The Role of Canadian Senators

Responsibilities of Senators in Canada

Canadian Parliament Buidlings, East Block and Senate. Brian Phillpotts / Photolibrary / Getty Images

There are usually 105 Senators in the Senate of Canada, the upper chamber of Canada's Parliament. Canadian Senators are appointed by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. Canadian Senators must be at least 30 years old and retire at the age of 75. Senators also must own property and reside in the Canadian province or territory which they represent.

Sober, Second Thought

The main role Canadian Senators have is in providing "sober, second thought" on the work done by the House of Commons. All federal legislation must be passed by the Senate as well as the House of Commons. While the Canadian Senate rarely vetoes bills, although it does have the power to do so, Senators do review federal legislation clause by clause in Senate committees and may send a bill back to the House of Commons for amendments. Senate amendments are usually accepted by the House of Commons. The Canadian Senate can also delay the passage of a bill. This is especially effective towards the end of a session of parliament when a bill can be delayed long enough to prevent it becoming law.

The Canadian Senate can also introduce its own bills, except for "money bills" which impose taxes or spend public money. Senate bills must also be passed in the House of Commons.

Investigation of National Canadian Issues

Canadian Senators contribute to in-depth studies by Senate committees on public issues such as health care in Canada, the regulation of the Canadian airline industry, urban Aboriginal youth, and phasing out the Canadian penny. The reports from these investigations can lead to changes in federal public policy and legislation. The wide range of experience of Canadian Senators, who may include former Canadian provincial premiers, cabinet ministers and business people from many economic sectors, provides substantial expertise to these investigations. Also, since Senators are not subject to the unpredictability of elections, they can track issues over a longer period of time than Members of Parliament.

Representation of Regional, Provincial and Minority Interests

Canadian Senate seats are distributed regionally, with 24 Senate seats each for the Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec and Western regions, another six Senate seats for Newfoundland and Labrador, and one each for the three territories. Senators meet in regional party caucuses and consider the regional impact of legislation. Senators also often adopt informal constituencies to represent the rights of groups and individuals who may otherwise be overlooked - the young, poor, seniors and veterans, for example.

Canadian Senators Act as Watchdogs on Government

Canadian Senators provide a detailed review of all federal legislation, and the government of the day must always be conscious that a bill must get through the Senate where the "party line" is more flexible than in the House. During the Senate Question Period, Senators also routinely question and challenge the Leader of the Government in the Senate on federal government policies and activities. Canadian Senators can also draw important issues to the attention of cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister.

Canadian Senators as Party Supporters

A Senator usually supports a political party and may play a role in the operation of the party.

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Munroe, Susan. "The Role of Canadian Senators." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 25). The Role of Canadian Senators. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "The Role of Canadian Senators." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 25, 2023).