 (3) was passed by the committee after a vote pitting government and opposition MPs against each other, with Standing Order ٧٨ (٣) becoming the will of the government only.

Following a long debate and just one day before the House of Commons rose for the summer 1969 recess, the Trudeau government invoked closure on the debate. In response to this motion, the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, Robert Stanfield, said:

The use of closure to force through rule changes, which are opposed by every member of the opposition, is, of course, an aggravation, and the use of this method of forcing through rules is so completely foreign to the traditions of this House as to constitute a breach of privilege. If the rules can be changed in these circumstances, and if closure can be resorted to in order to implement these rule changes, and can be used so as to alter fundamentally the very nature and role of the House of Commons, then we are in a very sorry state indeed in so far as democracy and freedom are concerned.3

During this brief debate, the opposition members argued as one that parliamentary procedure should give all parties equal privilege in a limited debate and that amendments to Standing Orders should be based on a consensus. In the defence of his government’s actions, Trudeau listed the parliamentary reforms his government had put in place since 1968, such as the funding of a research service for the opposition and the institution of supply days. “Are these the acts of a government which is seeking to muzzle the opposition?” Trudeau wondered, in the context of replacing a measure that was precarious and at times inefficient.4 Despite a last-ditch attempt by the opposition to send Standing Order 78 (3) back to the committee with instructions to change it, the House of Commons passed it on July 24, 1969. At 1:50am, after a full day of debate, the House of Commons agreed to adopt the report of the procedure committee in a vote of 142 to 84. Ironically, the time allocation measure was passed by using a closure motion, the very procedure it was intended to replace.5

The First Use of Standing Order 78

An important precedent was set in the December 1, 1971, proceedings of the House of Commons with the presentation of the first time allocation motion. Under study was Bill C-259, The Income Tax Act, a voluminous tax bill of 707 pages, together with the 97 amendments proposed by the opposition, that was debated in the committee of the whole for over 25 days. On December 2 and 14, 1971, the House of Commons voted on two time allocation motions under Standing Order 78 (3), imposing a period of four days to complete debate in the committee of the whole and three days at third reading of the bill. The President of the Privy Council, Allan MacEachen, and the Minister of Justice, John Turner, supported the use of this rule to enable the government to assume its responsibilities and the House to assume its own by deciding on the bill.

For its part, the opposition described the use of the controversial Standing Order 78 (3) as anti-democratic, an adventure into the unknown, because of the “dangers, shoals and reefs of Standing Order 78”.6 In arguing its disapproval, the opposition vigorously attacked the Trudeau government on a number of fronts. First, the government had promised that, despite the imposition of closure to ensure the passage of the time allocation rule, this measure would never be implemented. Second, the opposition rejected the government’s statement that the bill had been studied for months, indeed years, and a bill that had foiled tax experts warranted even longer study by MPs. Third, as the result of a number of reports criticizing the content of the bill, Stanfield believed that the use of Standing Order 78 (3) was a tactic “to save the political face of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.”7 The opposition feared that “If, some day, Canada should live under a government with more pronounced dictatorial ideas, then, our parliamentary system might be ruined.”8 In fact, it was argued that, if this motion meant the slow but gradual decay of Parliament, “the Commons will no longer represent a forum for public debate but will flounder and disintegrate as an anachronistic tower of Babel, scorned by the Canadian people.”9

Along with the opposition in the House, journalists also recognized the importance of this debate. From the Globe and Mail to the Ottawa Citizen, from the Montreal Gazette to Le Droit, the initial imposition of time allocation made headlines. All of them considered this initial use of time allocation to be closure and compared it to a guillotine or imposition by force. Despite strong political and media opposition, the government majority easily passed the two time allocation motions and enabled the House of Commons to pass the bill before the Christmas holidays. Despite the assurance of the President of the Privy Council that “what is occurring now would not constitute a precedent,” every subsequent government has made use of this rule in managing the time of its legislative agenda. In every case, the opposition used the same arguments to show the government it could not make Canada’s Parliament its instrument or manipulate it for its own ends.

