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The Senate was created under the Constitution Act, 1867, primarily to protect regional interests but also to provide what George-Etienne Cartier called a "power of resistance to oppose the democratic element."


The House of Commons was to be elected on the basis of representation by population. In 1867 Ontario was the most populous, fastest-growing province, but Québec and the Maritimes were more important to the national economy than their population suggested, and their interests were by no means identical with Ontario's. They dared not leave matters such as tariffs, taxation and railways to the mercy of an Ontario-dominated Commons, and they insisted on equal regional representation in the Upper House, without which there would have been no confederation.

The Senate performs three basic functions: legislative, deliberative and investigative. It was created to protect the various regional, provincial and minority interests in Canada. While the composition of the House of Commons is based on the principle of representation by population, membership in the Senate is based on the principle of equal regional representation.

Senators are appointed in the Queen's name by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Senate is composed of 105 seats* divided on a regional basis roughly as follows:

  • Central Canada
    • Ontario 24
    • Quebec 24
  • Western Canada
    • Manitoba 6
    • Saskatchewan 6
    • Alberta 6
    • British Columbia 6
  • Northern Canada
    • Yukon 1
    • Northwest Territories 1
    • Nunavut 1
  • Eastern Canada
    • Nova Scotia 10
    • New Brunswick 10
    • Prince Edward Island 4
    • Newfoundland and Labrador 6
The Senate Chamber

*N.B. Apart from the regular 105 Senate seats, the Constitution also provides for four or eight additional seats to be added at any time "the Queen sees fit". This right was invoked only once - on the advice of The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney - to ensure passage of the controversial Goods and Services Tax Bill.

Layout of the Senate

Layout of the Senate
  1. Speaker. The Senator appointed by the Prime Minister to serve as its spokesman and to preside over its proceedings. In particular, he or she is responsible for maintaining order and decorum. Please see the Speaker of the Senate page for more information.
  2. Page. A first year student from one of the national capital region universities employed by the Senate to carry messages, and to deliver Senate documents and other reading material to Senators in the Chamber during sittings of the Senate.
  3. Cabinet Minister. A member of the Cabinet appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Usually chosen from among existing Members and Senators, ministers are responsible to Parliament for their official actions and those of their departments. They are given the title "Honourable" and membership on the Privy Council for life. Please see the Cabinet page for more information.
  4. Opposition Party. A political party which is neither the Government party nor part of the coalition of parties forming the Government.
  5. Leader of the Government in the Senate. The Leader of the Government in the Senate is chosen by the Prime Minister to represent the Government in the Senate, since the Prime Minister is ordinarily a Member of Parliament. Please see the Leader of the Government in the Senate page for more information.
  6. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. The leader of the party with the second largest membership in the House of Commons. Please see the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate page for more information.
  7. Leader of the second largest party in opposition.
  8. Clerk and Table Officers.
    • Clerk of the Senate. The chief procedural adviser to the Speaker and to Senators. Appointed by the Governor in Council, the Clerk is responsible for a wide range of administrative and procedural duties relating to the work of the Senate and its committees.
    • Table Officers. The clerks who provide procedural advice during sittings of the Senate, take the votes and keep the minutes of proceedings.
  9. Mace. A large, heavy and richly-ornamented staff which is the symbol of authority of the House of Commons. When the Speaker takes the Chair, the Mace is placed on the Table by the Usher of the Black Rod to signify the Senate is in session.
  10. Hansard.
    • Debates. The printed record of the proceedings in the Senate published after each sitting and based on the edited and corrected text of the "blues". The Debates are often identified as "Hansard" which is the name of the British family once responsible for the transcription of the proceedings of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom.
    • Monitors. One monitor (two during Question Period) sits at a desk in the centre of the Chamber and identifies speakers and interjections on a dubbing channel while the debates are recorded electronically.
  11. Usher of the Black Rod. The senior officer of the Senate responsible for security and the maintenance of the Parliament Buildings. Please see the Usher of the Black Rod page for more information.
  12. Bar (of the House). A brass barrier inside the south entrance of the Chamber marking off the area where non-Senators may be admitted. It is here that witnesses must appear when formally summoned.
  13. Interpreters. Interpreters seated in glassed-in booths at the south end of the Chamber provide simultaneous interpretation of the proceedings into English and French for Senators and the public.
  14. Press Gallery. A gallery in the House of Commons reserved for accredited members of the media. Members of the media accredited to cover the proceedings of Parliament and so granted access to the gallery reserved for them.
  15. Galleries. Areas in the Senate set aside for the public, the press and distinguished visitors who wish to attend a sitting.

The Senators also have political affiliations to the Liberal Party, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance Party; however, some senators also maintain an Independant designation. Until 1965, senators were appointed for life. Now the retirement age is 75. To be eligible for appointment to the Senate, one must:
  • be at least 30 years of age;
  • be a Canadian citizen by birth or naturalization;
  • have a net estate worth at least $4000;
  • own real property within the province for which he or she is appointed to the net value of $4000;
  • be a resident in the province for which he or she is appointed.
In Quebec, senators are appointed for each of the original 24 electoral divisions in that province and they must reside, or have their property qualification, in the particular division for which they are appointed.

Occupations represented in the Senate include business executives, lawyers, dentists, doctors, farmers, journalists, labour union executives, accountants and academics.

Political and legislative experience represented in the Senate has in recent years included the valuable municipal, provincial and federal cross-governmental experience of former aldermen, mayors, federal cabinet ministers, provincial leaders of political parties, members of provincial legislatures, parliamentary secretaries, and provincial premiers.

Does your Senator have a website?

Current Standings in the Senate

(as of April 22, 2018)
  • Independent Senators Group 44
  • Conservative Party of Canada 33
  • Liberal Party of Canada 11
  • Non-affiliated 5
  • Vacant seats 12
  • TOTAL 105

See also
Speaker of the Senate
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

External Links
Parliament of Canada Official Website

Copyright Craig I.W. Marlatt