It is a day of pomp and ceremony, of Mounties in full dress, the horse-drawn carriage for the Queen's representative and, of course, the estimable Usher of the Black Rod.

We are talking about the opening of a new session for the federal Parliament in Ottawa. Here are some quick facts about a key event in that opening.

What is the speech from the throne?

The throne speech is read to all members of the House of Commons and Senate at the beginning of a new session of Parliament. It is delivered in the Senate chamber.

Why is it important?

Basically, the speech from the throne sets down a government blueprint for the coming months. It details which topics the government wants to address and which laws will be tabled.

Who delivers it?

The Governor General reads the speech, but the prime minister and his or her cabinet write it.


Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean delivers the speech from the throne in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 3, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Why the Governor General?

Formally, Parliament sits at the pleasure of the king or queen. So, in Britain, the monarch reads the throne speech from an actual throne in the House of Lords. The Governor General, the Queen's representative in Canada, takes that role in this country.

Who is the Usher of the Black Rod?

It's a position that dates back to 14th-century England, and it has several ceremonial and security duties. One of these is to call parliamentarians formally to the Senate for the throne speech.

What happens afterward?

Right after the speech, an MP selected by the prime minister rises in the House of Commons to thank the Governor General and deliver a government reply. Another MP, also of the prime minister's choosing, seconds it.

That kicks off six days of additional debate in the House. The leader of the Official Opposition makes a speech and moves an amendment to the government's reply, and the other opposition parties enter the fray.

Debate continues, with votes required at the end of the second, fourth and sixth days to determine confidence in the government and the speech. If the government were to lose one of these votes, it would fall and an election would be called.

Sources: Canadian Encyclopedia, Government of Canada