What is the Senate?
Examining and revising legislation, investigating national issues and representing regional, provincial and minority interests — these are important functions in a modern democracy. They are also the duties of Canada’s Senate. Senators represent, investigate, deliberate and legislate.
For over 140 years senators have been working on behalf of all Canadians, in both official languages, to perform their role in providing an effective national parliament.
At the Quebec Conference of 1864, the founders of Confederation worked out a blueprint for the new country’s Constitution. They agreed to model our legislatures along the lines of Westminster in Great Britain, but adapted to Canadian society. The new national Parliament would have a mandate to make laws for the “peace, order and good government” of Canada. It would be composed of the Sovereign, an appointed upper house for the regions called the Senate, and an elected lower house — the House of Commons
The founders knew that Canada’s Parliament would need two houses to make sure that legislation received careful consideration. They gave the Senate legislative powers similar to those of the House of Commons, but anticipated a very different role for it. The Senate was to be, in the words of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, a place of “sober second thought.”
The founders spelled out the constitution and responsibilities of Parliament, and of the Senate within Parliament, in the law they called the British North America Act. We now call that law the Constitution Act, 1867.
Today, Canada’s Senate consists of 105 senators from a wide variety of backgrounds and from every province and territory. Its membership is about one-third the size of that of the House of Commons, and it operates at about one-fifth of the cost. Senators consult in their home provinces and throughout Canada and then gather in Ottawa in order to make their contribution to Canada’s governance.