Skip to main content

House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

 
Search Term(s): Skip to Content 

 

 

Bills sponsored by private Members fall into two categories, public bills and private bills. Public bills deal with matters of public policy under federal jurisdiction, whereas private bills concern matters of a private or special interest to specific corporations and individuals and are designed to confer special powers or benefits upon the beneficiary or to exclude the beneficiary from the general application of the law. The vast majority of private Members’ bills are public bills. Procedures relating to public bills are discussed in this chapter while those concerning private bills are dealt with in Chapter 23, “Private Bills Practice”.

A private Member’s bill is typically drafted with the assistance of Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) in the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel to ensure the appropriateness of the proposed legislation, taking into account existing laws, drafting conventions and constitutional and formal requirements. In drafting each legislative proposal, Parliamentary Counsel act on the Member’s clear, written instructions about the purposes and objectives of the proposed legislation. A private Member’s bill is certified by Parliamentary Counsel in accordance with the Standing Orders to indicate that the bill is in the correct form.[52] The certified copy of the bill is then returned to the Member.

*   Financial Limitations

There is a constitutional requirement that bills proposing the expenditure of public funds must be accompanied by a royal recommendation, which can be obtained only by the government and introduced by a Minister. Since a Minister cannot propose items of Private Members’ Business, a private Member’s bill should therefore not contain provisions for the spending of funds. However, since 1994, a private Member may introduce a public bill containing provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds and it may proceed through the legislative process provided that a royal recommendation is obtained by a Minister before the bill is read a third time and passed.[53] Before 1994, the royal recommendation had to accompany the bill at the time of its introduction. The Speaker is responsible for determining whether any bill requires a royal recommendation. If a royal recommendation is not produced by the time the House is ready to decide on the motion for third reading and the bill still requires a royal recommendation, then the Speaker is empowered to stop the proceedings and rule the bill out of order.[54] The Speaker has the duty and responsibility to ensure that the constitutional requirements, as reflected in the Standing Orders of the House, are upheld. There is no provision in the Standing Orders relating to financial procedures which would permit the Speaker to leave it to the House to decide. The House may not set aside by unanimous consent statutory or constitutional provisions.[55] The requirement for a royal recommendation is not a criterion for determining the votability or non-votability of a private Member’s bill.[56]

With respect to the raising of revenue, a private Member cannot introduce bills which impose taxes. The power to initiate taxation rests solely with the government and any legislation which seeks an increase in taxation must be preceded by a ways and means motion.[57] Only a Minister can bring in a ways and means motion. However, private Members’ bills which reduce taxes, reduce the incidence of a tax, or impose or increase an exemption from taxation are acceptable.[58]

*   Notice

Once a bill has been drafted, the Member must give 48 hours’ notice of his or her intention to introduce the bill, indicating the committee to which the bill will be referred following second reading. The title of the bill and the name of its sponsor are then published in the Notice Paper. After the 48‑hour notice period has expired, the bill may then be introduced and given first reading during Routine Proceedings whenever the Member is ready to proceed.[59]

*   Similar Items

If a Member submits notice of a bill which is judged by the Speaker to be substantially the same as another item of Private Members’ Business already submitted, the Speaker has the discretionary power to refuse the most recent notice. If the Speaker refuses the notice, the sponsoring Member is advised and the bill is returned.[60] This is intended to prevent a number of similar items being placed in the Order of Precedence. In a 1989 ruling, Speaker Fraser clarified that for two or more items to be substantially the same, they must have the same purpose and they have to achieve their same purpose by the same means.[61] This was reiterated in a ruling given by Speaker Milliken in November 2006.[62] Thus, there could be several bills addressing the same subject, but if their approaches to the issue are different, the Chair could deem them to be sufficiently distinct.[63]

When a bill originating in the Senate has been passed by that Chamber, a message is sent informing the House and requesting its concurrence in the measure. The Speaker reads the message to the House and the bill is placed on the Order Paper under the heading “First Reading of Senate Public Bills”. No notice is required. If it is a private Senator’s public bill, it is placed in the Order of Precedence automatically following first reading. As no notice is required, even if such a bill is substantially the same as a private Member’s bill already introduced in the House, it is procedurally acceptable because the provisions of the Standing Orders giving the Speaker the power to refuse a notice of a similar or identical bill do not apply.[64]

