Ep. 26: A Typical Day in the House


September 15, 2023

17 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament.



David: This month we have a special episode in honour of the International Day of Democracy.



Erin: Democracy Day provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world. So in honour of this special day, we’ll be taking a closer look at a typical day in Ontario’s Parliament, the seat of democracy in the province.



David: Now in the past, the podcast has already covered the different types of provincial bills as well as how they become law, so some of the terms in today’s episode might sound familiar if you’ve listened to those previous episodes.



Erin: And in typical fashion, we always have to start the episode with a game.



David: I don’t know how you manage to come up with new games for every episode Erin.



Erin: It’s my superpower David. Along with puns and coming up with fun facts!



David: Ha! I would have to agree with you there Erin. You do seem to be able to come up with facts for just about any topic.



Erin: You’re not too shabby yourself David. But your diversion tactics won’t keep me from our game!



David: Oh all right. I thought I might have distracted you enough to avoid the game this time.



Erin: Close but no cigar! For today’s episode, I thought it would be fun to try out some word chains.



David: I’m afraid to ask what that means…



Erin: It’s easy. I’m going to give you 3 words in a row and you’re going to have to tell me what they all have in common. For example, if I said cat – dog – mouse, the theme might be pets or animals or even mammals. Get it?



David: Despite that easy example, I have a feeling that the words you’re going to give me will be a little harder than that.



Erin: Maaaaaybe… I guess we’ll just have to play so you can find out. Ready?



David: I guess I have to be. What have you got for me?



Erin: Your first word chain is: answer – clock – supplementary. What do these things have in common?



David: Hmm. Well, based on our theme for today, I’m going to have to go with Question Period.



Erin: Correct! And we’re going to be diving into what exactly Question Period is and how it works a little later. Ready for the next one?



David: I sure am Erin.



Erin: Okay, what do these words have in common: order – visitors – statement.



David: I guess I would have to go with the fact that they’re all part of the names of proceedings in the House. Like Orders of the Day, for example.



Erin: Correct again! But I have one last tricky one for you.



David: Of course you do. Let’s hear it then…



Erin: Okay. Last but not least we have: division – question – bell.



David: Hmm. This one seems to be a bit of a trick question. If I had to take a guess, I would say that you’re referring to a vote within the Legislature as all of those words, as strange as they might sound together, relate to voting.



Erin: You’re not wrong David. Although I was looking for a slightly more specific type of vote. In just a little while, we’re going to be talking about a time of the day called “Deferred Votes”. So that’s what I was going for. But very well done all around!



David: I knew it was too good to be true! That was a perfect tie-in to our episode for today though.



Erin: Why thank you David. I do try to make sure I’m on topic with the games.



David: Speaking of being on topic, shall we start with the different proceedings in the Chamber?



Erin: I guess we should. In broad strokes, a typical day in the House can be divided into the following times of day: the Morning Routine, the Afternoon Routine, Orders of the Day, and Private Members’ Public Business.



David: Why don’t we start with the Morning Routine, since as the name suggests, it occurs in the morning.



Erin: That was the plan! The Morning Routine can be broken down further into another four categories. Now theses sub-categories, if you will, always happen in the same order.



David: First you have what are called “Members’ Statements”. During this time of the day, a Member of Provincial Parliament who is not the Speaker, the Leader of a recognized party, or a Minister may make a statement about a wide variety of topics.



Erin: Members’ Statements are one of my favourite times of the day. In part because they’re quick – each Member is only allowed a minute and a half to speak. But also, because usually Members use their time to talk about events in their communities, awards given out to prominent citizens, commemorative days or events, or even to wish a happy birthday to one of their staff members.



David: You really do get a wide range of topics during Members’ Statements.



Erin: Do you have a favourite statement you can remember hearing, David?



David: As you mentioned, Erin, I really enjoy listening to Members talk about the people and events in their ridings, as it gives you insight into what goes on in so many different parts of the province. I mean, we live in such a large region, you sometimes never hear about things that happen in certain areas you might like to visit someday. The statements offer insight into Ontario happenings you’d seldom learn about elsewhere.



Erin: Well, I think one of my favourites was hearing about an ice fishing festival in one Member’s home riding. It’s not a topic I know a lot about, but it sounded like a lot of fun! And a great community activity to do in the winter.



David: That does sound interesting. But lest people think that Members’ Statements run for the whole morning, the Standing Orders, the rules for how Parliament runs, state that the maximum number of statements that can be heard each day is 10.



Erin: We’ll probably reference the Standing Orders a fair bit in this episode since that’s where most of the specifics for the parliamentary proceedings are laid out.



