Representative of the Government in the Senate

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Representative of the Government in the Senate
Peter Harder

since 18 March 2016
Style The Honourable
Member of Senate of Canada
Cabinet of Canada (often, though not always)
Reports to Prime Minister of Canada
Appointer Prime Minister of Canada[1]
Formation 1 July 1867
First holder Alexander Campbell
Salary $226,900 (CAD)
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The Representative of the Government in the Senate (French: Représentant du gouvernement au Sénat) is the independent member of the Senate of Canada who chiefly is responsible for introducing, promoting, and defending the government's bills in the Senate after they are passed by the House of Commons of Canada. The representative is appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada.

The position replaces the Leader of the Government in the Senate (French: Leader du gouvernement au Sénat), which from 1867–2015 was a senator who was a member of the governing party and led the government side in the Canadian Senate (whether or not that party held a majority in the Senate). The old position had almost always been held by a cabinet minister, except briefly in 1926, from 1958–63 and since 2013. Due to current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's 2014 decision to remove senators from the Liberal Party of Canada caucus, leaving them all effectively sitting as independent senators, Trudeau named a Representative of the Government in the Senate in the 42nd Canadian Parliament rather than a government leader.[2] The situation has created some uncertainty about how the Senate will function, and how government legislation will be brought to the Senate.[2] Retired civil servant Peter Harder was named to the position on March 18, 2016.[3][4]

The government leader's counterpart on the Opposition benches is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who continues to be a member of the opposition political party.


Early Canadian cabinets included several senators who would be answerable to the Senate for government actions, one of whom would serve as de facto government leader in the Senate. In the nineteenth century, it was not considered unusual for a senator to be Prime Minister. Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott and Sir Mackenzie Bowell served as prime minister from the Senate. Abbott and Bowell both found it difficult to lead the government from the Senate, however, and over time, the perceived legitimacy of the Senate declined. Today, it is rare for senators to occupy prominent positions in cabinet. From 1935 on, it was typical for a cabinet to have only one senator who would have the position of minister without portfolio alongside the position of leader of the government in the Senate.

There have been a few rare occasions when the leader of the government in the Senate was not included in the cabinet by virtue of a separate ministerial appointment, such as William Benjamin Ross who served in the position in 1926, and Walter Morley Aseltine and Alfred Johnson Brooks who were not included in the cabinets of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker from 1958-1963. In 1968, the position of leader of the government in the Senate became an official cabinet position in its own right with the appointment of Paul Martin, Sr. (father of Canada's future prime minister, Paul Martin). From July 2013, under prime minister Stephen Harper, the government leader in the Senate was again a non-cabinet minister.

Occasionally, senators still hold senior cabinet positions (other than the leader of the government in the Senate) in order to ensure regional balance in cabinet if the governing party is unable to elect members in a particular region or province, e.g., when the Progressive Conservative Party formed the government under the leadership of Joe Clark in 1979, and when the Liberal Party formed the government under the leadership of Pierre Trudeau in 1980. However, it is usually the case that the leader of the government in the Senate is the sole senator serving in Cabinet.

The responsibilities of the leader of the government in the Senate include:

  1. Planning and managing the government's legislative program in the Senate
  2. Answering all questions for the government during the Senate's Question Period
  3. Maintaining relations with the opposition on all matters concerning Senate activities
  4. Working with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to ensure the effective coordination of the government's legislative programme.

The government side in the Senate is the party that forms the government in the Canadian House of Commons. This means that the government party in the Senate may have fewer seats than the opposition, particularly when a general election results in a new party forming government.

