The Senate consists of 105 members appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the prime minister. Seats are assigned on a regional basis, with each of the four major regions receiving 24 seats, and the remainder of the available seats being assigned to smaller regions. The four major regions are: Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces. The seats for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut are assigned apart from these regional divisions. Senators may serve until they reach the age of 75.
The Senate is referred to as the "upper house" of Parliament, and the House of Commons is sometimes referred to as the "lower house". This does not, however, imply that the Senate is more powerful than the House of Commons, merely that its members and officers outrank the members and officers of the House of Commons in the order of precedence for the purposes of protocol. Indeed, as a matter of practice and custom, the Commons is by far the dominant chamber. Although the approval of both houses is necessary for legislation, the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the directly elected Commons. Moreover, the government is responsible solely to the House of Commons; the prime minister and Cabinet stay in office only as long as he or she retains the support of the lower house. The Senate does not exercise any such control. Although legislation can normally be introduced in either house, the majority of government bills originate in the House of Commons. Under the Constitution, money bills must always originate in the House of Commons.
The chamber in which the Senate sits is sometimes called the red chamber, due to the red cloth that adorns the chamber as well as the throne. The red Senate Chamber is lavishly decorated, in contrast with the more modest green Commons Chamber. This decorative scheme is inherited from the British Houses of Parliament, where the Lords chamber is a lavish room with red benches, whereas the Commons chamber is more sparsely decorated and is furnished in green.
There are benches on two sides of the chamber, divided by a centre aisle. The speaker's chair is at one end of the chamber; in front of it is the clerk's table. Various clerks sit at the table, ready to advise the speaker and the senators on procedure when necessary. Members of the government sit on the benches on the speaker's right, while members of the opposition occupy the benches on the speaker's left (however, due to the large number of opposition senators, a number also occupy seats on the speaker's right).
The Senate came into existence in 1867, when the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the British North America Act, uniting the Province of Canada (which was separated into Quebec and Ontario) with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a single federation, a Dominion called Canada. The Canadian Parliament was based on the Westminster model (that is, the model of the Parliament of the United Kingdom). The Senate was intended to mirror the British House of Lords, in that it was meant to represent the social and economic élite. Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, described it as a body of "sober second thought" that would curb the "democratic excesses" of the elected House of Commons and provide regional representation. As an upper house on the British parliamentary model, it was not meant to be more than a revising body, or a brake on the House of Commons. Therefore, it was deliberately made an appointed house, since an elected Senate might prove too popular and too powerful, and be able to block the will of the House of Commons.
The Governor General holds the power to appoint senators, although, in modern practice, he or she makes appointments only on the advice of the Prime Minister. Senators originally held their seats for life; however, under the British North America Act, 1965 (now known as the Constitution Act, 1965), members, save for those appointed prior to the change, may not sit in the Senate after reaching the age of 75. Prime ministers normally choose members of their own parties to be senators, though they sometimes nominate independents or members of opposing parties. In practice, a large number of the members of the Senate are ex-Cabinet ministers, ex-provincial premiers, and other eminent people.
Under the constitution, each province or territory is entitled to a specific number of Senate seats. The constitution divides Canada into four areas, each with an equal number of senators: 24 for Ontario, 24 for Quebec, 24 for the maritime provinces (10 each for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and 4 for Prince Edward Island), and 24 for the western provinces (6 each for Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Alberta). Newfoundland and Labrador, which became a province in 1949, is not assigned to any division, and is represented by 6 senators, while the three territories (the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Nunavut) are allocated 1 senator each. Quebec senators are the only ones to be assigned to specific districts within their province. Historically, this was adopted to ensure that both French and English-speaking senators from Quebec were represented appropriately in the Senate.
Using representation by population as the guiding criterion for assigning seats in the Senate, Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta Canada's fastest growing provinces in terms of population are currently under-represented, while the maritimes are the opposite. For example, British Columbia, with a current population of about four million, has been historically entitled to 6 senators, while Nova Scotia, with a current population of fewer than one million, has been entitled to 10. Only Quebec currently has a share of senators approximately proportional to its share of the total population. However, as with most other upper-houses worldwide, the Canadian formula does not use representation by population as a primary criterion for member selection, since this is already done for the lower house. Rather, the intent when the formula was struck was to achieve a balance of regional interests and to provide a house of "sober second thought" to check the power of the lower house when necessary.
|Province or Territory||Number of Senators||Population per Senator (2006 census)|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||6||84,244|
|Prince Edward Island||4||33,962|
A senator's seat automatically becomes vacant if he or she fails to attend the Senate for two consecutive parliamentary sessions. Furthermore, a senator loses his or her seat if they are found guilty of treason, indictable offence, or any "infamous crime"; is declared bankrupt or insolvent; or ceases to be qualified.
