A Week in the Senate
Senators sit in session from Monday to Friday, and meet outside the Senate Chamber as often as necessary to take care of business. Senate Rules govern the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of sessions. Typically, the full Senate sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Except in very busy periods, Mondays and Fridays are office and travel days that allow Senators to live in their home provinces among the people they represent.
In the Senate Chamber, Senators spend time each day presenting petitions, tabling documents, discussing committee reports and passing laws. In Question Period, Senators ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate about Government actions and policies or request additional information.
Debates in the Senate differ from those in the House of Commons, where members need to worry about re-election. The debates of Senators can be just as heated and passionate as those of Members of Parliament but tend to be less partisan.
What is little known about the Senate is its ability to respond quickly to national issues, regional concerns and protests. With two days’ notice, Senators can launch debates on subjects important to the public. And, if there is enough support for a specific issue, Senators can strike a committee to explore the matter further in high-visibility meetings across the country, if necessary.
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Daily Routine of Business (DRB)
The following items are part of the Daily Routine of Business in the Senate. No item is accorded a specific time.
- Tabling of Documents
- Presentation of Reports from Standing or Special Committees
- Government Notices of Motions
- Introduction and First Reading of Government Bills
- Introduction and First Reading of Senate Public Bills
- First Reading of Commons Public Bills
- Reading of Petitions for Private Bills
- Introduction and First Reading of Private Bills
- Tabling of Reports from Inter-parliamentary Delegations
- Notices of Motions
- Notices of Inquiries
- Presentation of Petitions
- Question Period
- Delayed Answers
- Orders of the Day*
*Most Senate work is done during the Orders of the Day.
Usually, Senators are members of a political party and attend caucus meetings every week. In addition to the national caucus, political parties hold meetings of the regional caucus, Senate caucus, women’s caucus, etc. If a caucus strikes a committee or task force, that generates its own demand for meetings.
Senate Committees are the workhorses of the Senate. These study groups of 12 to 15 Senators approve or amend legislation. They investigate and make recommendations on policy matters, bills and specific issues referred by the Senate. And, they examine the Government’s spending proposals, known as the Estimates.
Each permanent or standing Senate Committee has its own area of expertise, such as foreign affairs; banking, trade and commerce; legal and constitutional affairs; aboriginal peoples; transport and communications; and social affairs, science and technology. Currently, the Senate’s busiest committee handles legal and constitutional affairs.
In issues relating to legislative change, a Senate Committee may hold fact-finding hearings anywhere in Canada. It may arrange for ministers, government officials, experts, organizations and individual citizens to appear and answer questions. And, it may call for papers and records to be produced. At the end of its study, the Committee submits its amendments to the Senate for consideration, or recommends that a bill be passed without change.