Canada: How a Bill Becomes a Law

Step 1: Legislation Introduced

Most legislation originates with the Government in the form of a policy proposal, submitted to the Cabinet by the Minister(s)

  1. If the Cabinet approves the policy proposal, the responsible Ministry issues drafting instructions to the Legislation Section of the Department of Justice.
  2. The Draft bill is prepared in two official languages and then approved by the responsible Minister and the Cabinet prior to being introduced in Parliament.

Step 2: First Reading

The Member or Minister performs a first reading in either the Senate or the House of Commons. At this point, the bill is printed and considered formally introduced and is given a number: C-# for House bills and S-# for Senate bills.

Step 3: Second Reading

The Second reading occurs in the same House of Parliament in which the bill was introduced. During this reading, the principle of the bill is debated. The motion for second reading may be amended in only 3 ways:

  1. A three or six months’ hoist, which seeks to postpone consideration of the bill for three or six months;
  2. A reasoned amendment, which requests that the House not give second reading to a bill for a specific reason; or
  3. A motion to refer the subject matter of the bill to a committee.

A Minister may also move that a bill be referred to a committee before second reading. This allows members of a committee to examine the principle of a bill before approval by the House and to propose amendments to alter its scope. The resultant next stage is a combination of the report stage and the second reading.

Step 4: Consideration in Committee

Once adopted, the Bill is referred to a legislative, standing, or special committee, or to the Committee of the Whole.

Committee Steps

  1. Consideration of the bill through a clause-by-clause study.
  2. Hearings may be helped in which witnesses and experts are summoned to provide the Committee with information and help in improving the bill.
  3. Each committee can hold a “mark-up” session during which it makes recommended revisions and additions.
  4. After the bill has reviewed and amended, committee staff prepare a written report explaining why they favor the bill, and what amendments were made (if any).
  5. The Committee provides this report to the House and the House considers the amendments proposed and votes for or against them.

Step 5: Third Reading

This reading is the last opportunity for the House to amend the bill. The House debates and votes on the final bill as amended and the bill is printed for the last time. Once the bill has been passed it is sent to the other House (i.e. if passed in the House, it is referred to the Senate) and the process starts again from the first reading.

Step 6: Conference Committee

If language within House and Senate bills differ, the House may elect to accept the Senate’s amendments. If the House does not agree with the Senate, it can adopt a motion stating the reason for disagreement. If the Senate wishes to alter the amendment, it sends a message back to the House, which then accepts or rejects the proposed changes.

If an agreement cannot be reached through this exchange, the Parliamentary House with possession of the bill can request a conference. The objective of the Conference Committee is to reach a compromise – which must be approved by both the House and the Senate. Although this practice is available, it has fallen into disuse.

Step 7: Royal Assent

After a bill has cleared both the House and Senate (in the same form), it is presented to the Governor General for assent. Royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves an act of his or her nation’s parliament, making it into law. The Governor General may assent the bill in the Queen’s name, withhold assent, or reserve assent.

Step 8: The Bill Becomes a Law

Once the Governor General gives a bill Royal Assent it becomes a law and is assigned an official Chapter number (i.e. Bill C-7 became Chapter 1 of the Statutes of Canada, 2000).