There exists a constitutional provision, Section 26 of the Constitution Act, 1867, under which the Queen may appoint four or eight extra senators, equally divided amongst the four regions. Appointments are made by the monarch on prime ministerial advice, exactly as with normal senatorial appointments. This provision has been successfully used only once in 1990, when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sought to ensure the passage of a bill creating the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The appointment of eight additional senators allowed a slight Tory majority. The only other attempt to use Section 26, by Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie in 1874, was denied by Queen Victoria, on the advice of the British Cabinet.
Since 1989, the voters of Alberta have elected "senators-in-waiting", or nominees for the province's Senate seats. These elections, however, are not held pursuant to any federal constitutional or legal provision; thus, the prime minister is not bound to recommend the nominees for appointment. Only two senators-in-waiting have actually been appointed to the Senate: The first was Stan Waters, who was appointed in 1990 on the recommendation of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (he died in 1991); the second was Bert Brown, elected a senator-in-waiting in 1998 and 2004, and appointed to the Senate in 2007 on the recommendation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In May 2008, the government of Saskatchewan announced plans to hold similar elections.
The annual salary of each senator, as of 2006, is $122,700; members may receive additional salaries in right of other offices they hold (for instance, the Speakership). Senators rank immediately above Members of Parliament in the order of precedence.
The Constitution Act, 1867 outlines the qualifications of senators. Individuals must be both citizens of Canada and at least thirty years of age to be eligible for appointment to the Senate. Senators must also reside in the provinces or territories for which they are appointed.
The Constitution Act, 1867, also sets property qualifications for senators. A senator must possess land worth at least $4,000 in the province for which he or she is appointed. Moreover, a senator must own real and personal property worth at least $4,000 (adjusted for inflation this number could be estimated between $175,000 and $200,000 in current dollars), above his or her debts and liabilities. These property qualifications were originally introduced to ensure that the Senate represented Canada's economic and social élite. Now, however, the sum in question is far less valuable due to the effects of inflation. Nevertheless, the property qualification has never been abolished or amended, and initially caused problems with the 1997 Senate appointment of Sister Peggy Butts, a Catholic nun who had taken a vow of poverty. (The situation was resolved when her order formally transferred a small parcel of land to her name.)
The original Constitution of Canada did not explicitly bar women from sitting as senators. However, until the end of the 1920s, only men had been appointed to the body. In 1927, five Canadian women ("The Famous Five") requested the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether females were eligible to become senators. Specifically, they asked whether women were considered "persons" under the British North America Act, 1867, which provided: "The Governor General shall ... summon qualified Persons to the Senate; and ... every Person so summoned shall become and be a Member of the Senate and a Senator." In Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General) (commonly known as the "Persons Case"), the Supreme Court unanimously held that women could not become senators. The court based its decision on the grounds that the framers of the Constitution did not foresee female senators, as women did not participate in politics at the time; moreover, they pointed to the constitution's use of the pronoun "he" when referring to senators. On appeal, however, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (effectively Canada's highest court at the time) ruled that women were indeed "persons" in the meaning of the Constitution. Four months later, the government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King recommended for appointment Canada's first female senator, Cairine Wilson of Ontario.
The presiding officer of the Senate, known as the speaker, is appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. The speaker is assisted by a speaker pro tempore (or speaker for the time-being), who is elected by the Senate at the beginning of each parliamentary session. If the speaker is unable to attend, the speaker pro tempore presides instead. Furthermore, the Parliament of Canada Act, passed in 1985, authorizes the speaker to appoint another senator to take his or her place temporarily.
The speaker presides over sittings of the Senate and controls debates by calling on members to speak. If a senator believes that a rule (or standing order) has been breached, he or she may raise a "point of order," on which the speaker makes a ruling. However, the speaker's decisions are subject to appeal to the whole Senate. When presiding, the speaker remains impartial, though he or she still maintains membership in a political party. Unlike the speaker of the House of Commons, the speaker of the Senate does not hold a casting vote, but instead retains their right to vote in the same manner as any other senator (see Procedure below). The current speaker of the Senate is Noël A. Kinsella.
