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The federal legislative mechanism


Federally, most bills are introduced by cabinet ministers in the House of Commons. Ordinarily, a bill is given three “readings” in the House. The first reading, also referred to as “tabling a bill” is given simply to introduce the bill as a piece of legislation the government intends to enact. Copies of the proposed bill are distributed and the date for the second reading is set. Between first and second readings the bill is in limbo, thus allowing your organization an excellent opportunity to approach Members of Parliament and the media with your point of view. In their early stages of learning about the proposed legislation, members welcome briefs to prepare them for discussion at the next stage.

The second reading is accompanied by debate on the principle and overall content of the bill. At this time your access to decision-makers is essential. The bill is then voted on and, if approved, is sent to a House Committee composed of representatives of all parties, to be considered clause-by-clause. The committee prepares a report and submits it to the House of Commons along with any proposed amendments. These amendments, plus any others moved by any member of Parliament, are debated and usually voted on.

A motion is then introduced for the bill to be given third reading. If the bill passes third reading, it is then introduced in the Senate where it undergoes a similar process. The Senate rarely rejects a bill, but has been more active in suggesting amendments lately. After a bill has been approved by both Houses, the Governor General gives it royal assent.

Legislation is passed through a provincial legislature in much the same way; legislation is introduced, members vote and the Lieutenant-Governor gives royal assent. As there is no equivalent to the federal Senate in the provinces, this procedure is bypassed.

Originally published in Parliamentary Names & Numbers #7, Spring 1997.


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