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We quizzed passersby on Parliament Hill and at the University of Ottawa about their Senate knowledge.
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Pop Quiz Answers
This is the Senate Chamber.
The Senate Chamber is sometimes called the “Red Chamber” because of its colour. It is located at the east end of the Centre Block, the building on Parliament Hill dominated by the Peace Tower.
It is here that senators meet to consider and debate legislation and issues of public policy.
Decorated in red and gold, the Senate Chamber is where the Queen or her representative in Canada, the Governor General, addresses Parliament and gives Royal Assent to bills destined to become law.
It is also the venue for state ceremonies, including the Opening of Parliament, the Speech from the Throne and the installation of a new Governor General.
There are 105 seats in the Senate.
The Senate is composed of 105 members appointed by the Governor General in the name of the Queen and on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Senate was created with regional representation in mind — the Maritime region, Ontario and Quebec each received 24 seats, ensuring each area would have a strong voice in Parliament, regardless of the size of their populations. Over the years, more seats were added to the original 72, giving a voice to new provinces and territories as Canada grew and evolved.
A bill is a proposal to create a new law, or to change or repeal an existing one.
In Canada’s Parliament, bills may originate in either of its two houses — the Senate and the House of Commons.
Most legislation begins in the House of Commons, where bills are assigned the letter “C” and a number (e.g. C-201). Bills that are introduced in the Senate are given the letter “S” and a number (e.g. S-201).
Regardless of where a bill originates, it must be passed by both houses in identical form before it can receive Royal Assent and become law.
The first woman was appointed to the Senate in the 1930s.
Originally, Canada interpreted the definition of “persons” who qualified for appointment to the Senate as excluding women. In late 1929, the women who would become known as the Famous Five — Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby — won the so-called Persons Case, successfully challenging to the part of the Constitution that had prevented women from being appointed to the Senate.
In February 1930, the Honourable Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Senate. Over the course of her 32 years of service, she became the first female committee chair and the first female Canadian delegate to the United Nations.
Wilson’s tenure overlapped with Muriel McQueen Fergusson. Appointed to the Senate in 1953, she became the first female Speaker of the Senate in 1972.
Now, women play key roles in guiding the deliberations of the Senate. The Red Chamber remains a forum for senators to fulfil the vow Muriel McQueen Fergusson made when she first took her place in the chamber: “If I can be of help to women in getting justice, I will.”
The Senate examines all bills passed by the House of Commons, studies their impacts and recommends changes if needed. In effect, senators give proposed legislation a “second thought” before it can become law.
Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, referred to the Senate as the House with the “sober second thought in legislation” during parliamentary debates about the confederation of the British North American provinces.
Today, this function of second thought remains a central role of the Upper Chamber. The Senate studies bills passed in the House of Commons with the aim of strengthening them, and all bills must be passed by both the Senate and the House of Commons in identical form before receiving Royal Assent, and becoming law.
Because senators are not elected, and because they serve until the age of 75, they are able to view legislation from a different perspective than their counterparts in the House of Commons, who must seek re-election every 4 years.
Senate committees play an important role in this process of second thought. When reviewing bills, they call witnesses to testify in order to determine whether the proposed law is appropriate and to explore its potential impacts on different populations within Canada.