The Red Chamber

The ongoing renovations in Canada’s parliamentary precinct means there has been a certainly amount of shuffling as buildings close and reopen  Canada’s Senate, for example, is now located in the government conference centre, moving there in 2018.

The building was a railway station when I first was in it, about 1966. Then it sat empty for years before being purchased and renovated by the federal government as a conference centre.

Now, after further extensive and expensive renovations, Canada’s upper chamber meets there, probably for the next decade or longer while Centre Block is renovated. I took advantage of a visit by a German friend to take a tour.

As a fan of history I have mixed feelings about the new locale. It somehow seems more modern than the new Commons location in West Block. I think that is because the First World War art is missing from the walls. Or maybe because I have not seen the Senate in action in its new location.

Or maybe it is because the place still feels like a train station to me.

Still, if you have a liking for politics and history and are visiting Ottawa you may want to check it out. Tours are free, and in theory you need to make a reservation. You can get more information at

There has been an ongoing debate that goes back probably before I was born as to whether Canada needs the Senate. It is supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought, to ensure that the laws passed in the Commons really are in the public interest.

Theory and practice are different of course. The unelected Senate may occasionally delay government legislation, but I can’t remember the last time it overturned a Bill that had been passed by the Commons.

Which has me wondering what the point is for its continued existence. Certainly a rubber stamp from a stationery store would be cheaper and just as effective.

Were I to be appointed to the Senate my opinion might change, of course. Somehow though I think it is unlikely that the Prime Minister would see me as Senate material.

Too bad – I think it would be fun to be a Senator.


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