Procedural Notes




In order to understand the operations of the Senate, it is helpful to know how Senate sittings are scheduled and organized.

Sitting Times

The Senate normally meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in the afternoon. The Senate may also meet on Mondays and Fridays. Although the Rules state that Monday sittings start at 2 p.m., it is more common for them to actually start at a later time, typically at 6 p.m., by order of the Senate. Tuesday and Wednesday sittings start at 2 p.m. and, in the past few years, sittings on Thursdays have, by order of the Senate, started at 1:30 p.m. Friday sittings start at 9 a.m. or at a later time ordered by the Senate.  

Although the Senate may sit until midnight on Mondays through Thursdays and until 4 p.m. on Fridays, the usual practice is for the Senate to sit several hours to complete its work, and then adjourn to permit committees to meet. Committees are not permitted to meet while the Senate is sitting, but the sittings of the Senate are usually arranged to give them a reasonable amount of time to carry out their work.[i] For instance, in the past few years, a sessional order has set an early adjournment time for Wednesdays to allow committees to meet.

If the Senate is still sitting at 6 p.m., the Rules of the Senate require that the sitting be suspended until 8 p.m. to allow for dinner.[ii] If at 6 p.m. only a small amount of business remains, the Senate may continue to sit, with leave, until business is finished.

The Senate does not have a fixed calendar of sitting days throughout the year, but does tend to follow the sitting cycle of the House of Commons, with a few additional sittings before the winter and summer adjournments.

Start of a Sitting

The bells to call the senators to the chamber ring for fifteen minutes before the time set for the scheduled meeting. The Speaker enters the Senate Chamber at the time the sitting is set to start whether a quorum is present or not. Fifteen senators, including the Speaker, constitute a quorum[iii]. Once a quorum is present, the bells stop ringing and the Speaker reads the prayers.[iv]

Order of Business of a Sitting

The organization of business in the Senate follows the accepted parliamentary principle that the parliamentarians, in this case senators, should be given adequate notice of business that they will be asked to consider. This is done by means of notices of motions and notices of inquiries, and by placing newly-introduced bills and new committee reports on the Order Paper for a future sitting. The Order Paper and Notice Paper is the Senate’s agenda for its sittings, and includes all items that could be considered at a particular sitting, or at future sittings.

A typical sitting of the Senate is structured in the following order:[v]

  • Senators’ Statements
  • Routine Proceedings
  • Question Period
  • Delayed Answers
  • Orders of the Day
  • Items on the Notice Paper:
    • Notices of Motions
    • Notices of Inquiries

Senators’ Statements [vi]

After prayers, the Speaker calls for Senators’ Statements, at which time a senator may bring any matter of public interest to the attention of the Senate and speak for a maximum of three minutes. A period of fifteen minutes is allowed for Senators’ Statements, unless the Senate gives leave for an extension. At the request of the Leader of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition or the leader or facilitator of any other recognized party or recognized parliamentary group, the time for Senators’ Statements may be extended by fifteen minutes to pay tribute to a senator or former senator. The senator to whom tribute has been paid can respond afterwards.[vii]

Routine Proceedings

Routine Proceedings provide an opportunity for the government and individual senators to present bills and committee reports to the Senate, and to give notice of items that they are proposing for consideration. In addition, documents and reports that do not require consideration by the Senate may be tabled for information purposes.

Debate is not permitted during Routine Proceedings unless leave is given by the Senate. Routine Proceedings lasts a maximum of thirty minutes and is comprised of the following items:[viii]

  1. Tabling of Documents
  2. Presenting or Tabling Reports from Committees
  3. Government Notices of Motions
  4. Government Notices of Inquiries
  5. Introduction and First Reading of Government Bills
  6. Introduction and First Reading of Senate Public Bills
  7. First Reading of Commons Public Bills
  8. Reading of Petitions for Private Bills
  9. Introduction and First Reading of Private Bills
  10. Tabling of Reports from Interparliamentary Delegations
  11. Notices of Motions
  12. Notices of Inquiries
  13. Tabling of Petitions

Question Period [ix]

During Question Period, which lasts thirty minutes, senators may ask a question of:

  • the Leader of the Government about any matter relating to public affairs;
  • any senator who is a minister about his or her ministerial responsibilities; or
  • the chair of a committee about the activities of the committee.

Delayed Answers [x]

Delayed answers are written responses tabled in the Senate by the government to either:

  • senators’ oral questions requiring more detail than it was possible to provide during Question Period; or
  • senators’ written questions appearing on the Order Paper and Notice Paper.

