How the Federal Government Makes Laws in Canada

When we’re gabbing about the Canadian government, the lawmaking process comes up a lot. We gossip about the various bills and motions Members of Parliament have their hands in this week. We do a post-game analysis after the House of Commons votes on legislation. Once a bill becomes law, we like to pick apart it and try to get our heads around what it means.

Of course, since we spend so much time discussing these things, we should all know exactly how the Canadian government makes a law.


Well, most of us learned it at some point. But you’d be forgiven for forgetting the ins and outs. Lawmaking is complicated business. Even the political junkies and #cdnpoli goons among us probably don’t know all the details off the cuff.

Here’s a quick Lawmaking 101: How the Government Makes Laws in Canada.

Who Makes the Laws?

Laws come from either the House of Commons or the Senate. The House of Commons consists of Members of Parliament that were elected in the federal election, with one for each of Canada’s 338 ridings. Senators are chosen by the Prime Minister.

Laws begin their life as bills, which is a draft of a new law or amendments to an existing one. In the House of Commons, bills may originate from the Department of Justice or from individual Members. A government bill is drafted by the DoJ on the instructions of the party in power, while a private member’s bill is created and introduced by a member alone.

Senators can introduce bills as well. These are known as Senate public bills.

Introducing a Bill and First Reading

Whether the bill comes from the House of Commons or the Senate, it follows a similar path to become law. First, either the bill is introduced to the chamber with notice, printed, and assigned a number. The assigned numbers are based on the chronological order in which the bill was introduced. House of Commons bills begin with a C, while Senate bill start with S. Government bills are numbered from 1 to 200. Private member’s bills and public Senate bills are numbered 201 to 1000.

This stage is called the First Reading of the bill. There is no debate at this point – it is basically a formality.

Second Reading

After the bill is formally introduced and given first reading, members of the chamber debate the bill’s principle. Next, vote on it for the first time. If at least half the members present support the bill, it passes on to the committee stage.


Members of a committee study the bill and hold hearings to gather information about it. They may ask members and outside experts to answer questions about it. Based on its findings, the committee may propose changes to the bill.

Report Stage

The committee sends the bill back to its chamber of origin. At this point, the entire house debates the bill for a second time. Members can suggest amendments to the bill in the from of a motion.

Third Reading

The chamber debates and votes on the bill a third and final time. Members who voted for the bill the first time around may change their vote at this point, as the final product may not be the same as the bill in second reading.

Other Chamber

If the bill passes third reading, it then goes to the other chamber. Senate bills go to the House of Commons, while House bills go to the Senate. The other house goes through the same stages – first reading, second reading, committee, report, and third reading.

If the other house amends the bill, both chambers must agree on the change before the bill can become law.

Royal Assent

Once both chambers have passed the bill, it goes on to receive Royal Assent. Royal Assent is the formal process of turning a bill into law. The Governor General or one of his or her deputies can give Royal Assent in writing or in a ceremony in the Senate Chamber.

Royal assent turns the bill into an Act of Parliament.

When Does the Law Come into Force?

Acts don’t necessarily become enforceable laws right away. The legislation may specify a future date that it comes into force. The Governor General can also set a date for enforcement.

What Happens if the Bill Fails?

If the House or Senate rejects a bill, it does not become a law. However, a member can reintroduce the it as a new bill with a new number in the next session.

This entry was posted in Canada, Government and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.