The average man, bewildered and overpowered by the thousands of laws and regulations which press in upon him and increasingly restrict his freedom, his right to make decisions, would be left absolutely defenceless without an active parliament with the strength and vitality which it must possess.

GERALD WILLIAM BALDWIN, M.P. (Peace River)

(Debates, December 10, 1968, p. 3791)

The examination and enactment of legislation are often regarded as the most significant task of Parliament. It is therefore not surprising that the legislative process occupies a major portion of Parliament’s time.1 But what exactly is the legislative process? There are those who have defined it as a structured series of actions whereby a legislative proposal is examined, debated, sometimes amended and ultimately either rejected or proclaimed as a statute. Indeed, formal action and consent are required at every parliamentary stage of what is, in fact, a much lengthier process starting with the proposal, formulation and drafting of a bill, normally by extra-parliamentary governmental bodies.

In the Parliament of Canada, there is a clearly defined method for enacting legislation. This method is based on the examination of bills—formal legislative proposals that have been referred to by one authority as “the exclusive technical form for the exercise of the great functions of Parliament”.2 A bill must pass through a number of very specific stages in the House of Commons and the Senate before it becomes law. In parliamentary terminology, these stages make up what is called “the legislative process”. The passage of a bill by the House of Commons and the Senate is effectively a request that the Crown proclaim its text as the law of the land. Once it has received Royal Assent, it is transformed from a bill into a statute. Because the process whereby a legislative proposal becomes first a bill, and then a law, takes place in Parliament, the end product—the statute—is often called an “Act of Parliament”.3

Traditionally, the legislative process begins with the introduction of a bill in one of the Houses of Parliament and ends with the granting of Royal Assent, which brings together the three constituent elements of Parliament: the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons. To these stages of the legislative process some would add the proclamation of the bill when this precedes its coming into force. The process is complex, but its essence is simple—the validation of a statute by way of the approval of the same text by the three constituent elements of Parliament.

This chapter will examine the stages through which a public bill must pass before becoming law. Private bills follow essentially the same stages, but they must be initiated by a petition and are subject to certain special rules.4