Procedural Notes - Speaker of the Senate




In any legislative chamber, a presiding officer is required to facilitate the conduct of business and maintain order. This is done through the impartial administration of the chamber’s rules and practices. In the Senate, the Speaker is responsible for guiding proceedings and preserving order and decorum during sittings.1 The Speaker is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.2

The Speaker’s position has evolved over time to resemble increasingly the non-partisan role of speakers in other parliaments modeled after Westminster. All senators are entitled to raise points of order and questions of privilege. The Speaker rules on them and may also act on his or her own initiative to preserve order and decorum and to enforce the Rules of the Senate. (For additional information, please refer to Procedural Note number 10 on Decorum, Procedural Note number 11 on Points of Order, and Procedural Note number 12 on Parliamentary Privilege.) The Speaker also has the authority to suspend a sitting for a maximum period of three hours in cases of grave disorder.3

Each sitting day begins when the Speaker enters the Senate and reads the prayers. The sitting concludes when the Speaker announces that the Senate has adjourned. The Speaker calls out the headings during Routine Proceedings as well as any items on the Notice Paper, recognizes senators wishing to speak, puts questions to a vote and announces the results of voice votes and recorded votes. The Speaker also reads messages from the Governor General and the House of Commons, and introduces visitors who are in the Senate galleries.4


The Rules of the Senate give the Speaker a number of specific powers in relation to the proceedings of the Senate.


One of the Speaker’s key responsibilities is presiding over debate in the Senate. A senator wishing to speak must be recognized by the Speaker before speaking. In a case where two or more senators rise at the same time to speak, the Speaker will recognize the senator who in his or her opinion rose first.5 

The Speaker also has the duty to ensure that every senator who wishes to speak in a debate has the opportunity to do so before the right of final reply is exercised.6 The Speaker informs senators when time for their intervention has expired and puts a question to a vote once debate has concluded.7

The Speaker may participate in debate, but must leave the chair to do so.8 The Speaker has a deliberative vote and may vote on all questions before the Senate.9 When the Speaker chooses to vote in favour or against a motion, he or she does so before the names of the other senators voting the same way are called out. In no case can the Speaker break a tie vote. (For additional information, please refer to Procedural Note number 4).


When a point of order is raised, the Speaker hears debate on the issue and determines when sufficient argument has been made to decide the matter.10 The Speaker will then give a ruling either immediately or at a subsequent sitting. All decisions of the Speaker may be appealed with the exception of those relating to the expiry of speaking times and the results of a voice vote if no request for a standing vote is made.11 In the case of both points of order and questions of privilege the Speaker can either deliver a decision immediately or take the matter under advisement.12


When a senator has raised a question of privilege under the processes established under Chapter 13 of the Rules, the Speaker determines whether or not a prima facie question of privilege has been established. If the Speaker rules favourably, the Senate can then debate and decide on a motion to take action or to refer the matter to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament for investigation and report.


The Speaker’s role in a request for an emergency debate is to decide whether a matter raised by a senator is of urgent public importance as defined by the Rules.  When a senator has asked to hold an emergency debate, the Speaker allows a maximum of fifteen minutes of debate prior to deciding whether the matter raised is of urgent public importance.13  


The Speaker may disallow a notice if it contains unparliamentary expressions or contravenes a rule or an order of the Senate.14 


The Speaker may, when he or she considers it necessary, order strangers to leave the Senate, including persons in the public galleries.15 A stranger is defined as anyone who is not a senator or official of the Senate.


During an adjournment of the Senate, if the Speaker is satisfied that it is in the public interest, he or she may recall the Senate for an earlier date than indicated in the adjournment order.  Conversely, if the Speaker is satisfied that the public interest does not require the Senate to meet on the date specified in the adjournment order, the Speaker, after consulting the Leader of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of any recognized parties may determine a later date for the return of the Senate.


The Speaker of the Senate ranks fourth in the Table of Precedence for Canada, after the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  For this reason, in addition to the duties as presiding officer of the Senate, the Speaker is often called upon to represent the Senate, and sometimes the government, at national and international events. 


The Speaker pro tempore is, in essence, a deputy speaker who presides over sittings whenever the Speaker is absent from the chamber or is unable to perform duties in the chair.  The Speaker pro tempore is nominated through a report presented to the Senate by the Committee of Selection at the beginning of each session of Parliament.   If the both the Speaker and the Speaker pro tempore are absent, a senator chosen by the Senate will preside over sittings and have all the powers of the Speaker.17

In cases where the Speaker has to leave the chair during any part of a sitting or any day, the Speaker may ask another senator to preside as Speaker for the remainder of the day or until the Speaker returns before the end of that sitting day.18

For additional information

Senate Procedure in Practice (Chapter 2 and 4)


1 Rule 2-1(1).
2 Constitution Act, 1867, section 34.
3 Rules 2-1(1) and 2-6.
4 Rules 2-11, 4-1, 4-5, 6-1, 16-1(3) and 16-2(2).
5 Rules 6-1 and 6-4(1).
6 Rule 6-12(3).
7 Rule 6-3(2) and 9-2(1).
8 Rule 2-3 and 2-4(1).
9 Rule 9-1. See also Constitution Act, 1867, section 36.
10 Rule 2-1(1), 2-3 and 2-5.
11 Rule 2-5(3) and 9-2.(2).
12 Rule 2-5(1).
13 Rule 2-1(1) and 8-3.
14 Rule 5-4.
15 Rule 2-13(2) and 2-13(3).
16 Rule 3-6.
17 Rule 2-4 and 12-2(1). See also Parliament of Canada Act, sections 17 to 19.
18 Rule 2-4(1).