GENERAL INFORMATION ON LEGISLATION
What will I find in the following LEGISinfo sections?
- Text of the Bill
- Major Speeches
- Status of the Bill
- Reintroduced from the previous session
- Selected Recorded Votes
- Coming into Force
- Departmental Information
- Legislative Summaries
- Further Reading
COMMON TERMS FOUND IN LEGISinfo
GENERAL INFORMATION ON LEGISLATION
- Passage through the first House (sometimes the Senate, usually the House of Commons)
The process in each Chamber is similar:
- First reading (the bill proposing a law is received, printed and circulated)
- Second reading (the principle of the bill is debated: is the bill good policy?)
- Committee stage
Step one: members of the public appear as witnesses before a committee* Step two: committee members study the bill, clause by clause Step three: the committee adopts a report on the bill, recommending that it be accepted as is, or with amendments, or that it not be proceeded with further
- Report stage (motions to amend specific clauses of the bill are considered by the whole House)
- Third reading (final approval of the bill)
- Passage through the second House
- Royal Assent by the Governor General makes the bill law
*NOTE: Although a bill normally enters the committee stage after second reading, recent changes have made it possible for a bill to be sent to committee before it is adopted for second reading)
When a bill is introduced in either House of Parliament, it is assigned a number based on its chronological order of introduction in its House of origin and on the following criteria: government bills are numbered consecutively from -1 to -200, while private Members' public bills are numbered consecutively from -201 to -1000. Private bills, most of which are introduced in the Senate, are numbered beginning at -1001. Finally, bills that are first introduced in the Senate are prefixed with the letter "S"; bills originating in the House of Commons are prefixed with the letter "C". (Until the beginning of the 39th Parliament in April 2006, all bills originating in the Senate were numbered consecutively beginning at S-1, regardless of bill type. Prior to that time, determining bill type in the Senate was done by consulting the Journals of the Senate or the Senate's Progress of Legislation document.)
Bills S-1 and C-1 are called pro forma bills and are introduced at the beginning of each session for the sole purpose of asserting the Senates' and House of Commons' right to determine the order of its deliberations, independently of the reasons for summons set out in the Throne Speech. These bills are given first reading but are not printed, posted on the website or further proceeded with. The bills are normally entitled Bill S-1, An Act relating to Railways and Bill C-1, An Act respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office.
The introduction of a pro forma bill is a practice that has existed since before Confederation and originated in the British House of Commons in 1571. This custom is observed in other parliaments such as in the Australian House of Representatives, which introduces its “formal” or “privilege” bill, in the British House of Commons, which introduces the Outlawries Bill, and in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, where the pro forma bill is entitled Bill 1, An Act to ensure the Supremacy of Parliament.
The statistics generated by LEGISinfo do not take into account the introduction of these bills.
This link provides direct access to all printed versions of the bill. Bills may be printed on as many as four occasions:
- First Reading,
- As Reported By The Committee,
- Third Reading "As Passed Copy", and
- Royal Assent.
Not all bills are printed at each stage listed above and it is not uncommon for a bill not to be printed as reported by the committee where there are not significant amendments proposed by the committee.
The Major Speeches portion of the site contains links to those speeches delivered in the Senate and the House of Commons at second reading by the bill’s sponsor and speeches delivered by a representative from each recognized political party.
The Status of the Bill section indicates the current stage of the bill. This portion of the site is updated on a daily basis and reflects any action taken by the Senate and the House of Commons on the previous day.
Some bills from previous sessions of Parliament never completed the legislative process. These bills are sometimes reintroduced in the current session of Parliament and LEGISinfo provides you with selected information on the previous versions of these bills such as when the bill was introduced, as well as its bill number, title and the stage that it reached in the legislative process.
The Selected Recorded Votes section provides links to the Debates of the Senate or the Debates of the House of Commons where recorded votes have been taken that move a bill from one stage to the next. For example, when a bill passes second reading with a recorded vote, LEGISinfo provides you with a link to the results of the vote in Hansard.
LEGISinfo contains details about the coming into force of each bill. Not all legislation become enforceable laws when they receive Royal Assent. It is useful to know whether legislation is in force, or what portions of the legislation are in force, and LEGISinfo does this for you.
For more information on what coming into force means, see the FAQ section on Coming into Force.
The Departmental Information section provides links to the press releases and background documents prepared by federal government departments on legislation. Departmental Information is available for most government bills.
Legislative Summaries are documents prepared by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service of the Library of Parliament to provide Parliamentarians with background and an explanation of the bill. These documents are prepared for most government bills. Analysts, knowledgeable in the relevant area of policy or law, write the Summaries as soon as resources permit, following First Reading of a bill. New Legislative Summaries will be posted on the web site once the texts are available in both official languages.
