THE SENATE OF CANADA
I - COMPOSITION
105 senators, appointed by the Governor General, on the recommendation of
the Prime Minister, allocated by regions.
Members remain in office up to the age of 75.
* Regional representation:
- A total of 24 senators for each of the 4 regions (Ontario, Quebec - the
province of Quebec is the only one where the senators are appointed to represent what are known as senatorial constituencies - Maritime provinces, Western provinces);
- 6 senators for Newfoundland;
- 1 senator for the Northwest territories;
- 1 senator for the Yukon;
- 1 senator for the Nunavut* since 1999.
The Constitution allows the government, with the approval of the Monarch, to
add 4 to 8 seats to the Senate on a temporary basis. A government may use this extraordinary measure for the purpose of settling a legislative deadlock (this has been used only once up till now).
Eligibility: minimum age of 30, citizenship in Canada or British Commonwealth, residence in province for which appointed, ownership of land free of encumbrances in said province to the value of Can$ 4000, real and personal property with a net worth of Can$ 4000, though in Québec, residency and property requirements are decided at the district level
Ineligibility: citizenship of another country, undischarged bankruptcy
The President or Speaker of the Senate is appointed by the Governor General,
at the proposal of the Prime Minister.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS
The Senate is convened by its Speaker.
Under the terms of its regulations, it may meet from Monday to Friday and as often
as may be necessary. The Senate normally sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
* In force since the creation of the Nunavut in 1999.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE
The powers of the Senate are equal in legal terms to those of the House of
Commons, except in financial matters (see below) and constitutional matters (six months suspensory veto) (see below V -- special provisions).
A - LEGISLATIVE POWERS
1) Right to propose legislation
Yes, except in matters of public finance where this right rests with the
Government and the House of Commons.
2) Right of amendment
Yes, but in public finance matters, amendments are only admissible if they
reduce taxation, duties or public expenditure. No amendment proposing rises in these is admissible.
3) Legislative procedure
Any legislative text has to be passed by the Senate and the House of Commons
with the same terms.
a) Ordinary procedure
Bills may be presented equally to the Senate or to the House of Commons (in reality, the source of most public interest bills, i.e. taxation, health, social programmes, defence, environment,...)
The following is the procedure followed in each chamber :
- 1st reading: receipt, reading and circulation of the bill ;
- 2nd reading: provisional debate of the bill in a plenary session ;
- referral of the bill to a committee which examines it article by article, after any hearings - usually public - considered necessary, and passes a report with or without amendments ;
- 3rd reading: debate of the committee report in plenary assembly; the chamber may either pass the bill, modify it, accept it or reject it ;
- once passed, the bill is sent to the other chamber.
In theory, where a disagreement between the two chambers persists, a conference of both chambers - composed of their representatives - can be held. This procedure is very rarely used in practice. In fact, amended bills can be referred back and forth between the chambers until a consensus is reached or the bill is dropped.
b) Special provisions
1- Private interest bills - submitted by a private citizen - are now always presented to the Senate. They allow deficiencies in the law to be highlighted.
2- Financial bills are initially examined by the House of Commons. The Senate may amend them but only to reduce taxation, duties or public expenditure.
B - SUPERVISORY POWERS
1) Responsibility of the Government before the Senate
The Senate may not call the responsibility of the government into question. Only the House of Commons may take a vote of confidence in certain circumstances.
2) Major role of the Senate committees
Study groups composed of 12 to 15 senators, with the task -in addition to their legislative domain- of examining major public interest issues in depth, formulating recommendations and examining government expenditure. Each standing committee specialises in a particular area.
They consult with (and may hold hearings anywhere in Canada or abroad with the authorisation of the Senate) ministers, civil servants, experts..., and arrange for files and documents to be passed on to them.
3) Power of the Senate to hold inquiries
Any standing committee is authorised to investigate and draw up a report on any matter submitted to it by the Senate.
Question times are held at every daily sitting of the Senate. A senator may put a question without notice to a senator who is also a minister or to the leader of the government, as well as to a colleague who chairs a senate committee; a written reply may be requested.
The leader of the government in the Senate is the government's representative in it and sits on the Council of Ministers. His functions are notably to respond at question time and to ensure the monitoring of measures proposed by the government. He automatically plays a part in all the standing committees of the Senate.
V - SPECIAL MEASURES
POWERS IN MATTERS OF CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE
An important distinction is made between changes which only affect federal powers and those which affect both federal and provincial powers:
- in the first case, the agreement of the Senate is required and the proposal is issued by parliament;
- in the second case, the proposal for the procedure lies with the Senate, the House of Commons and the provincial legislative assemblies conjointly. But, in this case, if the provinces give their consent to the change, it may be disregarded without the approval of the Senate if it has not passed a resolution within 180 days of its being passed in the House of Commons if the latter, at the end of this period, passes a new resolution along the same lines.