About Your Senate


AboutBillsHow it WorksCommittees

Canada’s parliamentary system is based on a division of powers between three branches – the executive, legislative and judicial. Each branch is designed to function independently of the others, although its powers are subject to limits set by either or both other branches. Thus, a series of dynamic ‘checks and balances’ operate together to sustain and nurture our fundamental democratic freedoms.

The Senate and House of Commons are part of the legislative branch. The legislative branch is intended to oversee and approve actions undertaken by the executive. The Senate’s function is primarily deliberative. The House of Commons, on the other hand, serves as a ‘confidence’ chamber. In other words, if the House of Commons votes in favour of a non-confidence motion, the executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet) must seek re-election.

As the third branch of our system of checks and balances, the judiciary upholds the rule of law which is a mainstay of democratic societies.

“The independence of the judiciary from the executive is the prime defence against tyranny.” ⁠
—Sir Winston Churchill

The Senate is a place where legislative initiatives can be debated and studied in a considered way. Senators deliberate on bills and motions based on their extensive professional experience (there are professors, former cabinet ministers and premiers, lawyers, retired military officers and policy experts sitting in the Senate), parliamentary experience (Senators serve an average of nine years), regional considerations and with a view to protecting minorities. The Senate serves as a place for a second look, where legislation can be amended or defeated if it violates the interests of regions or minorities.

“The value of a Senate is not only in what the Senate does, but in what the Senate prevents other people from doing.”
—Sir Richard Cartwright

All bills must pass through the Senate to become law.

The bill receives Royal Assent once passed by both chambers. Because the monarch (and their representative) is traditionally barred from the House of Commons, Royal Assent always takes place in the Senate, either in person or by way of a written declaration from Rideau Hall.

The bill becomes effective according to the Act’s provisions that stipulate when it will come into force.

Most bills originate in the House of Commons, but Senators also initiate legislation from time to time. In addition, Senators regularly undertake in-depth committee studies on topics of importance to Canada.

Senate proceedings are presided over by the Speaker of the Senate who is appointed by the Prime Minister.  The Leader of the Government in the Senate is also appointed by the Prime Minister, while the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is appointed by the Opposition Leader in the House of Commons.

Almost all Senators sit as a member of either the government or the opposition caucus. Three currently sit as independent Senators. Voting patterns generally follow along party lines, although there is a tradition of more independence in the Senate.

About 750 people support senators in their parliamentary functions and service to Canadians. Some work in senators’ offices, and some work in general administration. Senate Administration is organized in three branches.

Senate committees are often called the lifeblood of the Senate.  Senators spend many hours and days in committee meetings studying legislation clause by clause, or independently inquiring into issues such as health care, rural poverty and national security.  The committees consult widely on matters that come before them, often travelling across Canada to gather the views of a broad cross-section of Canadians.

Standing committees exist for the duration of a session of Parliament. There are currently sixteen standing committees of the Senate.

Read this Senate reference document to learn about how committees function and the role and work of both committee members and staff.

Quick Facts

  • How many Senators are there?

  • How many Senators are women?

  • How many senatorial seats does Alberta have?

  • Who are Alberta’s Senators?

  • How many Senators are in each group?