The question has arisen whether a private Member’s bill which is similar to a government bill may be placed on the Order Paper and debated. The authorities and past rulings show that there is nothing to prevent such similar items from being placed on the Order Paper simultaneously. However, because the House cannot take more than one decision on any given matter during a session, a decision on any one of these bills will prevent further proceedings on any other similar bills.[65] Consideration of bills deemed non‑votable, if dropped from the Order Paper after debate, does not preclude consideration of other similar, or even identical, bills since the House does not take a decision on non‑votable items.[66]

*   Seconders

A Member who wishes to support a bill already appearing on the Order Paper may notify the Clerk of the House in writing of his or her desire to second the bill. The names of the Members wishing to support the bill will be added to the list of seconders on the Order Paper.[67] Once the order for second reading has been proposed to the House, no additional names may be appended.[68] No more than 20 Members may jointly second an item under Private Members’ Business.[69] The Member, who seconds the motions for introduction and first reading of the bill in the House, as well as for subsequent stages, need not be one of the seconders listed on the Order Paper.

*   Introduction and First Reading of Private Members’ Bills

To be eligible to be placed in the Order of Precedence, private Members’ bills originating in the House must be introduced and given first reading. When a Member on the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business is about to be eligible to bring forward an item for debate, if that item is to be a bill, it must be introduced no later than the day on which the Order of Precedence is created or replenished.[70] On the day the Member chooses to introduce the bill, he or she rises during Routine Proceedings when the Speaker calls “Introduction of Private Members’ Bills”.[71] The Speaker then announces the title of the bill and the motion for leave to introduce the bill is automatically deemed carried, without debate, amendment or question put.[72] The Member is permitted to give a succinct explanation outlining the purpose of the bill.[73] Since no debate is permitted at this time, the Member often simply reads the explanatory note in the bill. The bill is then deemed read a first time and ordered to be printed, also without debate, amendment or question put.[74]

The bill is then transferred to the list of “Private Members’ Business―Items Outside the Order of Precedence” (this list of items, which may be consulted at the Table in the Chamber or on the electronic version of the Order Paper, does not actually appear in the printed publication of the Order Paper). Having been placed on this List, the bill is set down for second reading and reference to a committee. When submitting a bill for inclusion on the Notice Paper, the sponsor must indicate the standing, special or legislative committee to which the bill is to be referred following second reading.

*   Senate Public Bills Sponsored by Private Members

Some private Members’ public bills originate in the Senate and are sent to the Commons after passage by the Senate. When the Speaker calls “First Reading of Senate Public Bills” during Routine Proceedings, the Member sponsoring a Senate bill in the House is permitted to give a brief explanation of its purpose, without entering into debate.[75] The motion for first reading is then deemed carried without debate, amendment or question put and the bill is automatically added to the bottom of the Order of Precedence for Private Members’ Business.[76] When sponsoring a Senate public bill or a private bill from either House, a Member need not use his or her place in the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business. However, each Member may sponsor only one Senate public bill or one private bill over the course of a Parliament.[77]

Top of Page



[52] Standing Order 68(3).

[53] Standing Order 79(2). See the Twenty‑Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on June 8, 1994 (Journals, p. 545) and concurred in on June 10, 1994 (Journals, p. 563). For an example of a private Member’s bill to which a royal recommendation was attached prior to third reading, see Journals, December 6, 1994, p. 997. Bill C‑216, An Act to amend the Unemployment Insurance Act (jury service), had been reported back to the House from committee on June 16, 1994, and debate at the third reading stage began on December 6, 1994. The Bill was given Royal Assent March 26, 1995. There have been numerous Speakers’ rulings regarding bills and their potential need for an accompanying royal recommendation if the bill proposed a charge on the public treasury (see, for example, Journals, November 9, 1978, pp. 130‑3; February 20, 1979, pp. 393‑5; June 6, 1980, pp. 244‑5; Debates, October 29, 2003, pp. 8899‑900; November 18, 2004, pp. 1553‑4; November 22, 2004, p. 1621; December 7, 2004, p. 2412; March 21, 2005, pp. 4372‑3; May 9, 2005, pp. 5779‑80; June 13, 2005, pp. 6990‑2; October 3, 2005, pp. 8293‑4; October 26, 2005, pp. 9133‑4; November 23, 2005, pp. 10060‑1; May 31, 2006, pp. 1777‑9; June 1, 2006, pp. 1851-3; September 19, 2006, p. 2999; September 20, 2006, pp. 3044‑5; September 25, 2006, pp. 3197‑8; September 27, 2006, pp. 3314‑5; November 9, 2006, p. 4979; October 17, 2007, p. 53). See also Debates, November 1, 1991, pp. 4410‑4, where the Chair heard arguments regarding the procedural acceptability of a private Member’s bill requiring the expenditure of public funds. One Member argued that on the basis of a ruling made in 1912 (Journals, January 16, 1912, pp. 118‑9), clauses can be inserted into bills that will prevent funds being expended unless Parliament appropriates money for the purpose set out in the bill. Because the bill had not been selected to come to a vote, proceedings on the bill expired at the end of Private Members’ Hour, and the Speaker never returned to the House with a definitive ruling.

