How Did THAT Become Law?

Many individuals complain about the law but few of us understand the complexities of how laws come to be. Just take a minute and force yourself to think back to grade five when you learnt how a bill was passed, how much do you really remember? One would assume that we would know at least the basics about how our laws are passed. Just in case you’re not sure, here’s a quick recap.

Bills are often introduced by the government. Opposition members and individuals parliamentarians can also introduce bills; these bills are often referred to as Private Member’s Bills.

  1. A bill is usually drafted to make changes to an existing law or create a new law all together.  What’s a bill? A bill is a drafted proposal or idea to change the law.  Legislation proposals can take place in both the Senate and the House of Commons.  Bills introduced in the Senate have a S in the title for example Bill S-7 while a bill introduced in the House of Commons have a C, for example Bill C-24. When the bill is read in the House that it was drafted in (either the Senate or House of Commons) it is referred to as the First Reading. Think of this as pitching an idea for the first time in an organization.
  2. Following the First Reading is the Second Reading. This step allows parliamentarians to ask questions and debate over the bill. This is where the bill is analyzed to assess its effectiveness if it were to be implemented (i.e. who will be impacted by the bill?). Does the bill achieve the goal that it is set to achieve?  The parliamentarian members then vote on the bill and if the majority agrees, then the bill passes. If the bill passes this stage it then continues to the committee stage.

  3. The Committee Stage is often the stage most people forget because it seems minor. However, this stage allows committee members to hold hearings where government and non-government individuals ask questions and committee members can have questions answered by witnesses and experts.  The committee then puts together a report of any amendments (changes) they think should be implemented by the House that introduced the bill.
  4. Report Stage. This stage allows committee members to provide the House with any changes they believe to be necessary.  All parliamentarians are welcome to debate the bill.  Non- committee members are also allowed to suggest changes to the bill at this stage in the process.
  5. Third Reading. Third time is the charm! The bill is then opened up for a third round of debate.  Sometimes parliamentarians are not content with the changes made to the bill after the Second Reading and can vote against the bill in the Third Reading.  If the bill does successfully pass at this point, then the bill is sent to the House that did not propose the bill to undergo the same process again of three readings.
  6. Royal Assent. This final stage only takes place after both Houses have passed the bill with the exact same wording. Differentiation in wording can lead to the bill not receiving royal assent as it can be interpreted differently.  The Governor General then approves and signs the bill, making it a law. This is referred to as Royal Assent. The bill then becomes a law.

Stay tuned for Thursday’s post that will outline how this process can be impacted by the party in power.

Points of Discussion:

1. What part of the process did you know the least about?

2. Do you think this is an effective system?

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