At the time this article was published
Gary W. O'Brien was Chief of English Minutes and Journals for the Senate.
The Order Papers of both The Senate and The
House of Commons can be somewhat bewildering to all but the most erudite
experts. The Senate Order Paper is perhaps less so. It is not as lengthy nor is
business arranged in as complicated a manner. Whereas procedure in the Commons
has undergone considerable reform since 1867, Senate practice has remained basically
unchanged. Thus, the Senate Order Paper reflects the more classical role of
Parliament where there is no distinction between government and private
member's orders and where there are comparatively few items of business on the
There is perhaps no more important
parliamentary document than the Order Paper. Without it a legislative chamber
could not hold orderly deliberations. The Order Paper tells members what the
business will be on a particular sitting day, when items are to be called, and
what has precedence. Mastering of the Order Paper is the key to understanding
how that House functions.
The Senate Order Paper, like Senate
procedure in general, was originally modelled after that of the British House
of Lords. As in the Lords, it is not published as a separate document, but is
attached to the Minutes of the Proceedings. Unlike the Commons Order Paper,
there are no "maxi" or mini" versions. The daily order of
business does not change and since all items of business are usually dealt with
in some way every day, they all must be published on a daily basis.
In the early years of Confederation, the
daily routine consisted of: Bringing up Petitions, Reading Petitions,
Presenting Reports of Committees, Notices of Motions, Motions and Orders of the
Day. In 1906 two new categories were added: Notices of Inquiries and Inquiries.
It was only in 1969 the rules were amended to provide for an oral question
period. In 1973 the order of business was altered and is now arranged as
follows: Presentation of Petitions, Reading of Petitions, Reports of
Committees, Notices of Inquiries, Notices of Motions, Question Period, Orders
of the Day, Inquiries and Motions. Since different kinds of proceedings take
place under different headings and since some proceedings are unique to the
Senate, each class of business will be explained.
Presentation and Reading of Petitions
These two headings reflect an earlier
parliamentary era when petitions played an important role in proceedings of the
Senate. In the first two Parliaments (18671873), for example, around 1,700
petitions were presented. Since 1974, the average per session has been about
five. After a petition is presented, it is examined as to form and read in the
chamber the following day.
Two additional proceedings take place under
this heading. It is here where documents are tabled and bills introduced. All
documents which by statutory authority must be laid before Parliament are
tabled in both the Commons and the Senate. Occasionally, some government
documents, especially those pertaining to a ministry presided over by a
Minister who is in the Senate, are tabled only in the Senate. An interesting
feature of Senate practice is that non-Cabinet ministers, such as Deputy Leader
of the Government or a senator acting on behalf of the Leader of the
Government, may table documents.
Rule 55(1) of the Senate Rules states:
"A Senator may as of right present a bill to the Senate." No notice
is necessary. The bill is given first reading and printed automatically. Senate
bills were originally given letters. Those following Bill "Z" were
assigned a double letter, for example Bill "AA", Bill "BB",
etc. Commons bills were identified as "Bill from Commons". It was not
until 1876 that bills retained in the Senate the same number that they had in
the Commons. This system remained until 1958, when Senate bills began to be
identified numerically and divorce bills were distinguished from non-divorce
bills. The former were numbered Bill SD-1, Bill S-2; the latter Bill S-1, Bill
S-2, etc. Commons bills also changed and they were now known as Bill C-1, Bill
There have been no "SD" bills
since the 1964-65 session, when the proclamation of the Dissolution and
Annulment of Marriages Act established that divorce cases would proceed through
the Senate by resolution, not by bill. Unlike in the Commons, there are no
numbers reserved specifically for government, private members' or private
bills. Whatever their type, bills are numbered sequentially as they are presented.
Reports of Committees
Reports may be presented by the Committee
Chairman or by a senator designated by the Chairman. Most are printed in both
the Minutes of the Proceedings and in the Debates. Some reports, especially
those dealing with the study of special subject-matter, are for the information
of the Senate only, and are not printed in either the Minutes or the Debates.
After a report is presented, a Senator may
move that it be placed on the Orders of the Day for consideration at the next
sitting of the Senate or at a future sitting. When the order of the day is
called at that sitting, a motion may be moved to adopt the report or it can be
considered without a formal motion to that effect. When the debate on a report
which is merely considered is completed, the Speaker announces that the order
has been debated.
Notices of Inquiries and Inquiries
An inquiry is not a formal motion but merely
a device whereby a member may call the attention of the Senate to a certain
matter, such as the political situation in a foreign country, industrial
problems or government policies. Since no question is being submitted to the
House for a decision, inquiries encourage a less partisan debate and sometimes
result in the establishment of a committee on the subject-matter of the inquiry
or the introduction of legislation. This proceeding appears to be unique to the
Senate as it is not found in the Commons nor is it like the inquiries of the
British Lords. Sir John Bourinot, in the 1884 edition of his book Parliamentary
Procedure and Practice, commented upon the peculiarity of Senate inquiries:
In the Senate the discussion is sometimes
permitted to run over several days on such an inquiry, which is not customary
in the Lords, since a debate on a mere question cannot be adjourned. Neither is
any mention made in the Lords' journal of a debate on such an inquiry as it is
not in the nature of a motion ... The practice is, in the Lords, to ask a
question and at the same time, to move formally for papers, and then the motion
appears in the journals.
Originally inquiries were written questions.
