Analysis: Private Members’ Bills Procedure

In Canada, elected Members of Parliament can introduce Private Members’ Bills or Private Members’ Motions in the House of Commons. A Private Member is a Member of Parliament who is not a member of the government’s cabinet.

As we have 338 Members of Parliament elected from across the country, not all Members will have time to have their bills debated in a four-year Parliament. With our current minority government situation, even fewer members will have the opportunity to introduce a bill.

However, I was fortunate to draw Number 10 in a recent Private Members’ Business lottery system draw. This means I will have the opportunity to introduce a bill in the House of Commons and have the bill debated this spring. There are a number of steps involved in introducing a bill, having it debated and reaching a final vote.

First, Members must choose their topic for the bill. Most Private Members’ Bills aim to amend or introduce public policy while having negligible financial impact. Once a topic is chosen, Members work with the House of Commons’ legislative counsel to draft the bill, ensuring it is appropriate and taking into account existing laws, drafting conventions and constitution and formal requirements. Once the proposed bill is approved by both the Member and the legislative counsel, it is further edited by legal experts and then translated into the other official language.

After those steps have been completed, the Member gives 48 hours’ notice of intention to introduce the bill in the House of Commons to the Journals Branch. The Journals Branch keeps records of the day-to-day operations of Parliament, and will publish the bill in the Notice Paper, a daily publication of scheduled debate in the House of Commons. Once the 48 hours has passed, the Member may introduce his or her bill for its first reading.

After the initial introduction and first reading, the bill is read a second time in the House of Commons. Members debate the bill and may vote to send the bill to a standing committee for further study. Most Members of Parliament sit on standing committees, which study pertinent legislative policies in more detail. These committees can ask witnesses and experts to provide them with more information about the proposed bill. The committee may decide to write a report about the bill, sometimes with proposed amendments for further consideration by Parliamentarians.

The revised bill is then read a third time in the House of Commons, followed by debate and a vote. Once a bill has been read three times and Members vote in favour of its passage, it is sent to the Senate of Canada for further readings and debate. If passed, it will become law.

It can take significant time to get a Private Members’ Bill through both the House of Commons and the Senate. If an election is called during the process, the bill “dies” on the order paper and the Member must re-introduce it in the new Parliament following an election.