[54] See, for example, the Speaker’s rulings concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), given during debate on the motion for second reading, prior to the beginning of report stage and prior to the beginning of debate at third reading, as well as at the end of third reading debate discharging the Bill and dropping the item from the Order Paper (Debates, November 6, 2006, p. 4719; April 18, 2007, p. 8376; October 17, 2007, p. 53; Journals, November 30, 2007, p. 246, Debates, p. 1608). See also, the Speaker’s rulings concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), given during debate on the motion for second reading, prior to the beginning of report stage, and at the end of third reading debate discharging the Bill and dropping the item from the Order Paper (Debates, November 10, 2006, p. 5027; April 18, 2007, p. 8376; Journals, June 1, 2007, p. 1461, Debates, p. 10057). For an example of a bill being amended in committee to remove the need for a royal recommendation, see the Speaker’s rulings concerning Bill C-293, An Act respecting the provision of official development assistance abroad, given before debate on the motion for second reading, pointing out the need for a royal recommendation, and prior to the beginning of debate on motions in amendment to the Bill at report stage where the Speaker ruled that the Bill no longer required a royal recommendation. See Debates, September 19, 2006, p. 2999; February 19, 2007, pp. 6971‑2 (the Bill was concurred in with further amendments, read a third time and passed on March 28, 2007 (Journals, pp. 1173-7)). For further information on the royal recommendation, see Chapter 16, “The Legislative Process”, and Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.

[55] Debates, November 3, 1983, pp. 28655‑7.

[56] For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Criteria for Determining Non‑votability”.

[57] Beauchesne, A., Beauchesne’s Rules & Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, 6th ed., edited by A. Fraser, W.F. Dawson and J.A. Holtby, Toronto: The Carswell Company Limited, 1989, p. 265. See also Debates, December 2, 1998, pp. 10788‑91; October 24, 2002, p. 889; March 11, 2004, p. 1366; November 28, 2007, pp. 1463‑4.

[58] May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 23rd ed., edited by Sir W. McKay, London: LexisNexis UK, 2004, pp. 896‑7, 901‑2; Beauchesne, 6th ed., p. 267. See also Debates, June 13, 2005, pp. 6990‑2; January 31, 2008, pp. 2413-5, 2434; February 1, 2008, p. 2480. In the Thirty-Ninth Parliament, the consideration of Bill C-253, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions), sponsored by Dan McTeague (Pickering–Scarborough East) generated much discussion in the House and in the media. On June 21, 2006, Rob Nicholson (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform) raised a point of order in relation to the Bill (Debates, pp. 2758-9). Mr. Nicholson had argued that the Bill contained provisions for calculation of taxable income which would increase taxation revenues, thus necessitating the adoption of a ways and means motion prior to its introduction. On November 1, 2006, Speaker Milliken ruled that the provisions in question were in the nature of a tax deferral, imposing no increased burden on the contributor. Commenting that it was permissible for a private Member’s bill to introduce a tax exemption, or to propose a delay in the reporting of income, he ruled that Bill C-253 was properly before the House (Debates, p. 4540). The Bill was read a second time and referred to committee on November 8, 2006 (Journals, pp. 661-2), reported with amendments on March 21, 2007 (Journals, p. 1122), debated at report stage on November 28, 2007 (Journals, pp. 230-1) and February 28, 2008 (Journals, p. 489), and concurred in at report stage with further amendments, read a third time and passed on March 5, 2008 (Journals, pp. 521-9). On March 11, 2008, Jim Flaherty (Minister of Finance) tabled a notice of ways and means which in part was meant to overturn the provisions of Bill C-253 (Debates, p. 3971). On March 12, 2008, John McCallum (Markham–Unionville) raised a point of order concerning the notice, arguing that the House was being asked to pronounce itself again in the same session on the same subject (Debates, pp. 4050-5). On March 13, 2008, the Speaker ruled that the notice of ways and means could proceed (Debates, pp. 4109-10), and the House concurred in the notice the same day (Journals, pp. 598-9). The Bill was under study in the Senate when the Thirty-Ninth Parliament was dissolved.

