The Usher of the Black Rod is a senior parliamentary officer appointed by Order in Council. The Black Rod, as the Usher is known to senators, is a senior protocol officer in Parliament and a floor officer of the Senate.
The name Usher of the Black Rod comes from the ebony cane that Black Rod carries as a symbol of authority. Under a 600-year-old parliamentary tradition, the Black Rod is the personal attendant and messenger of the Sovereign or the Sovereign’s representative when either is in Parliament.
While the position of Usher of the Black Rod originated roughly 600 years ago, the Black Rod’s current responsibilities combine traditional, ceremonial and modern administrative functions.
The Usher of the Black Rod is responsible for the many aspects of the Senate Chamber. For example, the Usher leads the Speaker’s Parade that opens and closes every sitting of the Senate. Responsible for security within the Senate Chamber, he is present on the Senate floor during the sitting and is charged with permitting or denying entry to the Chamber if the Senate or the Sovereign so order.
The Black Rod also coordinates the swearing-in ceremonies for newly appointed senators and makes arrangements for Senate participation at the funerals of serving or former senators. He makes all general arrangements in the Senate Chamber to help with the effective workings of the upper house (e.g. security, audio services, seating plans, etc). Assisted by the Senate pages, whom he directs, the Black Rod cares for the needs of senators in the Chamber as well as in the adjoining Reading Room and work stations.
As the senior parliamentary protocol officer, the Usher is responsible for coordinating the ceremonies that take place within the Senate chamber, which is to say most ceremonies of Parliament. These include arranging the logistical, administrative and protocol details for each.
One key ceremony is the opening of Parliament or of a new session of Parliament, in which the Speech from the Throne is read by the Queen or the Governor General. The Usher makes most of the logistical arrangements for this event. He is Chair of a Working Group and an Inter-departmental Committee and coordinates the work of a parallel Secretariat for the Opening of Parliament. Other ceremonies in which the Usher is involved as a key organizer are state funerals and the investiture of the Governor General.
In addition, the Black Rod carries out ceremonial duties related to Royal Assent of bills. He also coordinates other ceremonies that take place in the Chamber, such as the Memorial Ceremony for Former Parliamentarians (June), and the launch of Veteran’s Week (November).
As personal attendant to the Queen and the Governor General when they are in Parliament, the Usher of the Black Rod is a member of the welcoming party for all visiting heads of state and heads of government. The Usher is also the parliamentary officer who greets the Sovereign or her representative, the Governor General, upon his arrival at the doors of Parliament.
As the Queen’s messenger, the Black Rod carries out a unique element of the Opening of Parliament ceremony: summoning the members of the House of Commons to the Senate when their presence is required. Upon the order of the Speaker of the Senate (on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen or His Excellency the Governor General), the Usher proceeds to the House of Commons and knocks three times on its main doors with the base of the Black Rod. Once the Usher is ceremonially challenged by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, approval to enter is granted by the Speaker of the House. The Usher is then admitted to the House and informs the Speaker that the presence of the members of the Commons is requested in the Senate Chamber. He then leads the assembled members in procession to the Senate.
In addition to carrying out ceremonial duties, the Usher of the Black Rod is a member of the senior management team of the Senate Administration. The Black Rod also oversees the Senate Page Program, working with the Chief and Deputy Chief Pages to ensure that the pages offer appropriate service to Senators during sittings in the Chamber, in committee meetings and during other Senate events.
Educational outreach is a growing part of the Black Rod’s role. He meets with youth (at such events as the Forum for Young Canadians, Encounters with Canada and Model Parliaments), professionals (e.g. at the Canadian School of Public Service, the Many Facets of Parliament Hill Program, and with Parliamentary Tour Guides), and exchange groups (US Interns).