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Prorogation: What Does it Mean, Why Does it Happen, and How has the Federal Government Used it?

Disclaimer: Hi my name is Anna (she/her) and I am the author of this post. I just wanted to clarify a couple of things before you start reading. I speak from a position of privilege as someone who is white, as well as a settler on Treaty 13 land. I have committed myself to sharing as many direct resources as possible, in order to amplify voices at the forefront fighting for different issues, rather than speaking over them. As a student minoring in political science, I hope to use my education and my platform at SUTE to help educate others about specific political concepts/terminology as well as working to increase the amount of perspectives included within our political environment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the prorogation of parliament on August 18th, 2020, amidst the WE controversy, the resignation of Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, and calls for non-confidence votes from the Bloc Québécois, with the next parliamentary session set to begin September 23rd, 2020 (1). Although Prime Minister Trudeau announced the prorogation of parliament, the Governor General actually prorogues parliament, on the advice of the Prime Minister, resulting in the pausing of the current parliamentary session, with this pause continuing until the commencement of the next session (2). The length of a prorogation period can differ, earlier instances of prorogation have seen the end of one parliamentary session via prorogation in the morning, with prorogation ending and the next parliamentary session starting in the afternoon of the same day, while in the case of the current prorogation, there is a set date for the next parliamentary session included within the prorogation announcement (2). Any bill that did not receive Royal Assent is abandoned, and is reintroduced in the next parliamentary session, resulting in a fresh start of policy production in the next parliamentary session, although there are some exceptions (1). A bill can be reintroduced into parliament and proceed at the same stage it was in prior to prorogation, so long as the House unanimously consents (2).

Prime Minister Trudeau is not the first to advise the prorogation of parliament to the Governor General. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper had parliament prorogued in August 2013 before the September 16th 2013 return date for the House, until October 2013 (3). Similar to Trudeau’s announcement circumstances, Harper’s Cabinet underwent a shuffle prior to prorogation (3). 2013 was not the first time Harper initiated the prorogation process, Harper used prorogation in 2007, as well as in 2008 to shut down the forming coalition government that was planning on calling on a confidence vote to remove him from the position of Prime Minister, and in 2010 amidst negative reactions to Afghan prisoner treatment in Canada (3). Another former Prime Minister Jean Chretien also had parliament prorogued in 2003 when the Attorney General was looking into the sponsorship scandal, as well as with Paul Martin coming in as Prime Minster when Chretien stepped down (4). Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s parliament underwent three prorogations, and Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau triggered eight prorogations of his parliament (5).

Prorogation has been used throughout Canada’s federal governmental history as a way of swerving away from controversy and provide fresh starts for the initiation of new policies. We can continue to observe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government at the start of the next parliamentary session when the members fo the House of Commons reconvene to see the effects that the prorogation had.


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