By consensus: Standing Order 78 (1)

Under Standing Order 78 (1), the House can quickly pass many bills in the case of non-controversial bills, hold an emergency debate, or reach a decision. However, many bills can be passed quickly with the consensus of the parties, without invoking time allocation, as was the case with Bill C-37 of the second session of the 36th Parliament, a bill to change MPs’ pension plan, which the House of Commons passed in under two days. Since 1971, 10 motions of time allocation have been passed pursuant to Standing Order 78 (1). With this rule, the report stage and third reading of the bill on reforms to the Canada Elections Act (1993) took only 21 minutes, that is, six minutes for the report stage and 15 minutes for third reading. In addition, unanimous consent of the House permitted the passage of the bill to create the territory of Nunavut in one hour and 45 minutes and the official adoption of Canada’s national anthem in a single day. The adoption of a comprehensive bill on the status and use of Canada’s Official Languages in 1988 was limited to two hours at the report stage and third reading, with the consent of MPs.

In addition, political parties have used this approach to force a debate on urgent matters, including the impact of national or regional strikes on Canada’s economy. By way of example, the Chrétien government introduced a law obliging the Pacific coast ports to reopen barely 15 hours after a strike was called. The Reform Party and the Bloc Québécois agreed to the use of Standing Order 78 (1) to debate the pressing problem of labour relations on the west coast on the same day. However, MP Gilles Duceppe, speaking for his party, criticized this special legislation, which questioned the right to strike only 15 hours after it was declared. At the end of the day, no recorded division was required by the presence of a minimum of five members standing up to be counted, and the bill was passed. Accordingly, the Bloc Québécois acknowledged the impact of the walkout on the economy of Western Canada and permitted the passage of the bill.

In the past 25 years, there was only one Standing Order 78 (1) motion introduced. Conservative MP and Government House Leader Peter Van Loan had the consensus of the members of the House of Commons, to pass Bill C-3, Supporting Vulnerable Seniors and Strengthening Canada’s Economy Act, with no more than one sitting day allotted at second reading, and 1.5 hours allotted at report stage and third reading. This bill implemented key sections of the Conservative Party’s Economic Action Plan, including up to $600 per year for single seniors and $840 per year for couples to more than 680,000 seniors experiencing financial difficulty, alongside $1 billion in additional transfers to the provinces and territories.10

With the Agreement of the Majority: Standing Order 78 (2)

Although the Standing Orders of the House of Commons were modified in 1971, the first use of Standing Order 78 (2)—which allows a majority of parties in the House of Commons to approve its use—was on June 21, 1994. During the 35th Parliament (Chrétien, 1993-1997), there were only three recognized parties in the House of Commons—the governing Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party—and thus only one of the two minority parties needed to consent to adopt a Standing Order 78 (2) time allocation motion. On that day, the Liberal Government introduced three motions to limit debate, with only MPs from the Reform Party objecting. The debate on C-33, Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act, C-32, Excise Tax Act, and C-35, the creation of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration were allotted no more than one hour for the report stage and third reading.

After the passage of the first Standing Order 78 (2) motion, Reform MP Ken Epp stood on a point of order, asking how Standing Order 78 can be used as it states “explicitly that there is agreement among the representatives of all parties. I submit that this action is not correct because we are still a party notwithstanding what is thought here and therefore this motion is not appropriate.”11 The Deputy Speaker thus had the opportunity of speaking to the valid use of Standing Order 78 (2) where a majority of parties agreed (the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois) to the motion.

In the remaining years of the 35th Parliament, there were another seven Standing Order 78 (2) motions. The Bloc Québécois again supported the government’s use of this rule in limiting debate on several bills, including the firearms bill, which provoked heated debate. Nevertheless, the Liberal Party did get support from the Reform Party, despite its description of time allocation as a threat to parliamentary supremacy, on three occasions. In fewer than nine hours, with the Reform Party’s support, legislation was enacted to put an end to the strike in the rail transport sector in 1995. Perceiving this special legislation to be a measure that “denies both the right to strike and the right to negotiate,” the Bloc Québécois opposed it, preferring to have the government act on the recommendations of the report by Commissioner Allan Hope, a mediator the government itself had appointed the preceding year to advise it on the situation. The government ignored the recommendations of the report, tabled in early February 1995, and imposed an end to the strike according to its own conditions.