Orders of the Day

The Orders of the Day constitute the agenda of a Senate sitting and list the items which the Senate has ordered for consideration. Items on the Orders of the Day for each sitting day are printed in the Order Paper and Notice Paper. With certain exceptions, such as an emergency debate or a question of privilege, the Senate cannot consider and debate an item unless it is on the Order Paper and Notice Paper.

The Orders of the Day are divided into two broad categories: Government Business and Other Business. Each of these categories is further divided as follows:

Government Business

  • Bills – Messages from the House of Commons
  • Bills – Third Reading
  • Bills – Reports of Committees
  • Bills – Second Reading
  • Reports of Committees – Other
  • Motions
  • Inquiries
  • Other

Other Business

  • Bills – Messages from the House of Commons
  • Senate Public Bills – Third Reading
  • Commons Public Bills – Third Reading
  • Private Bills – Third Reading
  • Senate Public Bills – Reports of Committees
  • Commons Public Bills – Reports of Committees
  • Private Bills – Reports of Committees
  • Senate Public Bills – Second Reading
  • Commons Public Bills – Second Reading
  • Private Bills – Second Reading
  • Reports of Committees – Other
  • Motions
  • Inquiries
  • Other

Government Business has priority over all other regular business of the Senate, and the Leader of the Government or the deputy leader may, without leave, change the order in which items of Government Business are to be considered.[xi] The “Other Business” section contains all items such as bills, committee reports, motions and inquiries that are non-governmental initiatives. Once the Senate has gone past an item it cannot return to it without leave. 

Notice Paper

The Notice Paper contains motions and inquiries of individual senators for which notice has been given, but debate has not started. Once the Senate has completed the Orders of the Day, the Speaker will call Motions and Inquiries in the order that they are listed on the Notice Paper. When the Speaker calls an inquiry or motion, the senator who has given notice of the item may speak to it or postpone debate to another sitting by asking that the item “stand.” Once a senator has spoken on an inquiry or a motion and the debate is adjourned, the item is placed on the Order Paper under the appropriate heading of Other Business. 

A notice of motion or of inquiry may be withdrawn by the senator who has given the notice before it is spoken to or moved.[xii] However, once debate on an inquiry has started or a motion has been moved, it may only be withdrawn with leave of the Senate.[xiii]

The fifteen day rule and consideration of “Other Business” and items on the Notice Paper[xiv]

An item on the Order Paper under “Other Business” or on the Notice Paper that has been called and not been considered during fifteen consecutive sitting days is dropped from the Order Paper and Notice Paper. This means that some activity on the item must happen during the fifteen-day period for the item to remain on the Order Paper. A senator who has started to speak on an item of Other Business or any motion or inquiry on the Notice Paper can only adjourn debate once in his or her name for the balance of time remaining.[xv]

Chamber Publications

Three publications record the work of the Senate:

  • The Order Paper and Notice Paper contains the agenda for the sitting and lists the business before the Senate. It is printed after each sitting for the following sitting;
  • The Journals of the Senate are the permanent official record of all the proceedings and decisions of sittings of the Senate. They are available in both languages the day after the sitting.
  • The Debates of the Senate (Hansard) are a substantially verbatim transcript of everything said during a sitting of the Senate, edited to reduce repetition or to increase clarity. Like the Journals, they are available in both languages the day after the sitting.

For additional information on the order of business
Senate Procedure in Practice (Chapter 4)

For additional information on other points covered in this note
Senate Procedural Note No. 5, Legislative Process
Senate Procedural Note No. 9, The Speaker of the Senate
Senate Procedural Note No. 13, Chamber Documents
Senate Procedural Note No. 14, Leave of the Senate

[i] Rule 12-18(1).
[ii] Rule 3-3(1).
[iii] Rule 3-7(1).
[iv] Rule 4-1.
[v] Variations to this outline of a typical sitting are possible, subject to the Rules and to decisions of the Senate.
[vi] Rule 4-2.
[vii] Rule 4-3.
[viii] Rule 4-5.
[ix] Rules 4-7, 4-8 and 4-9.
[x] Rules 4-9 and 4-10.
[xi] Rules 4-13(1) and 4-13(3).
[xii] Rule 5-10(2). 
[xiii] Rule 5-10(1).
[xiv] Rule 4-15(2).
[xv] Rule 4-15(3).

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