The member of the government responsible for steering legislation through the Senate is leader of the government in the Senate. The leader is a senator selected by the prime minister, and serves in Cabinet. The leader manages the schedule of the Senate, and attempts to secure the opposition's support for the government's legislative agenda. The opposition equivalent is the leader of the opposition in the Senate, who is selected by his or her counterpart in the House, the leader of the opposition. However, if the Official Opposition in the House is a different party than the Official Opposition in the Senate (as was the case, for example, from 1993 to 2003), then the Senate party chooses its own leader.
Officers of the Senate who are not members include the clerk, the deputy clerk, the law clerk, and several other clerks. These officers advise the speaker and members on the rules and procedure of the Senate. Another officer is the usher of the black rod, whose duties include the maintenance of order and security within the Senate chamber. The usher of the black rod bears a ceremonial black ebony staff, from which the title "black rod" arises. This position is roughly analogous to that of sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons, but the usher's duties are more ceremonial in nature. The responsibility for security and the infrastructure lie with the Director General of Parliamentary Precinct Services.
The Senate Chamber is the site of the opening of Parliament, a formal ceremony held at the beginning of each new parliamentary session. During the ceremony, the governor general, seated on the throne in the Senate Chamber and in the presence of both Houses of Parliament, delivers a speech outlining the government's agenda for the upcoming parliamentary session. If the sovereign is present in Canada, he or she may make the speech from the throne instead.
Under the Rules of the Senate, the Senate sits Mondays to Fridays. Sittings of the Senate are open to the public, and are transcribed verbatim in the Debates of the Senate. Unlike the House of Commons, the Senate does not regularly broadcast its hearings, although at times matters of particular interest have been broadcast.
The Constitution Act, 1867, establishes a quorum of 15 members (including the member presiding) for the Senate. Any senator may request the speaker to ascertain the presence of a quorum; if it does not appear that one is present, the speaker orders bells to be rung, so that other senators on the parliamentary precincts may come to the chamber. If a quorum still does not appear, the speaker must adjourn the Senate until the next sitting day.
During debates, the first senator to rise is entitled to make the next speech. The speaker may settle disputes over which senator rose first, but his or her decision may be altered by the Senate. Motions must be moved by one senator and seconded by another before debate may begin; some motions, however, are non-debatable.
Speeches may be made in either of Canada's official languages (English or French). Members must address their speeches to the other senators as a whole, using the phrase "honourable senators" (honorables sénateurs), without directly addressing an individual senator. Instead, individual members must be referred to in the third person, not as "you." This is similar to the process in the British House of Lords where all speeches and comments are addressed to "my lords", as well as the Canadian House of Commons, where all comments are addressed to the speaker of the house. The speaker enforces the rules of the Senate during debate. Disregarding the speaker's instructions is considered a severe breach of the rules of the Senate.
No senator may speak more than once on the same question; however, a senator who has moved a substantive motion, proposed an inquiry, or sponsored a bill holds a right of reply that enables them to speak again at the close of debate. In the case of a bill, this right of reply can only be exercised at the second reading debate. The Rules of the Senate prescribe time limits for speeches. The limits depend on the nature of the motion, but are generally about fifteen minutes. However, the leaders of the government and opposition in the Senate are not subject to such time constraints. Debate may be further restricted by the passage of "time allocation" motions. Alternatively, the Senate may end debate more quickly by passing a motion "for the previous question." If such a motion carries, debate ends immediately, and the Senate proceeds to vote. Debate may also end if no senator wishes to make any further remarks.
When the debate concludes, the motion in question is put to a vote. The Senate first votes by voice vote; the presiding officer puts the question, and members respond either "yea" (in favour of the motion) or "nay" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote, but two or more senators may challenge his or her assessment, thereby forcing a recorded vote (known as a division). First, members in favour of the motion rise, so that the clerks may record their names and votes. The same procedure is then repeated for members who oppose the motion, and thereafter repeated again for those who wish to abstain. In all cases, the speaker holds a vote (which is not usually exercised) and votes first when a recorded division is called; a tied vote results in the motion's failure. If the number of members voting, including the presiding officer, does not total 15, then a quorum is not present, and the vote is invalid.
The Parliament of Canada uses committees for a variety of purposes. Committees consider bills in detail, and can make amendments. Other committees scrutinize various government agencies and ministries.
