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. The Rules of the Senate govern the “when” and “how” of sessions. Typically, the full Senate sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but it will also sit on Mondays and Fridays if there are urgent matters to be considered.
In the Senate Chamber, Senators table documents, discuss committee reports and public policy issues and debate laws. In Question Period, they ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate about Government actions and policies or request more information about public matters. Senators’ debates can be as heated and passionate as those of members of the House of Commons, but they 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. Senators can launch debates on subjects important to the public or ask a Senate committee to explore the matter further, sometimes in high-visibility meetings across the country.
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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.
Most Senators are members of a political party and attend caucus meetings every week. In addition to their 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 groups of 9 to 15 Senators examine legislation and conduct studies into public policy matters. They also examine the Government’s spending proposals, known as the Estimates, and scrutinize new or amended regulations.
During the course of a study, a Senate committee can hold hearings anywhere in Canada. It may arrange for ministers, government officials, experts, organizations and private citizens to appear and answer questions. It can also call for papers and records to be produced.
At the end of a study, the committee submits a report to the Senate with recommendations for action. If it is reporting on a public policy matter (known informally as a special study), the report will usually include recommendations for the federal government to improve policy. If it is reporting on a bill, it will recommend that the Senate pass the bill as it is, pass it with specific amendments or, rarely, not proceed any further with it.
Each permanent or standing Senate committee has its own area of expertise, such as foreign affairs and international trade; banking, trade and commerce; aboriginal peoples; transport and communications; and social affairs, science and technology. The Senate’s busiest committee handles legal and constitutional affairs.