A bill is a proposed law under consideration by a legislature. A bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive.  Once a bill has been enacted into law, it is called an Act or a Statute.

A bill could have its origins in the House of Commons or the Senate.  It always starts its journey in the House in which it was introduced.  Most bills are introduced in the House of Commons.

Government Bills

Most government bills originate in the Cabinet, in which case they are referred to as as “government bills”.  Government bills are normally introduced in the House of Commons.

Private Members’ Bills

A Private Member’s bill is a bill introduced in the House of Commons by a member of parliament. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are ineligible by virtue of their offices.

A Private Member’s bill follows the same legislative process as a Government Bill, but the time allocated for its consideration is restricted.  Each sitting day, one hour is set aside for what is called Private Members’ Business; the consideration of bills presented by private Members.  Only 30 members become eligible, following a random draw.

parliament2All Canadian bills undergo the process below, in order to become law.

First Reading

This is a formality whereby the bill is introduced to the House.  The purpose of the first reading is simply to present the Bill for debate – it is tabled in the House and all members have a copy distributed to their office.  It is scheduled for debate at second reading (the timing and priority depends on whether it is a Government Bill or a Private Member’s Bill).

Second Reading

The main principle and purpose of the bill is debated.   At the end of the discussion, a vote is taken to approve the Bill.  If passed, the bill is then referred to a committee for further study.  If it does not pass, it dies.

Committee Stage

If the Bill passes, it will usually be sent to a committee where it is scrutinized in detail – line by line. At the committee stage, committee members hold hearings or special meetings where different people inside and outside government are asked to comment on the proposed bill.  The committee will call witnesses such as the Minister proposing the Bill, agents from the relevant department(s), experts in the field and interested parties.


At the end of the review, the committee chair may recommend the Bill, recommend the Bill with amendments, or not recommend the Bill at all.  There is a debate in the House, followed by a vote on whether to adopt the committee’s report.

If the report is adopted, any amendments recommended by the committee will be automatically incorporated into the bill when it goes to third reading.

Third Reading

The bill in its final form is reprinted for the 3rd reading.  If the Bill is approved by the House at the Third Reading, it is sent to the second House (usually the Senate) for approval.

The second House engages in more or less the same process as described above (there are some procedural differences between the Senate and the House of Commons, but they aren’t important in a general overview).

Any amendments made by the second House must be agreed to by the first House or the bill does not become law.

If the Bill is passed by the second House unchanged, it is ready for Royal Assent If it is amended by the second House, it will have to go back to the first house to be approved again in its amended form (this doesn’t require another three readings – it is usually just done with a vote. However, if the amendments made in the second house are controversial, the Bill may be sent back to committee for further study.

Royal Assent

Once both houses have approved the Bill, royal assent is required for a bill to become law in Canada.  It is the final stage of the legislative process.  Once both the Senate and the House of Commons have passed the bill in exactly the same wording, it is submitted to the Governor General for Royal Assent (final approval).  It is the moment during the legislative process when the three constituent elements of Parliament (the House of Commons, the Senate and the Crown) come together to complete the law-making process.

When Does It Become Law

A bill becomes law on the date of Royal Assent, unless the bill itself states that it comes into force on some other day.  Different sections of a Bill can come into effect on different dates.  The most common way for a bill to come into force is by order in council. This means that the bill does not come into force until the Lieutenant Governor in Council (in other words, Cabinet) issues an order proclaiming the legislation into force. parliament1