Rules of Order

Senate debates are governed by Senate’s own bylaws and, when those are silent on an issue, Bourinot’s Rules of Order (4th revised edition; 1995). According to the introduction, the procedures for the House of Commons have been adapted for use by other assemblies and organizations. Senate relies primarily on Part II of Bourinot’s, which outlines Rules and Usages for Assemblies Generally.

The purpose and function of abiding by a set of agreed-upon Rules of Order is to support the opportunity for all members to express their views on the issues before Senate in a respectful way. The rules support the debates to proceed in an orderly and straightforward manner, to ensure that all those who have a right to speak have an opportunity to do so, to allow all views – supporting and dissenting – to be heard and respected, and that decisions are made on clear and substantive grounds.

Senate’s bylaws should be the first point of reference for Senators and Visitors to Senate. 

The information below provides a summary of components of Bourinot's relied on by Senate.  (Two copies of Bourinot's Rules of Order are available at the McLaughlin Library.)


When can one present a motion?


Votes required

Substantive Motion


Main motion to approve an item or action

When reached on the agenda


Simple majority unless otherwise stated in the bylaws



Once moved and seconded, cannot be withdrawn without the consent of the mover and of Senate. When a main motion is under debate, no motion shall be received by the Chair except a motion: to amend, to refer to a standing or a special committee of Senate, to put the question, to proceed to the next item on the agenda, to move into closed session, to continue the meeting beyond three hours from the start time, or to adjourn.


Amendments and Subamendments to Motions

At any time during debate on a main motion, but only one amendment may be on the floor at any one time



Simple majority


Amendments may not negate the sense of the main motion.

Amendments may not include a motion to refer or to otherwise delay a decision.

Amendments must be disposed of before returning to the main motion. An amending motion must be stated as: "that the motion be amended by...". If an amending motion is resolved in the affirmative the Chair shall read the amended motion before calling for further debate or calling the question on the amended main motion. A motion to amend cannot be a motion to “Refer” (see below). When a motion to amend is under debate, no motion shall be received by the Chair except a motion:  to put the question on the amendment, to clear the Visitors' Gallery, to continue Senate beyond the three hours from start time, or to adjourn.


Procedural or Regulatory Motion

To add an item to the agenda at the meeting (see Notice of Motion below)


Request under Approval of the Agenda


2/3 majority voting members present


No other new matter, other than that of privilege, shall be dealt with unless the introduction of such matter is approved by the affirmative vote of 2/3 majority of voting members present.


Amend the bylaws

Usually under the report from the Senate Bylaws and Membership Committee


Yes 2/3 majority of voting members present

Recommendations to amend the Senate bylaws come through the Senate Bylaws and Membership Committee.


Extend Senate meeting time beyond three hours from start time

When appropriate in the agenda


No 2/3 of those voting members present

Extend speaking time beyond 10 minute limit


  No 2/3 of those of voting members present
Refer to a committee:

When appropriate in the agenda, except when an amendment is being debated


Yes, with respect to the terms of the referral Simple majority

A motion to refer to committee shall, until it is decided, preclude all amendments of the main motion. The motion itself is amendable with respect to the terms of the referral.
See note on “Tabling” below.


Proceed to next item on the agenda

Cannot be made while an amendment is on the floor


Yes Simple majority

Used to postpone discussion, and the motion should indicate when the discussion should resume; if no indication given, then the discussion automatically resumes at the next meeting. If defeated, debate continues.  Because this motion can be used to suppress debate, in fairness it should not be moved by someone who has already spoken to the issue.

See note on “Tabling” below.


Move into Closed Session

When reached on the agenda


Yes Simple majority

The affirmative vote of a 2/3 majority of the members present and voting shall be required to carry a motion to accept the confidential items on the agenda. The passage of such a motion shall cause the Visitors to be cleared. Senate will then be in "Closed Session". A motion to clear the Visitors is in order at any time but no member may speak more than five minutes to such a motion. The motion shall require the affirmative vote of a 2/3 majority of voting members present.


To adjourn or terminate a meeting

When appropriate in the agenda, unless such a motion has already been defeated


Yes Simple majority
Notes: See note on Adjournment below.    

