About the Speech from the Throne
The Speech from the Throne opens every new session of Parliament. The Speech introduces the government’s direction and goals, and outlines how it will work to achieve them. The Senate and the House of Commons cannot conduct public business until Canada’s Head of State or their representative reads the Speech.
Traditionally, the Governor General reads the Speech as The Queen’s representative in Canada. In 1957 and 1977, The Queen was in Canada and chose to read the Speech herself. It is called the Speech from the Throne because the Governor General reads the Speech from the seat—or the throne—in the Senate Chamber reserved for The Queen or her representative in Canada.
Members of the House of Commons, senators, Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, and other invited guests attend the reading of the Speech.
Role of the Governor General
The Governor General has two essential functions in the opening of a new session of Parliament.
On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General summons Parliament through a proclamation. The Senate and the House of Commons do not have the authority to open a session of Parliament until the Governor General issues the proclamation.
The Governor General also reads the Speech that is written by the government. The Governor General can add an introduction to the Speech that outlines their own activities.
Role of the Usher of the Black Rod
The Usher of the Black Rod is a senior parliamentary officer who is responsible for many aspects in the Senate Chamber. They are appointed by the Governor General at the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and have a number of ceremonial and security-related duties in support of the Senate. These duties include supporting the delivery of the Speech from the Throne, which is read in the Senate.
Before the Governor General reads the Speech from the Throne, the Usher of the Black Rod leaves the Senate Chamber and knocks three times with the black rod on the doors of the House of Commons. This informs the Members of Parliament that the Governor General is calling them to come to the Senate Chamber.
The position of the Usher of the Black Rod dates back to roughly 600 years ago in England. The original title used in Canada was “Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod” until 1997, when Mary C. McLaren became the first woman to hold the position. Since then, the title used in Canada has been gender-neutral.
After the Speech from the Throne
After the Governor General reads the Speech from the Throne, the new session of Parliament is officially open. Public business in both the Senate and the House of Commons can begin.
The first order of business is for the Prime Minister to introduce Bill C-1 in the House of Commons. A senator also introduces a similar bill, Bill S-1, in the Senate. These bills show the House of Commons’ and Senate’s independence from the Crown and their right to meet and debate without having to follow the agenda presented in the Speech from the Throne.
The bills are given first reading, but not second reading. After the first reading, the House of Commons and the Senate debate the Speech from the Throne.
Previous Speeches from the Throne
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