The Legislative Process and Advocacy

A bill is passed through Parliament and eventually becomes law. In order to influence the legislative process, we need to understand what happens inside the Parliament of Canada.

How a bill becomes a law

  1. Introduction of the Bill.  A motion is introduced to put a bill on the parliamentary agenda.  This is usually done by a government minister, but a private member can also introduce a motion for a private member’s bill (see p. 10).  Any MP can introduce a private member’s bill on any topic, but it may be difficult to pass it (especially in a majority government).  Nonetheless, this is the primary mechanism for the opposition to enact legislation.
  2. First Reading in the House of Commons.  The law is introduced to Members of Parliament, but no debate is held.  The bill is printed and given a number.  A House of Commons bill is given C-# and a Senate bill is given S-#.
  3. Second Reading and Debate.  After the second reading, individual members debate the issues raised in the bill.  At this stage, the general principles of the bill are discussed (not the fine details).
  4. Committee Stage.  If the bill passes the second reading, it goes on to the committee stage.  In this stage, a subcommittee or standing committee (composed of members from all parties) reviews the legislation in detail.  Each clause is discussed and considered, and amendments are proposed.  Witnesses may also be brought in to provide testimony.  When the committee has finished its review, it orders that the bill be sent back to the House of Commons.
  5. Report Stage.  The House of Commons reviews the amendments proposed by the committee.  There is also opportunity for members not on the committee to propose additional amendments.  Each amendment is moved, debated, and voted on by the House of Commons.
  6. Third Reading. The bill is sent back to the House for a final reading and debate.  The final vote is then taken.  If there are unresolved issues with the legislation, then it may be sent back to committee for review and further amendments.
  7. Message to the Senate. If the bill passes the third reading, the House sends a message to the Senate, requesting that it also pass the bill.
  8. Bill passed through the Senate. The bill passes through the same process in the Senate as it did in the House of Commons (stages 1-6).  The Senate only has power to delay passage of the bill or suggest changes to the House.  It cannot defeat the bill.  (If the bill is originally introduced in the Senate, then stages 1-6 occur in the Senate first, and then in the House of Commons.)
  9. Royal Assent. When the bill is approved by both the House and the Senate, it is sent to the Governor General for Royal Assent.  When it has passed this stage, the bill is officially an Act of Parliament.
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    Go Deeper

    Parliament of Canada’s LEGISinfo website provides information on bills currently undergoing the parliamentary process. This site gives you the text of the bill, major speeches that have been made about it, and its current status.

Federal and Provincial Jurisdictions

Peace, order, and good governance Immigration Anything local or private in nature
Taxation Agriculture Direct taxation
International trade and commerce, communications & transportation Pensions Crown lands and natural resources
Banking and currency Hospitals (health sector)
Foreign affairs Education
Defense Welfare
Criminal law and penitentiaries Municipalities
Naturalization Transportation and business
First Nations Administration of justice
Unemployment insurance and old age pension Property and civil rights
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    Go Deeper

    Find more information on the levels of government and which level you should engage with your concern.

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    Tool — Advocacy Possibilities at Different Stages of the Process

Beforehand Look for signs of new legislation.
Work with legislators to draft legislation.
First Reading Study the bill.
Share reasons for concern or support with others (the media, MPs, etc.).
Ask for withdrawal of the bill if necessary.
Second Reading Same as for first reading, but also begin to ask for hearings in anticipation of committee stage.
Committee Stage Lobby for hearings and suggest witnesses.
Recommend amendments.
Make your views known to media and MPs.
Report Stage Make your views on the proposed amendments known to the media and MPs.
Third Reading Encourage MPs to vote for or against the bill.
Senate (Same process as above) Repeat above process in Senate.
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    Go Deeper — Private Members Bills (PMB)

    PMB’s are bills that are introduced in the House of Commons by an MP who is not a cabinet minister. These bills follow the same legislative process as a government bill, but cannot use government funds. Few private member’s bills become law. For more information on PMB’s, visit The Parliament of Canada’s website.