The largest of the Senate committees is the Committee of the Whole, which, as the name suggests, consists of all senators. The Committee of the Whole meets in the Chamber of the Senate, but proceeds under slightly modified rules of debate. (For example, there is no limit on the number of speeches a member may make on a particular motion.) The presiding officer is known as the chairman. The Senate may resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole for a number of purposes, including to consider legislation, or to hear testimony from individuals. Nominees to be officers of Parliament often appear before Committee of the Whole to answer questions with respect to their qualifications prior to their appointment.
The Senate also has several standing committees, each of which has responsibility for a particular area of government (for example, finance or transport). These committees consider legislation and conduct special studies on issues referred to them by the Senate, and may hold hearings, collect evidence, and report their findings to the Senate. Standing committees consist of between nine and fifteen members each, and elect their own chairmen.
|Senate standing committees|
Special committees are appointed by the Senate on an ad hoc basis to consider a particular issue. The number of members for a special committee varies, but the partisan composition would roughly reflect the strength of the parties in the whole Senate. These committees have been struck to study bills (e.g., the Special Senate Committee on Bill C-36 (the Anti-terrorism Act), 2001), or particular issues of concern (e.g., the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs).
Other committees include joint committees, which include both members of the House of Commons and senators. There are presently two joint committees, the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations, which considers delegated legislation, and the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament which advises the two Speakers on the management of the Library. Parliament may also establish Special Joint committees on an ad hoc basis to consider issues of particular interest or importance.
Although legislation may be introduced in either House, most bills originate in the House of Commons. Because the Senate's schedule for debate is more flexible than that of the House of Commons, the government will sometimes introduce particularly complex legislation in the Senate, first. For the stages through which the legislation passes in Parliament, see Act of Parliament.
In conformity with the British model, the upper house is not permitted to originate bills imposing taxes or appropriating public funds. Unlike in Britain but similar to the United States, this restriction on the power of the Senate is not merely a matter of convention, but is explicitly stated in the Constitution Act, 1867. In addition, the House of Commons may, in effect, override the Senate's refusal to approve an amendment to the Canadian Constitution; however they must wait at least 180 days before exercising this override. Other than these two exceptions, the power of the two Houses of Parliament is theoretically equal; the approval of each is necessary for a bill's passage. In practice, however, the House of Commons is the dominant chamber of Parliament, with the Senate very rarely exercising its powers in a manner that opposes the will of the democratically elected chamber.
The Senate tends to be less partisan and confrontational than the House, and is more likely to come to a consensus on issues. It also often has more opportunity to study proposed bills in detail either as a whole or in committees. This careful review process is why the Senate is still today called the chamber of "sober second thought", though the term has a slightly different meaning than it did when used by John A. Macdonald. The format of the Senate allows it to make many small improvements to legislation before its final reading. Although the Senate rarely vetoes bills from the House, their minor changes are usually accepted by it.
The Senate at times is more active at reviewing, amending, and even rejecting legislation. The late 1980s and early 1990s was one of those periods. During this period the Senate opposed legislation on issues such as the 1988 free trade bill with the U.S. (forcing the Canadian federal election of 1988), and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). In the 1990s, the Senate rejected four pieces of legislation: a bill passed by the Commons restricting abortion (C-43), a proposal to streamline federal agencies (C-93), a bill to redevelop the Lester B. Pearson airport (C-28), and a bill on profiting from authorship as it relates to crime (C-220). The Senate also performs investigative functions. In the 1960s, the Senate authored the first Canadian reports on media concentration with the Special Senate Subcommittee on Mass Media or the Davey Commission, since "appointed senators would be better insulated from editorial pressure brought by publishers"; this triggered the formation of press councils. More recent investigations include the Kirby Commissions on health care (as opposed to the Romanow Commission) and mental health care by Senator Michael Kirby, and the Final Report on the Canadian News Media in 2006.
Unlike the House of Commons, the Senate has no effect in the decision to end the term of the prime minister or of the government. Only the Commons may force the prime minister to tender his resignation, or to recommend the dissolution of Parliament and issue of election writs, by passing a motion of no-confidence or by withdrawing supply. Thus, the Senate's oversight of the government is limited.