During the 38th Parliament (P. Martin, 2004-2006) – a minority government – there were two uses of Standing Order 78 (2), the first dealing with providing funds to the Minister of Finance for the management of the country, the other dealing with extending the legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes to same-sex couples. In both examples, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP supported the government to limit the debate in the House of Commons, with the Conservative Party opposing. There were also examples of the use of Standing Order 78 (2) during the 42nd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2015-2019). In 2017, the NDP supported the government to limit debate on amendments to the Controlled Drugs Act while the Conservatives supported the government in 2018 on the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership among 11 countries, including Canada.

In total, during this 50-year period, there were 19 motions approved by the House of Commons using Standing Order 78 (2) where a majority of parties agree to limit the time for debate on government bills.

Silencing the Opposition: Standing Order 78 (3)

Over the past 50 years since the adoption of the new rule of procedures of the House of Commons, the various governments have imposed time allocation motions 331 times. It has become standard practice for a government to impose time allocation, especially when the legislative measures may lead to major disagreements. Over the past 50 years, federal governments have each used this order for bills involving a social issue or a contentious national debate. For example, controversy over the free trade agreements, rights accorded to gays and lesbians, the Clarity Act (2000) and the Nisga’a treaty were reduced in the House somewhat by limiting debate. The National Energy Program (1981), the end of a postal strike (1983), the privatization of Petro-Canada (1990), the introduction of the GST (1991), the construction of the Confederation Bridge (1993) and the amendment of the Canada Elections Act (2000) are other examples of controversial bills passed more quickly as the result of time allocation. In addition, many bills on financial matters, including amendments to income and excise taxes and provincial transfers, were passed more easily thanks to this Standing Order. The number of time allocation motions presented under Standing Order 78 (3) permits an analysis of its use by each Parliament from the 28th to the 43rd Parliaments.

A Review of the Use of Time Allocation Over the Past 50 Years

In the original study, which covered the period from December 1971 when time allocation was first used in the House of Commons to June 2001, time allocation motions were adopted 150 times. In the following two decades, from 2001 to the dissolution of the 43rd Parliament on August 15, 2021, there were an additional 181 votes on time allocation. In total, 331 time allocation motions have been adopted by the House of Commons in the first 50 years since this Standing Order was adopted by the House of Commons (Table 1). Of these motions, 302 were adopted using Standing Order 78 (3), while another 29 motions were adopted with some level of consent of the other parties in the House of Commons—10 using Standing Order 78 (1) and 19 using Standing Order 78 (2).

A Tool for Majority Governments

Despite the promises made by the President of the Privy Council in 1971 that no precedent would be created with its initial use, time allocation has become a common tool in the management of the time of each Parliament. The period covered in this article includes all 16 Parliaments since time allocation was introduced in the House of Commons, starting with the 28th Parliament (a majority government for Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau) and concluding with the dissolution of the 43rd Parliament (a minority government for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) in August 2021. There is a mix of majority and minority governments during this period, including 10 majority governments under Prime Ministers P. Trudeau, Mulroney, Chrétien, Harper and J. Trudeau, and 6 minority governments under Prime Ministers P. Trudeau, Clark, Martin, Harper and J. Trudeau.

During the Parliaments with a minority government, the total amount of time allocations adopted by the House of Commons was 13. As such, minority governments represent only 4 per cent of all time allocation motions adopted by the House of Commons. Therefore, time allocation is a tool—either for effective time management or silencing the opposition or its own backbenches—used by Parliaments with majority governments.

During the past 50 years, there were 10 majority Parliaments. The largest use of time allocation motions in a single Parliament was during the 41st Parliament (Harper, 2011-2015), the only Parliament where Prime Minister Harper had a majority government. A total of 92 motions on time allocation were adopted by the House of Commons, all but one using Standing Order 78 (3). As such, this Parliament is responsible for 30.2 per cent of all Standing Order 78 (3) motions during this 50-year period, or 27.8 per cent of all Standing Order 78 motions.

