On the Job with a Senator
There is a lot of variety and go-go-go in the interesting and demanding duties of a Senator’s job. Typically, a Senator participates in sessions in the Senate Chamber, works on committees, holds business meetings, manages an office and travels regularly to the specific region of Canada the Senate member represents.
A Senator devotes part of the week in the Senate Chamber to debates on bills. However the detailed study of each bill happens in committee. That is where some of the most intense and challenging work of a Senator gets done. In committee, Senators spend long hours in meetings, discussions and consultations about the strengths, weaknesses and effects of the proposed bill, and sometimes suggest amendments to the bill. Most Senators sit on two or more committees and serve on sub-committees. With weekly caucus meetings and speech writing for appearances at different events, a Senator’s job is packed with action.
Many Senators develop a field of expertise through their committee work and professional experience and become known among Canadians for the issues they support. People identify Senators with these issues, exchange opinions with them and when in need, turn to them for help. In recent years, Senators have promoted awareness among organizations and individuals, of veterans’ affairs, children’s rights, education, clean air and literacy.
Senators are ombudsmen for Canadians. They handle calls from people looking for information on legislation and help in dealing with the federal government and its bureaucracy.
Internationally, Senators boost Canada’s profile and strengthen its relationships with other countries through their participation in parliamentary associations. In meetings with parliamentarians from around the world, Senators discuss such issues as trade, economics, security, culture and human rights. These exchanges of ideas benefit Senators in their work on committees.
Few Senators live near Ottawa. For most, the week begins with a trip to the capital. Depending on their commitments in Ottawa, Senators occasionally travel on weekends.
Typically, Senators sit a minimum of eight hours weekly in session. As the legislative agenda becomes fully charged, the sittings last longer.
The Senate sits on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. If the volume of business demands, the Senate sits on Mondays at 2:00 p.m. and Fridays as of 9:00 a.m.
The Senate may adopt minor variations in these hours at the beginning of a parliamentary session for its duration. The time for a Monday sitting is often changed by a decision of the Senate just before its adjournment for the weekend.
Senators spend a great deal of time in caucus, committee and business meetings.
As Senators are usually members of a political party, they are expected to attend regular caucus meetings. At a minimum, caucus meetings represent several hours in the typical weekly agenda.
Committee meetings typically are the most important in a Senator’s job. Consequently, attending meetings for two or more committees and preparing for them takes up the bulk of a Senator’s time. Such preparation may include face-to-face discussions with Senate staff and Library of Parliament research officers and experts from government departments.
Individuals, representatives of volunteer organizations, labour unions, industry associations and other groups all want to meet with Senators to promote their own interests. Even the busiest Senator makes time to accommodate some of these requests.
Senators must be efficient administrators to be effective in their role. They need to run regular staff meetings to review administrative and research activities and to plan submissions in the Senate, in committees and in caucus.
Most Senators belong to one or more parliamentary association such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Canada-US Parliamentary Association. They attend meetings, plan conferences and, occasionally, travel to represent the Senate in the activities of the Association.
Senators depend on research for up-to-date information and analysis of legislative and policy issues under discussion in the Senate and in committees. Senators have the staff and resources required to retrieve and check information for them in addition to the research they may do on their own.
Public and Media Engagements
Senators are much in demand for public events and media interviews in Ottawa and at home. Not all requests can be honoured, but all are promptly answered.