The were placed on the Order Paper under the heading "Notices of'
Motions". It was not until 1877 that the practice of using an inquiry to
call the attention of the Senate to a matter was begun. Such inquiries were al
ways followed by a question to the Government. It I interesting to note that in
1891 the Speaker ruled out o order an inquiry which drew the attention of the
House to a subject but did not ask a question. The Speaker claimed "A practice
of that kind would, in my opinion be abusive, against the rule of this House
and against parliamentary practice." Not until the late 1930's did i
become the established practice to not follow such inquiries with questions.
Until 1977, Senators placed written
questions on the Order Paper under the heading of Inquiries". Such
questions had to be asked orally after due notice in this House and were
answered orally. In 1977, the Senate, adopted a system whereby questions could
be sent in writing to the Clerk of the Senate to be placed on the Order Paper
until answered. When a response came, ' was to be sent privately to the Senator
and printed in the Debates.
Notices of inquiries must be given orally
and ii writing and are placed on the Order Paper under the heading
"Inquiries". When debate has terminated, the Minutes record that the
inquiry has been debated.
Notices of Motions and Motions
Like inquiries, notices of motions must be
given orally and in writing. Notice varies with the kind of motion presented.
For example, two day's notice is needed for the appointment of a special
committee while only on day's notice is needed for the appointment of a
standing committee. Most substantive motions require one day' notice. Once
notice is given, it is placed on the Order Paper under the heading
Prior to 1969, questions could be asked when
a document was tabled or just before the Orders of the Day were read but
compared to today's proceedings, very few oral questions were asked. The rules
adopted in 1969 stipulated that questions could be asked only of the Leader of
the Government. In 1970 the rules were changed so. that questions could be
asked of any Senator who is a minister relating to his responsibilities and of
a committee chairman relating to the activities of that committee. There is no
time limit to oral question period.
Orders of the Day
An order of the day is any matter which has
been appointed by an order of the Senate for consideration on a particular day.
It is this section of the Order Paper which contrasts so greatly with that of
the House of Commons. Since government orders do not have priority over private
members' orders, there is no need to divide them into separate categories.
There is also no need to classify items of business, such as public bills,
private bills, etc., since the volume of business before the Senate is seldom
great. In the Commons, due to the tremendous amount of business before it, the
standing orders provide for changes in the daily order of business to ensure
that different kinds of orders will be called in the course of a sitting week.
In the Senate, all items can be reached during a sitting. Finally, in the
Senate, orders of the day are separated from notices and have priority over
them. In the Commons, Notices of Motions and Notices of Motions (Papers) may be
intermingled with orders of the day. Such an arrangement is necessary in the
Commons since the standing orders state that once debate on such business is
adjourned or interrupted, they drop to the foot of the list on the Order Paper
under those headings. Such a rule does not exist in the Senate.
Rule 21 states the general precedence of
business. A more detailed description of the arrangement of Senate orders of
the day is as follows:
1) Orders given priority by special order of
2) Third reading of bills as follows:
a) Orders which had been debated on the
previous sitting and the debate adjourned.
b) Orders not reached the previous sitting
day (i.e. the Order of the Day had not been read). This situation may occur,
for example, if the Senate had to suddenly adjourn.
c) Orders designated for consideration on a
specific sitting and not appearing on the Orders of the Day until that sitting.
Senators will sometimes request that an order be considered, not on the next
sitting day but on some future sitting. The order is then carried on the Order
Paper after the Orders of the Day with a note specifying the date when it will
be considered. On that day, it is then placed on the Orders of the Day.
d) New orders which are on the Orders of the
Day for the first time at that stage.
e) Orders which had been stood on the
3) Remaining stages of bills debated the
previous sitting day and debate adjourned. These are the consideration of
reports of' committees which have passed amendments, committee of the whole
stage, second reading stage and the consideration of Commons amendments to
Senate bills. All stages are treated equally. Priority is assigned according to
when the order is dealt with. Orders dealing with the consideration of the
subject-matter of bills are not included in this category.
4) Remaining stages of bills not reached the
previous sitting day (i.e. the Order of the Day had not been read).
5) Remaining stages of bills as follows:
a) Orders designated for consideration on a
specific sitting day and not appearing on the Orders of the Day, until that
b) New orders which are on the Orders of the
Day for the first time at that stage.
c) Orders which had been stood on the
6) Remaining orders not dealing with stages
of bills debated the previous sitting day and debate adjourned. Included in
this category are Inquiries and Motions debated the previous sitting day and
7) Remaining orders not reached the previous
sitting day (i.e. the Order of the Day had not been read).
8) Remaining orders designated for
consideration on a specific sitting day and not appearing on the Orders of the
Day until that sitting.
9) New orders not dealing with stages of
10) Remaining orders stood on the previous
Since priority can change, orders do not
retain the same Order Paper number, as is done in the Commons. The date
preceding the order signifies when it was first placed on the Orders of the Day
or when the debate on the order was first adjourned. The name of the Senator
that follows the order signifies who has adjourned the debate at the previous
sitting, or, if it is a new order, who has originally placed it on the Orders
of the Day.
The business of the Senate is carried out
efficiently. The arrangement of the Order Paper well suits a chamber of 'sober
second thought' which is not inundated by government or private members'
business. A more partisan or politically active Senate would undoubtedly
require some rule changes. Governments would perhaps be forced to ask: for time
restrictions on Question Period and insist that its business have some priority
on the Orders of the Day. Such rule changes do not appear necessary at the
moment since government and opposition show a remarkable degree of co-operation
and business emanating from both sides of the House is adequately considered.
The procedure followed for the last 114 years for the conduct of business has
served the Senate well.