The second-largest use of time allocation motions in a single Parliament was in the subsequent Parliament—42nd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2015-2019)—where the Liberal majority government passed 65 motions on time allocation, with 59 being Standing Order 78 (3) motions. As such, the 42nd Parliament is responsible for 19.6 per cent of all Standing Order 78 (3) motions during this 50-year period, or 19.9 per cent of all Standing Order 78 motions.

In those 8 years, the 41st and the 42nd Parliaments are responsible for 47.4 per cent of all time allocation motions during this 50-year period, or 49.4 per cent when removing those adopted under minority governments.

Beyond the 41st and 42nd Parliament, the use of time allocations motions was significantly more limited. In the 34th Parliament (Mulroney, 1988-1993), 31 time allocation motions were passed, with 29 being passed using Standing Order 78 (3). In comparison, during the 33rd Parliament (Mulroney, 1984-1988), only 18 time allocation motions were passed during Mulroney’s first majority Parliament, with 17 being passed using Standing Order 78 (3). The same upward trend was seen during Prime Minister Chrétien’s mandate with government imposing 29 Standing Order 78 (3) motions during his second majority Parliament (36th Parliament), while imposing 19 Standing Order 78 (3) motions during his first majority Parliament (35th Parliament).

Out of the 10 majority Parliaments during the last 50 years, these six majority Parliaments represent 74.9 per cent of all time allocation motions since this Standing Order was approved by the House of Commons.

The size of a parliamentary majority does not account for the frequency of time allocation motions. In the 33rd Parliament (Mulroney, 1984-1988), Canadians elected the Progressive Conservative Party under the leadership of Brian Mulroney with the largest parliamentary majority in the 20th century: 210 Conservative MPs compared to a total of 71 members from all other parties. Despite its overwhelming numbers in the House, the Mulroney government applied Standing Order 78 (3) 18 times. On the other hand, following its re-election in 1988, this time with a reduced majority of 43 seats, the Mulroney government made greater use of time allocation, with 31 motions on time allocation, including 29 Standing Order 78 (3) motions.

In comparison, the majority governments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau in the 41st and 42nd Parliaments, respectively, were among the smaller majority governments. It is in those Parliaments that the greatest number of Standing Order 78 (3) motions were adopted. Thus, a large parliamentary majority does not determine the frequency of time allocation motions.

Time Allocations by Bill Stage

Table 2 breaks down the time allocation motions by bill stage. The data is presented for three time periods: the time frame of the original study (1971 to 2000, representing the 28th to 36th Parliaments); the subsequent Parliaments (2001 to 2021, representing the 37th to 43rd Parliaments); and for the entire 50-year period. In the time frame of the original study, the most common use of time allocation motions was at the report and third reading, at 43.9%, followed by second reading at 37.8%. In the subsequent period (2000 to 2021), the most common use of time allocation was at second reading (43.7%), thus speeding up the government’s efforts to forward to the bill to the respective government-dominated Standing Committee of the House of Commons, followed by the report and third reading or simply third reading, representing 33.9% and 12.6% respectively. A new trend emerges during the last 20 years – that is the use of time allocation to review Senate amendments. In this period, the Senate exerted additional independence from the partisan House of Commons, thus 13 time allocation motions were used to deal with Senate amendments to House of Commons bills.

In total, of the 331 time allocation motions adopted during this 50-year period, 41.1 per cent were used at second reading, 38.4 per cent at report and third reading, 10.6 per cent at third reading and 4.8 per cent at Senate amendments. It is at these stages that the House of Commons serves as a public forum to discuss the merits of a bill. When the government invokes time allocation, it limits debate and can easily silence the opposition in the House of Commons along with its own backbenchers. At the other extreme, the government majority on each Commons’ committee ensures that Cabinet can decide on the length of committee deliberations before forcing the bill’s return to the House, without the need for time allocation. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s choice of senators often ensures that only the senatorial amendments sought by the government reach the House of Commons. That trend was reversed with more “independent” appointment of Senators over the last 20 years.

Increasing the Productivity of Majority Governments?

