Members of Parliament—many dressed in black—returned to Ottawa ahead of schedule on Thursday to take part in a “special session” to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II and mark the accession to the throne of King Charles III.
The House of Commons held this historic opportunity to allow MPs to pay tribute to the Queen’s life and legacy, prior to Monday’s national commemorations. An indication of how many elected officials want to speak, MPs agreed to extend the session into a second day, meaning speeches are set to continue on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the first parliamentarian to give a speech honoring Canada’s longest-reigning monarch, when the session began on Thursday morning.
“Last week, Canada lost the only sovereign that most of us have ever known. It’s important to take these moments here in Parliament and across the country to recognize the service and the leadership that she offered us,” he said, sharing memories from the times he had met her over his life, reflecting on her humor, curiosity, and sage advice.
“When someone lives until 96, this should not have come as a surprise and yet her absence has struck us all palpably and profoundly. Her Majesty was everywhere,” Trudeau said.
During his remarks, Trudeau announced that alongside Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, he’ll be traveling to London for Monday’s state funeral and will be bringing with him former prime ministers and governors general.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre followed the prime minister, making his House of Commons debut in his new role.
“The Queen had a special place in our hearts, and we had a special place in hers. She spent a more official time here in Canada than in any other country, save the United Kingdom,” Poilievre said, going on to recall her numerous visits.
The new Official Opposition leader also spoke of the central role the Crown plays in Canada’s democratic institutions.
“Parties and politicians come and go, the Crown endures,” he said, going on to congratulate the new King.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet briefly offered his condolences, noting “the history between the Crown and the Quebec nation is both thorny and cruel.”
Once the initial ceremonial elements were completed on Thursday morning, he and his caucus left the House of Commons and did not take part further.
“Queen Elizabeth II led a remarkable life, one marked by history. Amid tremendous change, she was a figure of stability, providing a constant symbol to many,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. “Throughout her life Queen Elizabeth II used her platform to offer encouragement in difficult times. Most recently, during the pandemic.”
Singh said he hopes King Charles III meets the challenge of reconciliation that has been laid out by Indigenous leaders.
Also alluding to some of the tension within Canada when it comes to the role of the Crown, Green Party MP Mike Morrice said that while “many political questions” remain to be discussed, “today is not that day. Today, we honor and mourn a remarkable woman who loved this country and its citizens.”
Once these representatives from each party spoke, a moment of silence was held in the chamber. MPs stood, hands crossed in front of them and heads bowed.
A motion was also passed, on division, to send His Majesty a message from the Canadian House of Commons expressing deep sympathy for the death of his beloved mother, and welcoming his accession.
“In this time of sorrow we… convey a sincere expression of our loyalty and our devotion. We, the Commons of Canada, do our utmost to uphold and support your majesty and undertake your heavy responsibilities,” it reads in part.
For the remainder of the day, individual MPs continued to take their turn to rise and deliver speeches, with a 10-minute time limit. Those who have spoken have touched on the Crown’s legacy in Canada, have reflected on what Queen Elizabeth II’s life of service meant to them and their constituents, and have spoken about what is ahead, as a new era begins.
Passing a motion at the outset of Thursday’s sitting, Government House Leader Mark Holland indicated that the special recall of the House was for the “sole purpose of paying tribute and making statements on the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the accession to the throne of His Majesty King Charles III.”
Thursday’s tributes began with a moment of silence for the victims of the mass stabbing attacks in Saskatchewan that unfolded just days prior to Queen Elizabeth II’s death. Her Majesty’s last public statement before her passing was expressing sympathy for those affected by the James Smith Cree Nation tragedy.
Over her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II was present at several key moments in Canada’s history. In 1957, she became the first Canadian monarch to open Parliament and deliver a Speech from the Throne. In 1982, she signed the royal proclamation of the new Constitution Act, which included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This special event comes ahead of the opening of the fall sitting, which has been postponed until Sept. 20 to accommodate Monday’s commemorative events.
The last time Canada’s Parliament took part in a special session like this was in 1952, when King George VI died.