[59] For further information on notices, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[60] Standing Order 86(4). In 2004, the Acting Speaker (Marcel Proulx) ruled that Bill C‑320 (the Pension Ombudsman Act) was improperly before the House because an identical Bill (Bill C‑228) had been introduced and read a first time earlier. Therefore, he ordered that Bill C‑320 be removed from the Order Paper (Journals, December 14, 2004, p. 354, Debates, p. 2789).

[61] Debates, November 2, 1989, pp. 5474‑5.

[62] Debates, November 7, 2006, pp. 4785‑6. The similarity of private Members’ bills led to two significant rulings in the Thirty-Ninth Parliament. The first was delivered on November 7, 2006, when Speaker Milliken ruled on a point of order concerning the similarity of two private Members’ bills, C‑257 and C‑295, both amending the Canada Labour Code in relation to replacement workers. It had been argued that except for minor differences relating to fines, the bills were substantially the same. This situation had arisen when both bills had been placed in the Order of Precedence when it was established at the beginning of the First Session of the Thirty-Ninth Parliament (see Order Paper and Notice Paper, May 19, 2006, pp. 17, 20). The criteria applied by the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business to deem items non‑votable would not allow the Subcommittee to deem one of the bills non-votable since the House had not yet taken a decision on either item at the time of the Subcommittee’s examination of the two bills. Speaker Milliken stated that the bills were identical in terms of their legislative and procedural impact and that the differences, while important, did not make the bills into distinctly different legislative initiatives. He was forced to conclude that both bills were substantially the same. As Bill C‑257 had received second reading, the question arose as to whether or not Bill C‑295 should be allowed to proceed. Under his authority to regulate Private Members’ Business, the Speaker ordered that Bill C‑295 be dropped to the bottom of the Order of Precedence. He asked the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine the matter. The Committee did take up the issue and recommended that the sponsor of Bill C-295 be given the option of debating it as a non‑votable item, or of withdrawing the Bill and substituting another item. The sponsor withdrew the Bill and replaced it with a motion. In a later report, the Standing Committee recommended changes to the criteria used by the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business for determining if an item should be designated non‑votable, as well as amendments to the Standing Orders allowing Members with an item determined non-votable to substitute another item. The House later concurred in the report (Debates, November 1, 2006, pp. 4544‑5; December 6, 2006, p. 5697; Journals, November 27, 2006, p. 810 (Twenty‑Third Report); May 9, 2007, pp. 1377‑8 (Forty‑Ninth Report); Standing Order 92.1). The second ruling given by Speaker Milliken concerned the similarities between Bill C-257 and Bill C-415 which also amended the Canada Labour Code in relation to replacement workers. Bill C-415 was introduced by Mario Silva (Davenport) on March 22, 2007 (Journals, p. 1142) and placed in the Order of Precedence on April 23, 2007 (Order Paper and Notice Paper, April 24, 2007, p. 41). On May 1, 2007, Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform) had raised a point of order arguing that, although it had one new clause and one new subsection, Bill C-415 was virtually identical to Bill C-257 (Debates, pp. 8934-5). He asked the Speaker to clarify whether it was in order for the Bill to have been introduced. The Speaker, while admitting that the two bills had exactly the same objective, noted that Bill C-415 was broader in scope, was consequently not substantially the same as Bill C-257 and, accordingly, its consideration could proceed (Debates, May 7, 2007, pp. 9131-2).

[63] Debates, May 7, 2007, pp. 9131‑2.