Table 1 also provides additional data to compare the use of adopted time allocation motions with the number of sitting days of each Parliament as well as the number of government bills introduced and passed. Over the past 50 years, in those 10 majority Parliaments in particular, the number of sitting days has varied greatly from a high of 767 sitting days in the 30th Parliament (P. Trudeau, 1974–1979) to a low of 376 sitting days for the 36th Parliament (Chrétien, 1997–2000). Similarly, the number of government-introduced bills has ranged from a high of 285 in the 33rd Parliament (Mulroney, 1984–1988) to a low of 102 government bills in the 42nd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2015–2019). Those same two Parliaments also bookmark the number of government-passed bills. Thus, the question becomes: did time allocation increase the level of productivity of majority governments, as determined by the passage of government-sponsored legislation? Table 3 summarizes key findings provided in Table 1 to highlight productivity outcomes.

During the 33rd Parliament (Mulroney, 1984–1988), the greatest number of government bills were both introduced and passed, 285 and 233 government bills, respectively. This Parliament had the third greatest number of sitting days, at 698. The Mulroney government achieved this outcome with the use of only 17 Standing Order 78 (3) motions, ranked #7 on the use of time allocation motions among the 10 majority Parliaments of this 50-year period. In contrast, during the 41st Parliament (Harper, 2011–2015), the greatest number of Standing Order 78 (3) motions were adopted by the House of Commons, but the number of government bills introduced and passed rank this Parliament in #8 and #7 positions, respectively. This Parliament would also rank #6 for the number of sitting days.

Similarly, the 42nd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2015–2019) had the second-highest use of Standing Order 78 (3) motions adopted by the House of Commons, but the number of government bills introduced and passed rank this Parliament in #10 and #10 rank, respectively.

As such, the increasing use of time allocation motions is not linked to a higher productivity level, as would be demonstrated by more government bills being introduced or adopted.

Signalling the Intent of Using Time Allocation Motions

This article has thus focused on Standing Order 78 motions adopted by the House of Commons over the past 50 years. Beyond those 331 motions, however, there are an additional 51 time allocation motions that were tabled in the House of Commons, either by the government house leader or a minister of the crown (Table 4). Those notice of motions were not subject to a vote for adoption, and thus are not listed in Table 1. These motions signalled the government’s intent to limit debate on the various stages of adopting a bill in the House of Commons. In the end, the government did not proceed with the adoption of those time allocation motions, as the notice itself had the effect of getting the opposition parties’ procedural support for moving the bill to the next step.

Between the 28th Parliament (P. Trudeau, 1968–1971) to the 40th Parliament (Harper, 2008–2011), the number of notices of time allocation motions introduced but not voted on remained very small. In fact, during these 40 years, there were only 17 notices of time allocation motions that were not called to a vote, of which one was debated but not voted upon and another was withdrawn. During the 41st and 42nd Parliament, which already had the greatest amount of time allocations, motions adopted by the House of Commons, the government tabled even more notices of time allocation motions. In fact, during the 41st Parliament (Harper, 2011–2015), the government signalled an intent to use time allocation by tabling 10 additional motions that were not moved to a vote. In a similar fashion, during the 42nd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2015–2019), the government served an additional 25 notices of time allocation motions that were not moved to a vote. Those 25 notices were in addition to the 65 motions on time allocation that the House adopted during that Parliament. Had all time allocation motions during the 41st and 42nd Parliament been adopted, and which majority governments can ensure their adoption, there would have been 102 motions on time allocation in the 41st Parliament (Harper, 2011-2015), and 90 in the 42nd Parliament (J. Trudeau, 2015-2019).

Conclusion

Since the initial debate in 1969, and the first use of time allocation in December 1971, governments have used this Standing Order to control the passage of bills through the labyrinth of Parliament. Considering the growing use of time allocation during the 1980s and 1990s, procedural committees of the House of Commons tabled a report in April 1993 and again in May 2000 recommending changes to the Standing Order. The opposition parties failed to get the support of the government members, especially the executive branch, which saw this as weakening its legislative control. The only significant change to time allocation came in the fall of 1989, when the House of Commons renumbered its Standing Orders, making time allocation Standing Order 78 (instead of 75).12 In the absence of a clear government desire to change this Standing Order, regardless of which party is in power, time allocation will remain the government’s preferred time management method as it continues to serve the government exceedingly well. So long as this Standing Order is not amended, time allocation will continue to be a most effective way to limit debate, and thus silence both the government’s own backbenchers as well as the opposition.