Most Cabinet ministers are from the House of Commons, rather than the Senate. In particular, every prime minister has been a member of the House of Commons since 1896, with the exception of John Turner, who ruled from the halls. Typically, the Cabinet includes only one senator: the leader of the government in the Senate. Occasionally, when the governing party does not include any members from a particular region, Senators are appointed to ministerial positions in order to maintain regional balance in the Cabinet. The most recent example of this was on February 6 2006, when Stephen Harper appointed Michael Fortier to serve as both a senator representing the Montreal region, where the minority government had no elected representation, and the Cabinet position of minister of public works and government services. Michael Fortier resigned his Senate seat to run for a House of Commons seat in the the 2008 general election.
There were minor changes in 1965 when a mandatory retirement age for new senators was set at 75 years, and in 1982 when the Senate was given a qualified veto over certain constitutional amendments. While most senators hold their seat until the mandatory age, Andy Thompson stepped down 20 months ahead of his scheduled retirement after critics drew attention to his poor attendance while continuing to draw his salary. It was also the first time that the Senate had voted to suspend one of their members, which prompted his resignation shortly afterwards.
Schemes to create an elected Senate did not gain widespread support until the 1980s, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau enacted the National Energy Program in the wake of the energy crises of the 1970s. Many western Canadians then called for a "Triple-E Senate", standing for "elected, equal, and effective". They believed that allowing equal representation of the provinces, regardless of population, would protect the interests of the smaller provinces and outlying regions.
There have been at least 28 major proposals for constitutional Senate reform since the early 1970s, and all have failed. The Meech Lake Accord, a series of constitutional amendments proposed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, would have required the federal government to choose a senator from a list of persons nominated by the provincial government; the accord, however, failed to obtain the requisite unanimous consent of the provincial legislatures. A successor proposal, the Charlottetown Accord, involved a provision under which the Senate would include an equal number of senators from each province, elected either by the provincial legislatures or by the people. This accord was soundly defeated in the referendum held in 1992. Further proposals for Senate reform have not met with success, either, especially due to opposition in Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces with the most to lose due to equal representation.
Today, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois both call for the Senate's abolition. Although the Liberal party has no formal policy for Senate reform, former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin had stated that he "support[ed]" Senate reform if the provinces are more involved in the process and if it does not "create greater inequality". Some have stated that the issue of Senate reform would have been the litmus test for Martin's policy on western Canada.
The Conservative Party has committed itself to appointing elected senators, although Prime Minister Stephen Harper recommended an unelected person, Quebecer Michael Fortier, for appointment to the Senate after forming his first Cabinet. In 2007, Harper recommended the appointment of Bert Brown, who was elected in Alberta's senator in waiting election. Prime Minister Harper has stated that the Senate "must either change or—like the old upper houses of our provinces—vanish".
Harper has also promised further reforms beyond electing senators, including limits on how long each senator may sit. To that effect, on May 30 2006, the government introduced Bill S-4 in the Senate, which would amend the Constitution Act, 1867 to limit the term of a newly appointed senator to eight years. It also provides that current senators may serve out their term to age 75. While appearing before a Senate committee, Harper announced that in the fall of 2006, the government would introduce a bill to allow Canadians to elect senators. This bill was announced on December 13 2006. S-4 died at the end of the first parliamentary session, but was reintroduced with modifications as C-19 in the second session.
The federal government also introduced Bill C-43 for "the consultation of the electors... in relation to the appointment of senators". "Pending the pursuit of a constitutional amendment... to provide for a means of direct election" the elected candidates will not automatically become senators; they will be presented to the prime minister who retains the choice of whom to recommend to be appointed senator. According to the bill, these "consultations" should be held together with federal or provincial legislative elections (ss. 12–13). The bill makes no changes in the distribution of seats among the provinces. The bill died at the end of the first parliamentary session, but was reintroduced in the second as Bill C-20.
The premiers of four provinces have voiced support for the abolition of the senate: Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Following the election of the Saskatchewan Party and the defeat of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, Premier Brad Wall has announced support for Senate reform, and has promised to hold Senate elections in the province.
The amendment was debated on June 27 and June 28 2006 and then sent to a special committee on Senate Reform. That committee considered the amendment and, on October 26 2006, endorsed it. The matter has been before the Senate since that time and, on December 11 2006, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk proposed an amendment to the proposed constitutional amendment that would provide for twenty-four Senators for British Columbia. This amendment was seconded by Liberal Senator Larry Campbell.
|Affiliation|| Senators||Conservative Party1||21|
|Progressive Conservative Party3||3||Independent New Democratic Party4||1|
| Total||90/ 105|