[64] Standing Order 86(4). See, for example, Bill C‑311, An Act to provide for the recognition of the Canadien Horse as the national horse of Canada, introduced in the House on March 28, 2001 (Journals, p. 233), and Bill S‑22, An Act to provide for the recognition of the Canadian Horse as the national horse of Canada, received from the Senate on November 8, 2001, and read a first time on November 20, 2001 (Journals, pp. 819, 830). Both bills were sponsored by the same Member, Murray Calder (Dufferin–Peel–Wellington–Grey), in the House. Bill S‑22 was subsequently passed into law (S.C. 2002, c. 11). See also Bill C‑268, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses, introduced by Peter Stoffer (Sackville–Eastern Shore) on May 8, 2006 (Journals, p. 139), and Bill S‑220, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses (sponsored in the House by Gerald Keddy (South Shore–St. Margaret’s)), received from the Senate on January 29, 2007 and read a first time on February 7, 2007 (Journals, pp. 921, 980).

[65] Bourinot, Sir J.G., Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 4th ed., edited by T.B. Flint, Toronto: Canada Law Book Company, 1916, pp. 547‑8. See also Speaker Michener’s rulings, Journals, October 29, 1957, p. 64; March 13, 1959, p. 238.

[66] For example, Bill C‑321, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (cumulative sentences), which was identical to Bill C‑274, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (cumulative sentences), was introduced in the House on June 20, 1996, after Bill C‑274 was debated at second reading and dropped from the Order Paper on June 4, 1996 (Journals, June 4, 1996, pp. 486‑7; June 20, 1996, p. 592).

[67] Standing Order 86(2). Occasionally, by unanimous consent, more than one Member may be permitted to second a private Member’s bill when it is moved in the House. See, for example, Journals, April 27, 1994, p. 401; June 3, 1998, p. 929; February 9, 2004, pp. 29-30.

[68] Standing Order 86(3).

[69] Standing Order 86(2).

[70] Standing Order 87(1)(c)(i).

[71] In order to facilitate the proceedings, Members usually advise the Speaker or the Table Officers in advance that they wish to introduce a bill or bills on a particular day. Occasionally, two or more Members work together to have a bill drafted. However, as the Standing Orders do not permit joint movers of bills, when such a bill is introduced only one of the originators may move the introduction and first reading of the bill. One of the sponsors may second the motions. Only on the cover of the published bill are the joint sponsors listed. See, for example, Bill C-324, An Act respecting Louis Riel, introduced on December 4, 2002 (Journals, p. 256, Debates, pp. 2263-4); Bill C-469, An Act to recognize Canada’s recreational hunting and fishing heritage and to establish the National Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission, introduced on November 6, 2003 (Journals, p. 1248, Debates, p. 9236); Bill C-275, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (failure to stop at scene of accident), introduced on November 15, 2004 (Journals, p. 210, Debates, pp. 1334-5); Bill C-408, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (change of political affiliation), introduced on June 17, 2005 (Journals, pp. 925-6, Debates, p. 7379).

[72] Standing Order 68(2).

[73] While a succinct explanation has traditionally been interpreted to mean 30‑60 seconds, it has become more common for Members to speak for longer than 60 seconds since the beginning of the Thirty‑Fifth Parliament (1994‑97). However, the Speaker encourages Members to be brief. See Debates, June 22, 2006, pp. 2819‑20.

[74] Standing Order 69(1).

[75] See, for example, Debates, November 20, 2001, p. 7301; November 28, 2005, p. 10215; February 7, 2007, p. 6519; November 30, 2007, p. 1589. See also the point of order raised by Paul Szabo (Mississauga South) and the Speaker’s ruling (Debates, October 31, 2006, pp. 4446‑7; October 30, 2006, p. 4416).

[76] Since the beginning of 1990, 12 Senate public bills sponsored by private Members have received Royal Assent (Journals, December 17, 1990, p. 2475; June 22, 1995, p. 1871; December 18, 2001, pp. 960‑1; March 21, 2002, p. 1245; April 30, 2002, p. 1361; June 19, 2003, p. 940; November 24, 2005, pp. 1335‑6; May 5, 2005, p. 710; February 14, 2008, p. 446; April 17, 2008, p. 723; May 29, 2008, pp. 873-4; June 18, 2008, pp. 1011-2).

[77] Standing Order 86.2(2).

Top of Page