In recent Parliaments, the number of time allocation notices has neared 100 motions in a single Parliament, and in one case, exceeded 100 motions, albeit not all of them were submitted to a vote in the House of Commons. In recent Parliaments, and because of the increasing use of Standing Order 78, there are rarely any government bills receiving Royal Assent without the use of time allocation motions. At the same time, the number of sitting days is decreasing, as are the number of government bills introduced and passed. In this context, time allocation motions are not being used to increase the productivity of a Parliament, thus ensuring even more government priorities become embedded in legislation. The increasing use of time allocation is making it difficult for MPs from all parties to engage in parliamentary debate, and possibly improve the proposed legislation measures for the betterment of the legislation and Canadians.

Notes

1 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, May 15, 1956, 3932-3933.

2 Canada, House of Commons Journals, June 20, 1969, 1211-1212.

3 Canada, House of Commons Debates, July 24, 1969, 11557.

4 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, July 24, 1969, 11570-11573.

5 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, July 24, 1969, 11619-11621.

6 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, December 1, 1971, 10047.

7 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, December 2, 1971, 10079.

8 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, December 1, 1971, 10049.

9 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, December 14, 1971, 10449.

10 Canada, House of Commons, LEGISinfo, https://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/en/bill/41-1/C-3.

11 Canada, House of Commons, Debates, June 21, 1994, 5694.

12 James R. Robertson, “House of Commons Procedure: Its Reform”, Library of Parliament, February 2002. Accessed in September 2021 at https://publications.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/CIR/8215-e.htm#D.%20%C2%A0The%2035th.

Table 1:

The Use of Time Allocation in the House of Commons from the 28th Parliament to the end of the 43rd Parliament

Parliament
(Years)Prime Minister
Seats in the House of CommonsAMaj. (+)/Min. (-)Adopted Time AllocationB# of Sitting DaysC([78 (3)/Sitting Days (%)]# of Government Bills IntroducedD[(78 (3)/Bills Introduced (%))# of Government Bills PassedE((78 (3)/Bills Passed (%))
Total78 (1)78 (2)78 (3)
28
(1968–1972)
P. Trudeau
+443102688
(0.3%)
204
(1.0%)
157
(1.3%)
29
(1972–1974)
P. Trudeau
-460000256(0%)89(0%)57(0%)
30
(1974–1979)
P. Trudeau
+18143011767
(1.4%)
276
(4.0%)
176
(6.3%)
31
(1979)
Clark
-10100149
(2.0%)
28
(3.6%)
6
(16.7%)
32
(1980–1984)
Trudeau/Turner
+12211020725
(2.8%)
228
(8.8%)
178
(11.2%)
33
(1984–1988)
Mulroney
+140181017698
(2.4%)
285
(6.0%)
233
(7.3%)
34
(1988-1993)
Mulroney/
Campbell
+43312029529
(5.5%)
234
(12.4%)
200
(14.5%)
35
(1993-1997)
Chrétien
+593111020442
(4.5%)
216
(9.3%)
152
(13.2%)
36
(1997-2000)
Chrétien
+9290029376
(7.7 %)
134
(21.6%)
95
(30.5%)
37(2000-2004)Chrétien/Martin+43140113419(3.1%)220(5.9%)96(13.5%)
38(2004-2006)Martin-382020159(0%)83(0%)46(0%)
39(2006-2008)Harper-601001292(0.3%)127(0.8%)65(1.5%)
40(2008–2011)Harper-223003290(1.0%)132(2.3%)59(5.1%)
41(2011–2015)Harper+24921091507(17.9%)140(65.0%)105(86.7%)
42(2015–2019)J. Trudeau+30650659442(13.3%)102(57.8%)83(71.1%)
43(2019–2021)J. Trudeau-246006174(3.4%)56(10.7%)27(22.2%)
Total3311019302

