Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
With the National Accessibility Law Promised to Be Introduced into Parliament This Spring, the AODA Alliance Makes Public an Introductory Guide On The Process That a Bill Goes Through At Canada’s Parliament
June 18, 2018
These are exciting times. In the 2015 election, the federal Liberals promised to enact a national accessibility law. Last year, the Canadian Government committed to introduce new national accessibility legislation this spring. This spring ends this Thursday. We are waiting with anticipation to see if the Federal Government keeps its word on the timing of this legislation. We are poised to be ready to provide an analysis of the bill, once we get a chance to read it, and to offer suggestions, if needed, on how it can be improved.
We want to help all AODA Alliance supporters follow and take full part in the legislative process, once the bill is made public. To help with this, the AODA Alliance is here giving you in introductory guide on the process a bill goes through when it is before Parliament. We set it out below.
We hope you find this Guide helpful and informative. Each legislative body has very technical rules of procedure. This guide gives you the basics. It is written for readers who are not familiar with the details of Parliament’s workings.
Please circulate this Guide to others who might find it helpful. We thank AODA Alliance volunteers, Osgoode Hall Law School students Megan Moniz and Geoffrey Chambers-Bedard, for their excellent work. They prepared this guide for us. This is a modification of a guide to the Ontario legislative process that our predecessor, the ODA Committee, made public in the early 2000s. We have made only minor changes to the text that they prepared.
Did you find it helpful? Send us your feedback at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about our campaign to get the Federal Government to pass a strong national accessibility law, visit www.aodaalliance.org
We will let you know of new developments on this front when we can. Stay tuned! We are daily tweeting to members of Parliament about the need for this bill to be introduced now, so it can be debated, passed and its implementation can get underway before the 2019 federal election. Please retweet those tweets on Twitter and share them with your friends on Facebook.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
HOW A BILL MAKES ITS WAY THROUGH CANADA’S PARLIAMENT and Becomes a Law — An Introductory Guide for Beginners
A law must be passed by Canada’s Parliament. Parliament has two chambers, the House of Commons (whose members, called MPs for short, we elect during a federal election) and the Senate (whose members are appointed by the Federal Government).
A law passed by the Canadian Parliament is called “legislation,” a “statute,” or an “Act”. New legislation starts as a “bill.” A bill is a written proposal for a new law or a change to an existing law. A bill is written like a piece of legislation that has yet to become law.
A Member of Parliament or Cabinet Minister must provide 48 hours written notice to the Clerk of the House before introducing a bill into the House of Commons (the “House”). Alternatively, a Member of Parliament or Cabinet Minister may propose that a committee be instructed to prepare a bill. Once a bill is introduced, it is up to the House and Senate to decide whether it will become law. Until it is passed into law, it continues to be called a “bill.”
To become law, the majority in the House votes in favour of the bill three separate times. The separate votes are called the first, second, and third “readings.” If the bill passes the third reading in the House, it goes through a similar process in the Senate. A bill becomes law once an identical form of the bill has been approved by both the House and the Senate. If the bill is defeated at one of the readings, it dies and proceeds no further. If a bill dies, an MP may restart the entire process by re-introducing the bill.
This summary assumes that the Government party has a majority of the seats in the House. This is the case for the current Liberal Government. In this situation, the Government has general control over the process and the timing of the bill. Things are different when there is a “minority government.” This summary does not address that situation.
If the Government party has a majority, it can usually ensure that a bill passes at the House and Senate. The bill will pass unless enough of the Government’s individual members take the unusual step of voting against their own party’s bill. This does not happen frequently. A Government that has a majority can also pass motions that impose time limits on the debate periods during any stage of the process.
Step 1: Introduction and First Reading
The Government decides when it will place a bill before Parliament for first reading. The Government can decide if it wants to tell the public in advance when it plans to introduce the bill. We have asked the Government to give persons with disabilities notice of each time the new national accessibility bill will be taking a major step in Parliament so that persons with disabilities can make arrangements to attend the proceedings.
A Member or Minister will introduce their bill into the House for the first reading by requesting to introduce the bill. At this stage the bill is printed and considered to be read for the first time. There is an immediate vote with no debate over the content of the bill. This vote is a formality that allows the bill to be placed on the “Order Paper” for a second reading.
After the bill has passed the first reading it is a bill before Parliament and becomes available to the public. At this stage, it is not yet law. By Parliamentary tradition, the public cannot see the bill until it has been presented for First Reading.
Step 2: Referral to a Committee of the House of Commons Before Second Reading (where applicable)
A Minister may move that a bill be referred to a committee before the second reading. This allows members of a committee to examine the principle of a bill before it is approved by the House and to propose amendments to alter its scope.
After the committee reports the bill to the House, the next stage is essentially a combination of the report stage and second reading (explained below). Members can propose amendments, after giving written notice two sitting days before the bill is debated.
Step 3: Second Reading and Referral to a Committee
At this stage, Members make speeches and debate the scope of the bill. The text of the bill may not be amended at this time. Unless a bill has been referred to a committee prior to second reading, the debate must focus on the principle of the bill – is the idea behind it sound? Does it meet people’s needs? If the bill passes the second reading, it can be referred to a committee.
Step 4: Consideration by Committee
The committee reviews the text of the bill to approve or amend it. Most bills are referred to the standing committee whose mandate most closely corresponds to the subject matter of the bill. Alternatively, the House may refer a bill to a legislative committee. A legislative committee is appointed by the House to consider a particular bill and ceases to exist once it presents its report on the bill.
