Senate Modernization

Senate Modernization

The Senate of Canada has taken decisive action in recent years to amend its existing rules and to implement new measures as part of its commitment to operate with the utmost transparency, efficiency and accountability.

Furthermore, the Senate is continuing to review its rules and procedures to ensure it meets the highest standards of openness and effectiveness. Canadians expect no less.

Action taken

The Senate recently implemented a new and more detailed proactive expense disclosure model. This new model will be in effect for the next quarterly expense report.

Senators have been proactively disclosing expenses online since 2010. However, this new model will bring uniformity, clarity and increased detail and transparency to that practice.

The Senate has also made several rule changes and clarifications governing senators’ expenses. These include:

  • Requiring proof of provincial residence (each year, senators must sign a declaration of residency and provide supporting documentation in the form of a provincial health card, driver's licence or assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency),
  • Adopting definitions of “National Capital accommodation” and “provincial residence,”
  • Tightening expense provision rules pertaining to procurement, hospitality, employee contracts and travel.

In early 2016, the Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration made the decision to begin holding all meetings in public, except when personnel matters are being discussed. This level of openness is unmatched by the House of Commons.

In May 2015, the Senate implemented the Dispute Resolution Process, an independent, arm’s length process to ensure Senators are not sitting in judgement of themselves and each other on administrative matters such as expenses. The Dispute Resolution Process includes an independent arbitration mechanism with highly-regarded former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie adjudicating.

In June 2014, the Senate adopted a new Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code that is considered to be among the toughest in the Commonwealth. It contains clear processes to deal with breaches and it is enforced by the independent Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, which was established in 2005. Lyse Ricard is the current Senate Ethics Officer.

In June 2013, the Senate invited the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenditures between April 2011 and April 2013, including Senators’ expenses. After an exhaustive two-year process, the Auditor General delivered a report in 2015 that has been used as a resource in the Senate’s modernization efforts.

In June 2012, the Senate Travel Policy was adopted. This united a number of different guidelines into one clear, central policy. Amendments have been made requiring specific details about the purpose of travel and restricting per diems paid for stays in the National Capital Region.

Senators have also completely transformed the way in which they communicate with Canadians about the history of the Senate, the work of Senators and the role of the Senate in Canada’s Parliament.  Through the new Subcommittee on Communications, Senators direct and contribute to the efforts of the new Communications Directorate.

Under the new approach, the Senate is engaging Canadians on social media platforms and posting content about senators and their work on the new digital magazine called SenCAPlus.

In addition, the adoption of new media relations processes allows the Senate to provide answers more promptly and efficiently.

The Senate’s Communications Directorate has been commended by members of the media and the general public for taking huge leaps forward in communicating with Canadians about what’s going on in the Senate. 

Next steps

The Senate is conducting a full review of the Senate Administrative Rules and is also considering further oversight measures similar to those that can be found in the Senate's independent Dispute Resolution Process and the independent Office of the Senate Ethics Officer.

The Senate will continue to update Canadians on the actions taken to ensure it is at all times an exemplary legislature prized for its relevance, effectiveness and accountability.