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Speech from the Throne

The Speech from the Throne officially opens every new session of Parliament. The Speech sets out the broad goals and directions of the government and its strategy to accomplish those goals.


Parliament consists of the Sovereign and members of the Senate and the House of Commons. Parliament meets only at the "Royal summons" of the Queen, represented federally by the Governor General. The Senate and House of Commons cannot open a session by their own authority, and a number of formalities must accompany the opening of Parliament.

The Speech is given by Canada's Head of State, the Sovereign, or, more usually, by her representative, the Governor General. It is called the Speech from the Throne because the Governor General reads it while sitting in the seat in the Senate Chamber reserved for the Head of State or her representative, as the head of Canada’s system of executive government.

When the House has first assembled prior to the formal opening of a Parliament, the Clerk of the House leads the Members of the House of Commons to the Senate, where they are informed that the Speech from the Throne will not be read until the Members have elected a Speaker. Upon their return to the House, the Members proceed with this election. At this time, the House is properly constituted. In recent times, this procedure has taken place the day before the Speech is delivered.

Less than an hour before the Speech is to be delivered, the Governor General departs his or her official residence, Rideau Hall, for Parliament Hill. Whenever possible, this occurs by way of a horse-drawn carriage, accompanied by four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers, in full dress uniform. During inclimate weather, the Governor General is driven in a regular car.

Upon arrival at the steps of the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings, the Governor General is invited to inspect the Canadian Armed Forces honour guard and a 21-gun salute is fired in the Governor General's honour.

After the inspection and salute, the Governor General and his or her spouse enters the Centre Block and is greeted by the Prime Minister and other government dignitaries. The assembled party then retires to the chambers of the Speaker of the Senate for final preparations. A few minutes before the Speech is to be delivered, a small processional of officials proceed to the Senate Chamber from the chambers of the Speaker of the Senate. This processional includes the Governor General and his or her spouse, the Prime Minister and his or her spouse, the Chief of the Defence Staff, and the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Inside the Senate Chamber are, of course, the current Senators, former Prime Ministers, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and many other dignitaries.

Why in the Senate? The Canadian Parliament was modelled on that of the United Kingdom. Both have an upper Chamber whose members are appointed, and a lower Chamber, the House of Commons, whose members are elected by the general population. In Canada, Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Since neither the Governor General nor Senators are allowed to enter the House of Commons, the Speech is given in the Senate Chamber.

The Usher of the Black Rod is then instructed to summon the Members of the House of Commons to hear the Speech from the Throne. He or she proceeds to the House of Commons and knocks on the door. The Sergeant-at-Arms of the House answers the door and asks the newly elected Speaker of the House for permission to let in the Usher of the Black Rod. The Speaker grants permission and the Sergeant picks up the Mace and escorts the Usher into the House. The Usher then informs the Members of the House that their presence is requested in the Senate. The Members of the House, led by the Speaker, Sergeant-at-Arms, and Usher of the Black Road, then proceed to the Senate Chamber.

The Speaker of the House then addresses the Governor General by an established formula stating that he or she has been elected by the House of Commons as Speaker and, for the Commons, "humbly claim[s] all their undoubted rights and privileges, especially that they may have freedom of speech in their debates, access to Your Excellency's person at all seasonable times, and that their proceedings may receive from Your Excellency the most favourable construction".

On behalf of the Governor General, the Speaker of the Senate replies with a similarly stylized affirmation, including that he or she "grants, and upon all occasions will recognize and allow their constitutional privileges". This claiming of privileges, like many parliamentary ceremonies, has its origins in constitutional history when the Commons were fighting for their privileges in the face of royal tyranny in Britain: the first record there of such a claim dates from 1554. Significant nowadays among those specified privileges is freedom of speech: anything said in the Senate, House of Commons or in committee as part of parliamentary business is not actionable in the courts.

Finally, the Governor General delivers the Speech from the Throne, outlining the goals and directions of the government and its strategy to accomplish those goals.

After the Speech has been delivered at the Governor General has left the Senate Chamber, the leaders of the political parties with representation in the House of Commons talk to members of the media in the lobby outside the House of Commons to discuss their reactions to the Speech. A new Session of Parliament has begun and legislation begins to be introduced in both Houses of Parliament.

SOURCE: Government of Canada.
See also
Governor General

Copyright Craig I.W. Marlatt