David: After Members’ Statements, that’s when they move onto Introduction of Visitors.



Erin: A total of 5 minutes is provided for Members to introduce any visitors that may be in the galleries or at the building that day. Each introduction is limited to the Member giving a guest’s name, title, organization, and riding.



David: After that, Question Period begins. This is the time of the day that most people will recognize from tv as it’s often covered in the news.



Erin: Question Period can be one of the… livelier… times of the day since it’s when the Opposition and Members of the Government party may ask questions to the Ministers.



David: Fun fact: Ontario has one of the longest Question Periods in Canada. It lasts for a total of 60 minutes and takes place every day that the House is in session, which is typically 4 days a week.



Erin: During Question Period, Members have the opportunity to pose an initial question and a supplementary question to a Minister or the Premier. A Parliamentary Assistant may also respond to the question on behalf of the Government.



David: According to the Standing Orders, all questions must relate to “matters of urgent public importance”. If the Speaker deems something not relevant, they can disallow a question. But, in practice, that doesn’t happen very often.



Erin: And not all questions come from the opposition parties either; backbenchers, or Members of the Government party who are not Ministers, may ask Ministers questions too. Fun fact: in Ontario, these are sometimes referred to as “friendly questions”.



David: Once the full 60 minutes have elapsed, the Speaker will declare that Question Period is over and the Morning Routine will move onto its final stage: Deferred Votes.



Erin: Deferred Votes don’t always happen every day. If there are no votes, then this step may be omitted. But if there are votes that have been deferred, then they have to take place at this time.



David: But why would a vote be deferred? Well, according to the Standing Orders, almost all recorded divisions have to be deferred. A recorded division is a type of vote where all of the names of the Members present who partake in the vote go into the public record.



Erin: This type of vote happens if 5 Members stand up after a voice vote. A voice vote being exactly what it sounds like – all those in favour say “aye” and those opposed say “nay”.



David: A vote can only be deferred until the next time for Deferred Votes. The Members can’t choose a particular day for the vote or change the time when the vote occurs.



Erin: Deferred Votes mark the last proceeding during the Morning Routine. Usually at this time, the House will recess and then return for the Afternoon Routine.



David: The Afternoon Routine gets a little bit more complicated because there are more proceedings to get through and it takes a little longer. The Standing Orders allow a total of 90 minutes for the Afternoon Routine. It begins with another opportunity for Members to introduce visitors. Again, there are 5 minutes allotted for this stage to welcome any new guests who may have arrived in the intervening time.



Erin: After that, the Members will move onto Reports by Committees. You may remember that we learned all about Committees in a previous episode from 2 of our current Clerks at the Assembly. This time of the day lets the Committees report back to the House what they have been working on.



David: This stage may simply involve the Chair of the Committee briefly presenting a report, or sometimes the Speaker announcing that a report has been tabled by a specific Committee, or it can be a little more complex.



Erin: Recent changes to the Standing Orders now state that if 12 Members were to immediately stand after a report has been tabled for a Government Bill, that the House would automatically begin a 30-minute debate. Only one report per day can follow this process though.



David: It is also possible that on any given day, no Committees have a report to table.



Erin: If that’s the case, then this section of the Afternoon Routine will pass very quickly on to Introduction of Bills.



David: This time of the day, as the name states, is the only time when new legislation can be introduced in the House by Members.



Erin: Fun fact: until recently, bills from any party or Member could be introduced in any order. The Standing Orders were amended to include a new proceeding called “Introduction of Government Bills” when, as you might guess from the name, only Government Bills are allowed to be introduced. This is followed by “Introduction of Bills”, when any Member can introduce a new bill.



David: The total time for the Introduction of Bills for both government bills and other bills is 30 minutes. With 5 minutes being allocated for each new bill respectively.



Erin: Listen to our previous episode where we go into more detail about all of the different types of bills.



David: Once all of the bills for that day have been introduced, or the time for introductions has lapsed, then the Members will move on to a stage called: Statements by the Ministry and Responses.



Erin: This part of the day is fairly self-explanatory. Ministers have the opportunity to make a statement or announcement about current government policy or actions their Ministry is undertaking.



David: Ministerial Statements is allotted a total of 20 minutes before the next proceeding begins: Motions. Simply put, a motion is a formal proposal that needs to be voted on in the House. There are different types of motions, but the time during the afternoon dedicated to discussing them is for “Routine Motions”.



Erin: According to the Standing Orders, a Routine Motion is any motion “made for the purpose of fixing the days or times of the meetings or adjournments of the House, or its committees; establishing or revising the membership of committees, and the meeting schedule thereof; arranging the proceedings of the House; or any other motion relating strictly to the technical procedure of the House or its committees and the management of the business thereof.”



