The Senate & its Committees


Feminist law reform efforts involving the Senate have become more prominent in recent years. This is largely attributable to changes made to the Senate appointment process, which has resulted in the appointment of more feminist Senators and the creation of the Independent Senators Group. It and other non-partisan groups in the Senate work on issues of common interest and can facilitate cross-party support for engagement in feminist law reform.

This module discusses feminist law reform opportunities at the Senate level, and highlights examples of recent work that feminist Senators, activists, and allies have undertaken at the Senate level to advance a wide range of women’s equality rights issues.

“Despite the gains of the past decades, the struggle for equality continues. Parliamentarians have a responsibility to bring awareness to intersectional women’s issues in the Senate and the House of Commons. Women’s issues are community issues. Women’s issues are parliamentarian’s issues.”

Senators Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard, Marilou McPhedran and Julie Miville-Dechêne

in “The Struggle to Empower Women Continues,” declaration published online at

About the Senate and its Committees



Feminist Senators are critical actors in women’s representation

Elizabeth McCallion

The Struggle to Empower Women Continues

Senators Bernard, McPhedran and Miville-Dechêne

How Senate bills becomes law

Senate of Canada

Participating in a Senate Committee Study: Giving Oral and/or Written Evidence

Senate of Canada


The renewed Canadian Senate

Policy Options | Yonah Martin, Ratna Omidvar, Emmett Macfarlane and F. Leslie Seidle

When the Senate expenses scandal hit in 2012, it left the parties scrambling to reform the deeply unpopular institution. Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper had taken small steps over the past several years, but was hitting major constitutional roadblocks. Justin Trudeau took a different approach: in 2014, he removed the Liberal senators from caucus and asked them to sit as independents. Then in 2016, his government introduced a nonpartisan appointment process.

These attempts to decrease the Senate’s partisanship and increase its legitimacy have had mixed results. On one hand, the Senate is operating less on party lines, with senators from all groups more active in introducing legislative amendments; on the other, the process by which legislation moves through the senate has become much more complex.

Walking us through the effect these changes are having on Canada’s upper chamber is an all-star panel of guests: Yonah Martin, the deputy leader of the opposition in the Senate; Ratna Omidvar, one of the first new senators with the Independent Senators Group; Emmett Macfarlane, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and author of the IRPP study, The Renewed Canadian Senate: Organizational Challenges and Relations with the Government; and Leslie Seidle, director of the IRPP research program Canada’s Changing Federal Community.

For more information on the Senate renewal, check out the IRPP studies by Emmett Macfarlane and Paul G. Thomas, as well as the IRPP’s round-table report.

Length:45 minutes

Engage & Discuss

What are some differences between the Senate and the House of Commons? What aspects of the Senate do you think make it a useful partner in advancing feminist law reform?

Can you identify current Canadian Senators who have been helpful in advancing feminist law reform and might be useful allies for your work?

Can you identify a bill that was initiated in the Senate, or that was amended by the Senate, to address issues of feminist concern?

Additional Resources

For witnesses

Senate of Canada

Important information for witnesses appearing before a Senate committee.

The growing pains of an independent Senate

Maryn Marsland and Sarah Thomas

Towards an Independent Senate: A Progress Report to Canadians

Government Representative Office in the Senate

The Senate evolved to become a chamber with a majority of independent members, with most Senators no longer sitting in a partisan caucus with House of Commons colleagues. Many of the Senate’s legislative contributions during this parliamentary session have flowed from this move to independence.