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Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments

The Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments is a critical official in the workings of the Senate and its senior administrator.

Office of the Clerk

Mr. Gary W. O’Brien was named Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of the Parliaments on September 16, 2009. The position is a Governor in Council appointment made pursuant to paragraph 130(b) of the Public Service Employment Act.

Pursuant to the Senate Administrative Rules, the Clerk is the head of the administration and accountable to the Senate through the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. In the list of the protocol established by the Department of Canadian Heritage, he is second in rank among chief officers of the Public Service after the Clerk of the Privy Council. As well, he is chief Table Officer and senior procedural advisor to the Speaker. The office of the Clerk of the Parliaments dates from the early parliaments of the reign of Edward I.

The Clerk of the Senate is a position served for a term of seven years.


Gary W. O'Brien

Gary W. O’Brien was born January 6, 1951 in Toronto, Ontario. He began his career on Parliament Hill in 1975 with the Library of Parliament, after obtaining his Bachelor from Glendon College, York University and his Master of Arts in Political Science from Carleton University.  He left the Library of Parliament to join the House of Commons in 1976.  In 1980 he joined the Senate, where he served as Chief of English Journals and Director of Committees until assuming the role of Deputy Clerk in 1999, a position he held until 2006.  He completed his Ph.D. in Political Science at Carleton University in 1988.  He has published several articles and book reviews on parliamentary procedure, and presented papers to the Canadian Political Science Association and at events such as the Canadian Presiding Officers’ Conference, the Joint Canadian-American Clerks Conference and the Meeting of the Association of Secretaries-General of Parliaments.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Clerk is the primary proceduralist responsible for providing all non-partisan services in support of the legislative process, from swearing in new senators, to state ceremonies in the Senate Chamber such as Openings of Parliament and Royal Assents, to advising the Speaker of the Senate on parliamentary procedure and the Rules of the Senate.

The principal functions of the Clerk of the Senate as head of the Senate Administration are:

(a) to provide advice on corporate governance, including on strategic, administrative and financial planning and administration; 
(b) to organize internal administrative and financial structures; 
(c) to direct the Senate Administration; 
(d) to control and monitor the functions of the Senate Administration; and 
(e) to report to the Senate through the Internal Economy Committee

The principal functions of the Clerk of the Senate as Clerk of the Parliaments are:

(a) to organize and preserve the records of Parliament; and 
(b) to provide access to and copies of those records as required by law or practice.

Although the Clerk reports to the Speaker of the Senate , he is also responsible to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration for all strategic, operational and administrative matters, processes and policies.

There are a number of statutes which apply to the Clerk. For example, section 31 of the Constitution Act sets out the qualification requirements of senators and the Clerk is responsible for the administration of two of these: property qualification and attendance. The Clerk administers the Oath of Allegiance set out in the Fifth Schedule to newly appointed senators. The Official Languages Act affirms that English and French are the official languages in Canada and the Clerk ensures that information services and products are available in both languages of equal equality. He must be cognizant of the provisions of the Royal Assent Act, since the arrangement of this procedure is his responsibility. The Publications of Statutes Act designates him as the custodian of all the original acts passed by the legislatures of the former provinces of Upper and Lower Canada and the former Province of Canada, as well as the original acts of Parliament. The Clerk is also responsible for the certification of all copies of acts required by courts of justice or interested individuals.

Finally, the Clerk of the Senate plays an active role in national and international parliamentary associations.

Since Confederation, twelve Clerks have served in the Senate of Canada.

Clerks of the Senate and Clerks of Parliament since 1867

Table Officers

The Clerk of the Senate and the Table Officers sit at the centre aisle of the Senate Chamber. They advise the Speaker and senators on parliamentary procedure and assist with the orderly dispatch of each day’s business. The Table Officers record the time taken by senators during debate, call out the items on the daily agenda, keep the Clerk’s Scroll on which the Senate’s official record is based and call out senators’ names during standing votes.

Senate Table Officers

Administration and Internal Economy

As the administrative head of the Senate, the Clerk serves as Clerk of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration and Clerk of the Senior Management Committee. He supervises all administrative operations and support services.

As chief administrator of the Senate, the Clerk leads an advisory body of senior managers that discusses and prepares corporate-level management and strategic issues for resolution by the Clerk or for referral to the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. This work involves developing and implementing internal administration policies and preparing the Senate’s annual estimates.

Internal Economy Committee  

The Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration is responsible for all financial and administrative matters relating to the management of the Senate. It reviews and approves the budgets of committees. It also sets guidelines and policies on various items relating to senators. Depending on the nature of a particular matter, the Internal Economy Committee reports its recommendations to the Senate itself for approval.

Officers and Officials of Parliament
Rules of the Senate of Canada
Clerks of the Senate since 1867

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