Backgrounder - Senate Appointments Process


The Senate of Canada plays a fundamental role in the legislative process, providing sober, second thought complementary to the elected House of Commons. The Senate also plays a key role in the representation of regions and minorities.

Under the Constitution, the Governor General has the power to appoint Senators, and by convention this power is exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Constitution specifies the requirements for appointment. The constitutional roles, qualifications and fundamental functions of the Senate will be maintained under the new, non-partisan, merit-based appointment process.

There are currently 19 vacancies in the Senate: one in British Columbia, two in Manitoba, two in New Brunswick, two in Nova Scotia, six in Ontario, one in Prince Edward Island and five in Quebec. One additional vacancy is expected to arise in August 2016, with the retirement of a Quebec senator.

The Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments

The Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments (IABSA) has been established to provide the Prime Minister with non-binding recommendations for Senate appointments. It is an independent and non-partisan body, guided by merit-based criteria in evaluating all candidates. The criteria are set out on the IABSA website.

Each IABSA is composed of five members appointed by the Prime Minister. This includes three federal members serving for two-year terms, one of which is appointed as Chair. The initial appointments vary in length to permit the staggering of terms in the future: the Chair has been appointed for 30 months, and the other two permanent members for terms of 24 and 18 months respectively.

The federal members are joined by two ad hoc members, each serving for one-year terms, from the province or territory of the vacancy(ies) to be filled. The terms of Advisory Board members may be renewed. Members have knowledge of the legislative process and the Senate’s role, are able to conduct their work in a non-partisan manner, and to the extent possible, are representative of Canadian society.


The new appointments process has been implemented in two phases. To reduce partisanship and increase provincial representation in the Senate in the early stages of the new Parliament, a transitional process was established and provided advice to the Prime Minister on the selection of seven new appointees from the provinces with the most vacancies: two from Manitoba, three from Ontario, and two from Quebec. These initial appointments were made earlier this year and were based on recommendations submitted to the Prime Minister. The nominations followed broad consultations between the IABSA and Canadian organizations, including national/local community and Indigenous organizations. A report on the transitional process is available on the IABSA website.

As in the transitional process, the IABSA will be asked to submit a public report on the first cycle of the permanent process within three months of providing their recommendations to the Prime Minister. The report will include information on the execution of the terms of reference, the costs relating to the IABSA’s activities and statistics relating to the applications received. As well, the report may provide recommendations for improvements to the process.

First Cycle of the Permanent Process

The 20 current and upcoming vacancies will be filled later in 2016 as part of the first cycle of the permanent process. Enhancements have been implemented to the appointments process, including an open, online application process that will allow individual Canadians to apply for appointment to the Senate.

Senators from Quebec must represent one of 24 electoral divisions. The first cycle of the permanent process will fill positions in the following divisions: Bedford, De la Vallière, Gulf, the Laurentides, Rougemont and Stadacona.

Individual Canadians and organizations can quickly and easily share information about the Senate appointment process with potential applicants by e-mail or on social media using the “Share” button on the website.

Potential applicants should carefully review the assessment criteria and consider how well they meet each of the requirements. Preparing an application will take some time and effort; therefore, applicants are encouraged to start on their applications as early as possible. Applicants must submit an application form, curriculum vitae, three reference letters and a Background Check Consent Form for their application to be complete.

Applications will be accepted online during a four week period – from Thursday, July 7, 2016 until 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on Thursday, August 4, 2016. Detailed information on how to apply is provided on the IABSA website.

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