The committee studies the bill and can hold hearings to gather information. At these hearings, witnesses (often government officials and experts) may be invited to present their views and answer questions. Once witnesses have been heard, the committee reviews the bill one section at a time. This is often called “clause by clause debate.” At this point, Members may propose amendments to the bill. Once all the parts of the bill have been adopted by the committee, with or without amendment, the committee votes on the bill as a whole.
Members of the public can contact individual Committee Members to advocate for particular amendments. The membership of the Committee may not be the same as those posted on the Parliament’s website. Sometimes other MPs replace the usual members of the Committee. It is always worthwhile to approach any MP to advocate for amendments that you want.
Once the bill is adopted by the Committee, the Chair of the Committee asks the Committee for leave to report the bill to the House. Committees must report on all bills referred to them.
Step 5: The Report Stage
This stage is an opportunity for the House to further study the bill. Members, particularly non-Committee Members, may propose amendments to the text of the bill. Debate at this stage focuses on specific amendments to the bill rather than the bill as a whole.
To prevent the report stage from becoming a repetition of the committee stage, the Speaker of the House has the authority to select and group amendments for debate. The Speaker also determines whether each motion should be voted on separately or as part of a group. This ruling is made at the beginning of the report stage debate.
When deliberation concludes, a motion is put forward to approve the bill and any amendments. The motion is addressed immediately, without amendment or debate.
At the report stage, debate only occurs if amendments have been proposed. If the bill reported by the committee is adopted with no amendments, it goes immediately to a third reading.
Step 6: Third Reading and Adoption of a Bill
This is the final stage a bill must pass in the House. Again, Members can make speeches and debate the bill. The debate must focus on the final form of the bill. Amendments are possible. An amendment to resend the bill to a committee with instructions to reconsider certain clauses is also possible.
MPs who voted for the bill at second reading sometimes change their minds at third reading after seeing what amendments have or have not been made to the bill.
Finally, the House is asked to make its third and final vote on the bill. Once the motion for third reading has been adopted, the Clerk of the House certifies that the bill has passed. At this stage, it is not yet a law. The bill is then sent to the Senate with a message requesting that it consider the bill.
Step 7: Consideration of the Bill by the Senate and Passage of Senate Amendments by the House of Commons
The Senate follows a legislative process that is similar to the one in the House, and that is described above. Of course, in the Senate, Senators and not MPs vote on the bill. A committee of the Senate can consider the bill, and even hold hearings.
The Government may request that the Senate consider a bill as quickly as possible. Through a procedure known as “pre-study,” the subject matter of a bill that has been introduced in the House, but has not yet been sent to the Senate, is sent to a Senate standing committee. This allows the Senate to consider the content of the bill and form its opinion before it receives the bill from the House. When the bill is received, the Senate is then prepared to adopt or amend the bill within a short time frame.
In some cases, the Senate adopts a bill without amendment and a message is sent to the House informing it that the bill has passed. In other cases, the Senate will amend the bill. Amendments may involve corrections to drafting errors or improvements to administrative aspects. The House normally accepts such amendments.
If the House does not agree with the Senate amendments, it adopts a motion stating the reasons for its disagreement, which it communicates in a message to the Senate. If the Senate wishes the amendments to stand, it sends a message back to the House, and the House then accepts or rejects the proposed changes.
Step 8: Royal Assent and Coming Into Force
Royal Assent is the final stage that a bill must complete. A bill is not given Royal Assent unless it has gone through all of the stages of the legislative process and has been passed by both the House and Senate in identical form. It is the stage where the Crown approves the bill. It is a formality, in the sense that the Crown will approve what Parliament has passed.
Royal Assent may be granted in one of two ways: through a written procedure or through the traditional ceremony.
The written procedure involves the Clerk of the Parliament, or his or her deputy, meeting with the Governor General (the Crown’s official representative), or his or her deputy, to present the bills with a letter indicating that they have been passed by both the House and Senate, and requesting that the bills be assented to. An Act that has been given Royal Assent in written form is considered assented to on the day on which the House and Senate have been notified of the declaration.
The traditional procedure for Royal Assent is a formal ceremony where Members of the House join their Senate colleagues in the Senate Chamber where the Governor General, or his or her deputy, grants Royal Assent.
Once a bill has been granted Royal Assent, the question arises: When does the Act actually come into force? When do people have to obey it? The Act itself sets this date. There are three options that Parliament can choose from, when wording the Act. First, the Act can say that it becomes law and comes into force on the date when it receives Royal Assent. Second, the Act can say that it comes into effect on a specific future date that the Act states. Third, the Act can say that it comes into effect on a date that the Cabinet sets (called “the Governor in Council”).
How do you get a copy of the bill when it is introduced?
The full text of bills for current sessions and from select previous sessions are available through the Parliament of Canada’s Legisinfo website: http://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/Home.aspx?ParliamentSession=42-1
New statutes are periodically published throughout the year as new issues of the Canada Gazette, Part III. The Canada Gazette can be accessed online at: http://canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/publications-eng.html
Laws that have been enacted are published on the Department of Justice Laws Website at: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/
The AODA Alliance will circulate the Federal Government’s bill as soon as it can, through Email and its own web site at: https://www.aodaalliance.org