Office holders[edit]


Leader in the Senate Term of office Prime Minister (Ministry) Party
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Alexander Campbell (1st time) July 1, 1867 November 5, 1873 Sir John A. Macdonald (1) Liberal-Conservative
Luc Letellier de St-Just November 5, 1873 December 14, 1876 Alexander Mackenzie (2) Liberal
Sir Richard William Scott (1st time) December 14, 1876 October 7, 1878
Alexander Campbell (2nd time) October 18, 1878 January 26, 1887 Sir John A. Macdonald (3) Conservative
Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott May 12, 1887 6 June 1891
16 June 1891 October 30, 1893 Himself (4)
Sir Mackenzie Bowell October 31, 1893 December 12, 1894 Sir John Thompson (5)
December 21, 1894 April 27, 1896 Himself (6)
April 27, 1896 August 19, 1896 Sir Charles Tupper (7)
Sir Oliver Mowat August 19, 1896 November 18, 1897 Sir Wilfrid Laurier (8) Liberal
David Mills November 18, 1897 February 7, 1902
Sir Richard William Scott (2nd time) December 14, 1902 1908
Sir Richard John Cartwright 1909 October 6, 1911
Sir James Alexander Lougheed October 10, 1911 October 12, 1917 Sir Robert Borden (9/10) Conservative
October 12, 1917 10 July 1920 Unionist Party
10 July 1920 December 28, 1921 Arthur Meighen (11) Conservative
Raoul Dandurand (1st time) December 29, 1921 June 28, 1926 William Lyon Mackenzie King (12) Liberal
William Benjamin Ross[n 1] June 28, 1926 September 24, 1926 Arthur Meighen (13) Conservative
Raoul Dandurand (2nd time) September 25, 1926 August 6, 1930 William Lyon Mackenzie King (14) Liberal
Wellington Bartley Willoughby August 7, 1930 February 3, 1932 R. B. Bennett (15) Conservative
Arthur Meighen February 3, 1932 October 22, 1935
Raoul Dandurand (3rd time) October 23, 1935 March 11, 1942 William Lyon Mackenzie King (16) Liberal
James Horace King May 26, 1942 August 24, 1945
Wishart McLea Robertson August 24, 1945 November 15, 1948
November 15, 1948 October 14, 1953 Louis St. Laurent (17)
William Ross Macdonald (1st time) October 14, 1953 June 20, 1957
John Thomas Haig October 9, 1957 May 11, 1958 John Diefenbaker (18) Progressive Conservative
Walter Morley Aseltine[n 1] May 12, 1958 August 31, 1962
Alfred Johnson Brooks[n 1] August 31, 1962 April 21, 1963
William Ross Macdonald (2nd time) April 22, 1963 February 2, 1964 Lester B. Pearson (19) Liberal
John Joseph Connolly February 3, 1964 April 20, 1968
  Paul Joseph James Martin[n 2] April 20, 1968 August 7, 1974 Pierre Trudeau (20)
Ray Perrault (1st time) August 8, 1974 June 3, 1979
Jacques Flynn June 4, 1979 March 2, 1980 Joe Clark (21) Progressive Conservative
Ray Perrault (2nd time) March 3, 1980 September 29, 1982 Pierre Trudeau (22) Liberal
Bud Olson September 30, 1982 June 29, 1984
Allan MacEachen June 30, 1984 September 16, 1984 John Turner (23)
Dufferin Roblin September 17, 1984 June 29, 1986 Brian Mulroney (24) Progressive Conservative
Lowell Murray June 30, 1986 June 24, 1993
June 24, 1993 November 3, 1993 Kim Campbell (25)
Joyce Fairbairn November 4, 1993 June 10, 1997 Jean Chrétien (26) Liberal
Alasdair Bernard Graham June 11, 1997 October 3, 1999
J. Bernard Boudreau October 4, 1999 January 8, 2001
Sharon Carstairs January 9, 2001 December 11, 2003
Jack Austin December 12, 2003 February 6, 2006 Paul Martin (27)
Marjory LeBreton February 6, 2006 July 14, 2013 Stephen Harper (28) Conservative
Claude Carignan[n 1] August 20, 2013 November 3, 2015
Representative of the Government in the Senate
Peter Harder[n 1] March 18, 2016 present Justin Trudeau (29) Non-affiliated[n 3]
  1. ^ a b c d e Not in the Cabinet
  2. ^ Until April 1, 1969, Martin was, as had been typical, Minister without portfolio while holding the unofficial post of leader of the government in the Senate. Thereafter, Leader of the Government in the Senate became an official ministerial office.
  3. ^ Harder sits as a non-affiliated senator but represents the Liberal government for the purposes of introducing legislation and acting as a liaison.


See also[edit]