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Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament
The Senate of Canada
Canada, K1A 0A4
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About the Committee
The Rules of the Senate authorize the Rules Committee to propose, on its own authority, amendments to the Rules, which govern the deliberative operations of the Senate and its committees and guide the conduct of parliamentary business. The committee may also consider, more broadly, the orders and practices of the Senate and the privileges of Parliament. In addition, this committee examines questions of privilege referred to it.
When the Senate met for the very first time on November 7, 1867, this committee was the first to be formed, as the Select Committee on Orders, Customs and Privileges. It was given the order of reference “to frame Rules, Orders and Regulations for the guidance and government of this House, and of several Officers and Servants connected therewith” (Journals, November 7, 1867, p. 60). The committee presented its first report, being the annexed Rules, Orders and Forms of Proceeding, on December 3, 1867, which was later adopted on December 17, 1867. In sessions following, the rules were again considered and amended by select committees.
In 1968, the Senate appointed a Special Committee on the Rules of the Senate to examine the Rules of the Senate and recommend improvements. In its third report, the committee recommended the establishment of the Standing Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.
Through the revision of the Rules in 1991, the committee was replaced by the Standing Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders. It assumed the function of examining the orders, customs and privileges of the Senate, a function previously performed by the Committee on Privileges.
Finally, in September 2001, the committee presented its fifth report, which amended the Rules of the Senate, changing the committee’s name to the current one in order to better reflect its mandate and responsibilities.
In 2011, the Rules Committee completed a comprehensive revision of the Rules of the Senate. As explained in its report, presented November 16, 2011, one of the main objectives of this revision was to organize the rules more logically.
Another purpose of the revisions was to make certain clarifications to the rules while avoiding significant changes. Many amendments that were made simply reflected current practice. An additional new feature of the revised Rules was the use of constitutional and statutory references as well as lists of exceptions.
The report was studied by the Senate sitting as a Committee of the Whole which sat three consecutive Tuesdays in May and June 2012. During this review, several amendments were made and the revised Rules, as amended, were adopted by the Senate on June 19, 2012, to come into force on September 17, 2012.
Since the Rules Committee’s major rewrite and restructuring of the Rules in 2012, it has continued to propose further changes to improve them, and address the evolving nature of the Senate. Some of these proposals were adopted; others died on the Order Paper after some debate, but without any decision. For example, in November of 2012, the committee presented a report relating to rule changes for leaves of absence and suspensions, which was adopted on December 16, 2012. Another significant report included an examination of the committee system which was tabled in March 2011 but died on the Order Paper upon dissolution.
More recently, the committee has continued to study and recommend further revisions to the Rules. Issues addressed by the committee include rules surrounding the adjournment of debate (March 2013, adopted by the Senate); tributes (March 2013, not adopted); broadcasting of Senate proceedings (December 2016, adopted by the Senate); changes to the Order Paper and Notice Paper (December 2016, adopted by the Senate); recognized parliamentary groups (May 2017, adopted by the Senate); membership of the Committee of Selection (May 2017, adopted by the Senate); and the establishment of the Standing Committee on Audit and Oversight (November 2018, not adopted).
The committee has also taken a leading role in examining matters of parliamentary privilege. This included two major studies of the issue generally: A Matter of Privilege: A Discussion Paper on Canadian Parliamentary Privilege in the 21st Century (June 2015) and Parliamentary Privilege: Then and Now (June 2019). The committee also examined prima facie questions of privilege referred to it, including the unauthorized leak of the Auditor General’s report into Senators’ expenses. The committee reported on this matter in April 2017, with the report subsequently being amended by the Senate in June 2017 and adopted by the Senate.
Selected legislative work
Since the purpose of the Rules Committee is to focus on the practices of the Senate, it does not review legislation as part of its core functions.
For information on the current work of the committee, you may wish to review the orders of reference the committee has received from the Senate, or review the committee proceedings. Detailed information on current work of the committee can be found on the parliamentary website at: https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/rprd.