Sources: A) Seats in the House of Commons are reported in Appendix 10 General Election Results Since 1867, House of Commons Procedures and Practice, Third Edition 2017; B) The list of time allocation motions in the House of Commons for early Parliaments was tabulated by the Tables Clerks of the House of Commons, who shared their files. The list of time allocation for more recent Parliaments was tabulated using the Status of House Business of the House of Commons for the 41st to 43rd Parliaments. See: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/house/status-business. C) Number of sitting days in the House of Commons is reported in Appendix 11: Parliaments Since 1867 and Number of Sitting Days, in House of Commons Procedures and Practice, Third Edition 2017; for more recent years, see: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/house/status-business. D) Table of legislation introduced and given Royal Assent by session provided by the Library of Parliament. This information for more recent Parliaments is available at: LEGISinfo, https://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/Home.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&ParliamentSession=43-2. All calculations are those of the author. 

Table 2:

Time Allocation Motions by Bill Stage

StageFrequency(28th to 36th Parliaments)Frequency(37th to 43rd Parliaments)Frequency(28th to 43rd Parliaments)
Second Reading5637.8%8043.7%13641.1%
Committee32.0%21.1%51.5%
Third Reading128.1%2312.6%3510.6%
Report and Third Reading6543.9%6233.9%12738.4%
All Stages, or 3 stages32.0%31.6%61.8%
Committee of the Whole64.1%00.0%61.8%
Senate Amendments32.0%137.1%164.8%
Total148100.0%183100.0%331100.0%

Table 3:
A Top 10 rankings of majority Parliaments in the House of Commons between 1971 and 2021, using government bills introduced and passed as productivity measures and compared to the number of sitting days and the use of Standing Order 78 (3) during those respective Parliaments.

RankUse of Time Allocation Motions (78 (3)Sitting daysGovernment Introduced BillsGovernment Passed Bills
#141st(2011–2015)Harper30th
(1974–1979)
P. Trudeau
33rd
(1984–1988)
Mulroney
33rd
(1984–1988)
Mulroney
#242nd(2015–2019)J. Trudeau32nd
(1980–1984)
Trudeau/Turner
30th
(1974–1979)
P. Trudeau
34th
(1988–1993)
Mulroney/
Campbell
#3(tied)36th
(1997–2000)Chrétien34th
(1988–1993)
Mulroney/
Campbell
33rd
(1984–1988)
Mulroney
34th
(1988–1993)
Mulroney/
Campbell
32nd
(1980–1984)
Trudeau/Turner
#428th
(1968–1972)
P. Trudeau
32nd
(1980–1984)
Trudeau/Turner
30th
(1974–1979)
P. Trudeau
#532nd
(1980–1984)
Trudeau/Turner
34th
(1988–1993)
Mulroney/
Campbell
37th(2000-2004)Chrétien/Martin28th
(1968-1972)
P. Trudeau
#635th
(1993-1997)
Chrétien
41st(2011-2015)Harper35th
(1993-1997)
Chrétien
35th
(1993-1997)
Chrétien
#733rd
(1984-1988)
Mulroney
(tied)42nd(2015-2019)J. Trudeau35th
(1993-1997)
Chrétien
28th
(1968-1972)
P. Trudeau
41st(2011-2015)Harper
#837th(2000-2004)Chrétien/Martin41st(2011-2015)Harper37th(2000-2004)Chrétien/Martin
#930th
(1974-1979)
P. Trudeau
37th(2000-2004)Chrétien/Martin36th
(1997-2000)Chrétien
36th
(1997-2000)Chrétien
#1028th
(1968–1972)
P. Trudeau
36th
(1997–2000)Chrétien
42nd(2015–2019)J. Trudeau42nd(2015–2019)J. Trudeau

Table 4:
The Amount of Standing Order 78 (3) motions introduced in the House of Commons, but not moved.

ParliamentPrime MinisterStanding Order 78 (3) Motions
Tabled But Not MovedDebated but
question not put
Withdrawn
28P. Trudeau
29P. Trudeau
30P. Trudeau2
31Clark
32Trudeau/Turner211
33Mulroney21
34Mulroney/Campbell4
35Chrétien1
36Chrétien
37Chrétien/Martin1
38Martin
39Harper
40Harper3
41Harper10
42J. Trudeau25
43J. Trudeau1
Total5112
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