Definitions and Explanations

  • Quorum:   1/3 of the membership (including ex-officio members).
  • Tabling: Although you will hear the term “to table” at meetings, it is not part of Canadian parliamentary rules and traditions.  Instead, Senate uses the mechanism, as outlined in Bourinot’s, of “proceed to the next item on the agenda”. See “Refer to committee” or “Proceed to next item on agenda”, above.
  • Reconsideration: A matter that has been decided by Senate cannot be reconsidered before the first regular meeting of the following Senate session unless reconsideration is approved by a 2/3 majority of those voting members present.
  • Notice of Motion: Notices of motion may be received up to 72 hours before a regular Senate meeting or 48 hours after the Senate agenda is circulated, whichever is later (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and University holidays). In the case of special meetings of Senate, all matters for inclusion on the agenda must be delivered to the Secretary at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. See Senate bylaws.
  • Question Period: The question period at each meeting shall be limited to a maximum of thirty minutes. Matters raised by members during the question period shall be confined to topics of significance to Senate as determined by the Chair. A member shall be entitled to only one question and one supplementary question. Questions may be directed to any member of Senate and a question not dealt with due to time constraints shall be answered during the next meeting of Senate. See Senate bylaws.
  • Deliberative Discussion:  A wide ranging discussion of a document or issue to collect the comments and advice of Senate, without a requirement to conclude with a motion or decision.
  • AdjournmentBourinot’s states that “when all the business and purpose of a meeting have been attended to and the Chair is satisfied that there is no other business that should be dealt with, he or she simply announces that the meeting is closed or terminated. The Chair does not need a motion to this effect to be proposed nor any other authority.” There are other circumstances that can require a meeting to be ended or halted – and these are reflected in “Motion to Adjourn”. See pages 57-58 of Bourinot’s.

Speaking at Meetings – Members and Visitors

  • A member who desires to speak during a meeting of Senate shall raise his/her hand, and when acknowledged, stand and address the Chair.
  • Speaking privileges for visitors to meetings of Senate or its standing committees are granted only through a motion duly moved and seconded by members of Senate or its standing committees.  Advance notice of motion must be given to the Secretary.
    • A visitor who has submitted a request and desires to speak during a meeting of Senate shall raise his/her hand, and when acknowledged by the Chair, stand and address the Chair.
    • Visitors during deliberations of Senate shall remain seated except when speaking under the provisions of the bylaws.
  • A member or visitor called to order shall sit down. At the discretion of the Chair, he/she may be permitted to stand and make an explanation. The Chair shall decide the point of order, subject to appeal to Senate whose decision shall be final and made without debate.
  • A member or visitor addressing a meeting of Senate shall restrict his/her remarks to the question in debate or to a point of order.
  • A member or visitor addressing a meeting of Senate shall avoid offensive reference to personalities.
  • No member or visitor addressing a meeting of Senate may be interrupted by another member except upon a point of order.
  • Any member may require the question under discussion to be read at any time during the debate.
  • Except for the mover of a main motion, no member or visitor may speak more than once to a question, unless in explanation of a material part of his/her speech.
  • No member or visitor shall address Senate for more than ten minutes at one time except by leave of a majority of the members present and voting, which leave shall be granted or refused without debate
  • The Chair may take part in a debate on any question, but before doing so he/she shall appoint some other member to act as Chair in the interim.
  • No member may speak to a question after it has been put by the Chair.


  • Only voting members of Senate may vote. Visitors may not vote.
  • Except as otherwise provided for in the Senate bylaws, each question that comes before Senate shall be decided by a show of hands, and the decision shall be declared in favour of the opinion supported by a majority of those present and voting. The Chair shall declare the result of every vote, and the declaration by the Chair shall be evidence of the vote.
  • All motions at a regular or special meeting of Senate or at its standing committees shall be decided by a majority of the votes cast by members of Senate who are present and eligible to vote. The Chair may vote on all motions; if a vote on a motion results in a tie, then the motion is deemed to be defeated. The Chair does not have a second or casting vote. When the bylaw says “majority of those present”, that means that abstentions will, in effect, be considered negative votes.
  • The Chair, or any member present, prior to a vote being taken, may require that the yeas, nays, and abstentions with respect to any question voted on by Senate be recorded in the Minutes of the meeting, in which event a poll shall be taken in such manner as the Chair directs.
  • Proxy voting is permitted for student members of Senate and its standing committees, as set out in relevant Senate bylaws, policies and procedures. No other Senators are permitted to vote by proxy.

Calling for Order

  • If anyone interferes with or disrupts Senate, the Chair shall call for order. If order is not restored, the Chair may require the person(s) causing the disruption to withdraw from the Senate meeting room. Failing compliance with an order to withdraw, the Chair may have the person(s) causing the disturbance removed.
  • Failure to proceed with a report or business in the order indicated in the Agenda shall cause that report or business to be placed on the agenda under "business not proceeded with when reached". Failure to proceed with a report or business under "business not proceeded with when reached" shall cause placement of the report or business on the Agenda for the next regular meeting at the beginning of the class of business to which it belongs.


  • All motions except procedural or regulatory motions shall be put in writing. All amendments shall be recorded and seconded. All motions and all amendments shall be read to Senate by the Chair before the vote on the question is taken.
  • When a motion or amendment has been made and seconded, it shall be disposed of by Senate, unless the mover, with the consent of Senate, withdraws it.