The Further Reading section of LEGISinfo provides several different sources of information. It contains a short bibliography of current magazine and journal articles on the subject matter of the bill; links to press releases prepared by the opposition parties; and links to selected websites that are relevant to the subject matter of the legislation.
The Search function in LEGISinfo performs searches for bills by bill number or by words found in the title of the bill. For example, you could search for the Species at Risk bill by typing any of the following: 5, C-5, c5, or entering one or more words from the title of the bill. Note: The search engine is not case sensitive.
You may contact the Library of Parliament at:
LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT
Currently, LEGISinfo only contains information on legislation introduced after January 2001. For information on legislation introduced in the Parliament of Canada before that date, please visit the parliamentary web site (www.parl.gc.ca) or your local library.
At the end of the coming into force information there is a reference number such as SI-2000/89. This is a number referring to the specific instrument passed by the Governor General in Council proclaiming the Act or sections of the Act in force.
The reference number can be broken down into three key elements: (1) SI is an acronym for Statutory Instrument; (2) 2000 refers to the year that the SI was published; and (3) 89 signifies that this is the 89th SI published for the year 2000.
COMMON TERMS FOUND IN LEGISinfo
Government Bills are bills introduced in the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown. These bills are drafted by the Department of Justice on the instructions of Cabinet. In the House of Commons, these bills are numbered C-2 through to C-200.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate normally introduces all Government Bills originating in the Senate, though the sponsorship is usually assumed by another Senator as the Bill moves through the legislative process.
Private Members’ Bills are bills introduced in the House of Commons by individual Members who are not cabinet ministers and in the Senate by individual Senators who are not members of the Ministry. These bills are referred to as Private Members’ Bills and Private Senators’ Bills.
Private Members' Bills and Private Senators’ Bills follow the same legislative process as Government Bills, although their consideration and the time allocated to them is more restrictive.
In addition to Private Members’ Bills, there are private bills. Private Members’ Bills (public bills) are concerned with matters of public policy while private bills are those that are for the benefit of named individuals or companies. Even though both public and private bills can be introduced in the Senate and the House of Commons, private bills are now almost always introduced in the Senate.
While a Parliament can be used to describe the legislative branch of Government, which consists of the Sovereign (represented by the Governor General), the Senate and the House of Commons; in this context it is used to describe a period of time during which the institution of Parliament exercises its powers. A Parliament begins on the day established for the return of the writs from a general election and ends with the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a general election. For example, the 36th Parliament began on 23 June 1997 and ended with the calling of the General Election on 22 October 2000. Constitutionally, Parliaments can exist for a maximum of five years, but generally they last for three to four years.
A session is the term used to describe the periods of time or groupings of sittings into which a Parliament can be divided. The first session of a Parliament begins with a Speech from the Throne and ends with prorogation or dissolution of the Parliament. There are usually several different sessions in a Parliament, but there can be as few as one. Sessions usually consist of a number of separate sittings, but can be as short as one sitting day.
Hansard, also titled the Official Report of Debates, is essentially a verbatim transcript of the proceedings in the Senate and the House of Commons. Hansard is published after each sitting day and can be found on the Internet at http://www.parl.gc.ca.
Hansard follows the actual order of the proceedings of each chamber and reports the full deliberations. It records the speeches of Senators and Members in debate in the Chamber. In addition, Hansard contains lists of recorded votes, written answers to certain questions, and the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a session of Parliament. Hansard is printed separately in each official language; the original language used by the speaker is indicated, and the time is noted in five-minute segments.
The Debates (also titled the Official Report of Debates) are essentially a verbatim transcript of the proceedings of each chamber of Parliament. The Debates are also referred to as Hansard. For more information on the Debates, see the FAQ section on Hansard.
The Journals are the official record of the decisions of the Senate and the House of Commons.
The Coming into Force section in LEGISinfo provides information on the date that the legislation, or part of it, becomes an enforceable law in Canada. Laws can come into force, or become enforceable laws, in several ways:
- some laws come into force when they receive Royal Assent;
- some laws come into force on a day or days specified in the bill; and
- some laws come into force on a day or days set by the Governor in Council (the Governor General, on the advice of the federal Cabinet).
LEGISinfo provides you with details on how the bill comes into force and when the bill or portions of the bill come into force.
When the Senate and the House of Commons have both passed a bill in the same form, the Governor General gives the bill Royal Assent on behalf of the Crown and it becomes an Act of Parliament and a Statute of Canada. Royal Assent is signified in writing by the Governor General, or one of the Deputies of the Governor General, or it can be carried out in a ceremony held in the Senate chamber in the presence of members of the Senate and House of Commons.
LEGISinfo indicates the date and chapter number of the Statutes of Canada for each bill that receives Royal Assent. This information can be found in the Status of the Bill section.