David: These routine motions may only be moved by the Government House Leader or someone they designate in their place, usually a Minister or the Deputy Government House Leader.



Erin: The last part of the Afternoon Routine is called Petitions. And as the name suggests, it involves the reading and signing of petitions in the House.



David: Members of the public may submit a petition to a Member of Provincial Parliament to be read in the House. Each petition must follow the format laid out in the Standing Orders which includes being addressed to the Legislative Assembly, having a clearly defined purpose, being printed and containing the real signatures of the petitioners.



Erin: Fun fact: the minimum number of signatures required to submit a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario is one.



David: During the time for petitions, Members will read out its purpose and then sign their name to it before it is tabled with the Clerk.



Erin: Once a petition has been tabled, the Government must issue a written response within 24 sessional days to be given to the Clerk and the Member who tabled it.



David: Petitions marks the final part of the Afternoon Routine. Now I know it already sounds like we’ve covered a lot but there are 2 final proceedings that we need to cover.



Erin: Orders of the Day is a term that you’ll hear a lot if you watch a session either in person or on television or if you read through a transcript of the debates. But what does Orders of the Day actually refer to?



David: Well, Orders of the Day is the time when the House deals with the debate of proposed bills and motions that have been placed before it.



Erin: In other words, it’s when the majority of the actual debates in Parliament take place.



David: Orders of the Day also takes up the majority of the day since it usually involves lengthy debate on current government legislation. And when I say lengthy, it can get quite long. For example, when a government bill has reached the Second Reading phase of its journey towards becoming a law, the Minister who introduced the bill is afforded up to 1 hour of debate time. This time can sometimes be shared amongst multiple Members.



Erin: Finally, we have Private Members’ Public Business. It’s very similar to Orders of the Day in that it deals with debate on bills and motions, but this time around, the debate can only be about Private Members’ Public business, not Government business.



David: During this time, only one item of Private Members’ Public business can be debated per day. And the timings of the debate are divided.



Erin: 12 minutes are given to the MPP who introduced the piece of business. This is followed by another 12 minutes of debate, from each recognized party. 5 minutes are also given to one Independent Member. Finally, the MPP who introduced the item is given 2 minutes to respond.



David: It may all sound complicated, but a typical day in the House actually runs like a well-choreographed dance.



Erin: Usually, the House will begin meeting at 9:00 a.m. with Orders of the Day. After that, they will move through the Morning Routine before they take a recess. Depending on the day of the week, this recess can be a little shorter or a little longer.



David: On Mondays and Thursdays, the House will usually resume sitting at 1:00 p.m. while on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they will typically resume at 3:00 p.m. instead.



Erin: They’ll start with the Afternoon Routine before making their way back to Orders of the Day. If it’s a Monday, the day will usually end with Orders of the Day by 6:00 p.m.



David: But if it’s a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, the House will resume Orders of the Day after the Afternoon Routine and then, they will typically move to Private Members’ Public Business at 6:00 p.m. and finish a little later.



Erin: Monday is really the outlier since it’s the only day that doesn’t include Private Members’ Public Business, and because the House usually doesn’t start meeting until 10:15 a.m.



David: Fun fact: Monday meetings usually start a little later to allow for travel time since the majority of Members live outside of the Greater Toronto Area.



Erin: Wow, what a journey we’ve been on today!



David: I couldn’t agree more Erin. Learning about a day in Parliament can seem daunting, but on this International Day of Democracy, we hope that we were able to provide a bit of a roadmap to what a typical day in the House really looks like in Ontario. And just a reminder that web streaming of Ontario’s Legislature and a House calendar is available at our website at www.ola.org.



Erin: Trying to wrap my head around all of the different terminology was one of the most challenging things when I first started working at the Legislature. Now it seems like second nature to me to use all of these terms. It can be easy to forget that not everyone knows the ins and outs of our democratic process which is why we thought today’s episode was so important to share.



David: Despite the technical nature of today’s discussion, I think we still managed to throw in some pretty great fun facts! How many did we get today? I lost count!



Erin: You know what David, today we managed a respectable count of 5 fun facts!



David: Wow! I’m pretty pleased with that. How about you Erin?



Erin: Me too David! Thanks for listening to the ON Parliament Podcast. Where we help spread the word on Parliament. But we’ve got to go, I think I hear the bells.



David: Bye! And Happy Democracy Day!



Erin: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing. For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter and Instagram@onparleducation. Et en français : @parloneducation. Thanks again and see you next time.