Senators Represent Canada’s Regions
Senators are chosen to ensure that regional perspectives are considered when developing new laws. The rules for Senate representation are written in the Constitution. Senators are officially appointed by the Governor General, the Monarch’s representative in Canada. By convention, the Governor General appoints senators based on the advice of the Prime Minister.
People from different backgrounds become senators to ensure that the interests of a broad range of Canadians are represented when developing new laws. Senators come from prominent careers in fields such as politics, medicine, the military, law, sports, journalism, education and business. They are often experts in their fields, and this expertise helps them contribute to debates and make decisions.
The Work of a Senator
When Parliament is sitting, senators come to Ottawa to debate and vote on bills (proposed new laws), as well as to investigate important issues. Senators are appointed to sit until the age of 75 (unless they choose to leave office earlier). This means senators can have long tenures where they develop deep expertise and bring a long-term perspective to their work.
Senators meet in the Senate Chamber to discuss potential new laws and review public policy, as well as to debate matters of public importance. Senators also work together in smaller groups called committees. Chamber sittings and committee meetings generally cannot happen at the same time.
In the Chamber
Inside the Senate Chamber, senators debate important issues and make decisions that affect the lives of Canadians. In addition to proposing new laws, they often receive bills from the House of Commons and debate potential changes.
Senators may also give speeches about their ideas and present reports from committees. These reports are made available to the public and other senators. Senators also seek information on government and committee work by asking questions during Question Period.
Working in a committee is one of the primary time commitments of a senator. Senators use their knowledge and professional experience to closely examine bills, research solutions to problems and study issues facing Canadians. In committees, senators conduct studies, hear evidence from experts and people who may be affected by a proposed law, and recommend amendments (changes) to improve the bill.
Standing committees are permanent groups of senators who meet to study specific topics.
Special committees are temporary groups of senators tasked by the Senate to look at a specific problem or issue, or to study a specific bill. They cease to exist when they present their final report to the Senate.
Other types of committees include joint committees (whose membership includes members of the House of Commons) and the Committee of the Whole (all senators sitting in the chamber as a committee). Senators often sit on several committees, as well as various subcommittees.
After a committee finishes its hearings, it writes a final report. Committees can also present interim reports at earlier stages of their research. Committee reports are brought to the Senate Chamber where they may be debated and voted on.
In Their Senate Group or Caucus
A senator can choose to belong to a group of senators. Groups can be affiliated with a political party or share similar political beliefs or values. A senator can instead decide to be a part of a recognized parliamentary group, which is formed for parliamentary purposes such as sharing resources and facilitating logistics. Senators can also choose not to be affiliated with any group or party.
Senators belonging to a recognized party or parliamentary group meet in weekly caucus meetings, which take place during weeks when the Senate is sitting. In these meetings, senators discuss their opinions on new bills, strategize on passing laws, or talk about issues to be discussed during committee meetings.
In Their Region
Senators also spend time in the regions they represent. Their duties involve travelling to different parts of their region, attending events, giving speeches and meeting with the people who live there. They can take the ideas and perspectives from these regions back to the Senate to enrich the discussions held in the chamber and in committees.
The Number of Senators
Distribution of Senate Seats
Hover over the provinces and territories to display Senate seat distribution
Number of seats: 0
The Senate has 105 seats. The number of senators is determined by region, not by population. The number of senators representing each province and territory is written in the Constitution. Quebec is also further divided into 24 specific districts – a senator is chosen from each one.
Regions with smaller populations may have greater representation in the Senate than in the House of Commons to reflect Canada’s regional diversity. Only a constitutional amendment can change the number of Senate seats or how they are distributed among the regions. The Constitution also says that a province cannot have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate.
The Selection Process
The Constitution requires that a senator:
- Be a Canadian citizen
- Be between the ages of 30 and 75
- Live in the province or territory for which they are appointed
- Own real estate worth $4,000 in the province for which they are appointed
- Have a total net worth of at least $4,000
Beyond these criteria established in the Constitution, there are no set rules about how the Prime Minister chooses senators. In 2016, the government created an independent advisory board for Senate appointments, which provides non-binding recommendations to the Prime Minister on Senate appointments.