Legislative Process for Private Bills
Private bills are subject to the same procedural requirements as public bills: they must be given three separate readings and a detailed study by a committee.84 Bills originating in the Senate retain their Senate bill number during passage through the House.85 Private bills originating in the House are numbered consecutively beginning with C-1001. Private bills are considered during the time provided for Private Members’ Business. However, as explained earlier in this chapter, while a private bill must be sponsored by a private Member in the House, it is not considered a private Member’s bill because it is introduced at the request of a private person outside Parliament. Members sponsoring such bills can therefore still take advantage of all of the opportunities available to them under Private Members’ Business.86
Filing of the Petition
As soon as a petition for a private bill is received, the Clerk of Petitions asks the Member who will be acting as the sponsor to endorse the petition by signing the back of it.87 It is then filed with the Clerk of the House and recorded in that day’s Journals.88 The petition must bear the original signatures of the persons who are requesting the legislation and who are to benefit from it.89 In the case of a petition from a corporation, the petition must bear the corporate seal as well as the signatures of the authorized officials of the corporation. The signatures must appear at the end of the prayer,90 and where there are three or more petitioners, at least three of the signatures must follow the prayer on the same page.91
Although the Standing Orders do not require a petition for a private bill originating in the Senate to be considered by the House, the long-established practice is for the promoter of the bill to petition each House separately.92 With a private bill originating in the Senate, the usual practice is for the Member acting as the sponsor to file the petition with the Clerk of the House after the bill has received second reading in the Senate.
Report of the Clerk of Petitions
The day after the filing of the petition is recorded in the Journals, the Clerk of Petitions submits a report to the Clerk of the House indicating whether the petition meets the requirements of the Standing Orders and the practices of the House as to form and content. This report is recorded in the Journals for that day. If the petition meets the requirements, it is deemed read and received93 and will be deemed referred to a legislative committee which will be studying the private bill, as well as all petitions for or against the bill, after second reading.94 If the petition is deemed inadmissible, it cannot be received by the House as it stands and the private bill based thereon cannot be submitted to the House.95 No debate is allowed on the report of the Clerk of Petitions.96
Report of the Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills
Once the petition for a private bill has been received by the House, the Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills examines the petition and the published notices to ensure that the requirements have been met regarding notice and the number of times it has been advertised in the Canada Gazette.97 The Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills then files a report with the Clerk of the House on whether the requirements regarding notice have been observed by the applicant.98 This report is recorded in the Journals for that day. Should the Examiner report that notice has been deficient or defective in some way or that there is some doubt in the matter, the Examiner’s report and the petition are deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.99 If a private bill originating in the Senate is sent to the Commons without being based on a petition received in the House, the Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills compares the terms of the preamble of the bill with the required notices and proceeds exactly as if a petition had been received.100
Committee Proceedings on the Publication of Notices
If a report of the Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills has been referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the Committee may call before it the Member of Parliament who presented the petition as well as the applicant or the parliamentary agent. After hearing their explanations, the Committee decides whether or not the petition should be acted on and under what conditions. The Committee presents a report to the House regarding any deficiencies or defects found in the notices and recommends the course it deems appropriate in the circumstances.101 For example, the Committee may recommend that certain provisions of the Standing Orders be suspended, the grounds for which are included in the report. Should the Committee not recommend that the Standing Orders be suspended, the House cannot consider the bill based on the petition.102 After the Committee’s report has been presented to the House, the Chair of the Committee or the Member who presented the petition will usually move concurrence in the report.103
First Reading of the Bill
After either the Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills or the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has reported that the notice requirements have been satisfied (i.e., the applicants have published a notice of intent in the Canada Gazette and elsewhere, as required by the Standing Orders, and have provided proof of this publication), or the House has agreed to suspend those requirements, any private bill originating in the Commons may be laid upon the Table by the Clerk of the House.104 It is then deemed to have been read a first time, ordered to be printed, ordered for a second reading, and added to the bottom of the order of precedence for Private Members’ Business.105 It is considered a votable item for the purposes of Private Members’ Business.
A private bill originating in the Senate is deemed to have been read a first time and ordered for a second reading at a subsequent sitting of the House as soon as a message is received from the Senate advising that it has passed the bill.106 It is also placed at the bottom of the order of precedence for Private Members’ Business and is considered a votable item.
Second Reading and Reference to a Committee
Unlike a public bill, which is founded on reasons of public policy and which the House, in agreeing to its second reading, accepts and affirms the principle, the expediency of a private bill is mainly founded upon assertions which have to be proven in committee. The practice is for the House to agree to the second reading of a private bill; in doing so, it affirms the principle of the private bill conditionally, subject to a committee confirming that the assertions set down in the preamble are true.107 The amendments which can be moved at second reading are the same as those which can be moved to the motion for second reading of a public bill (a hoist amendment, a reasoned amendment, and a motion to discharge the order for second reading).108
Although the Standing Orders require that all private bills be referred to a legislative committee after second reading, the House of Commons regularly gives unanimous consent to conduct the committee stage in Committee of the Whole since most private bills originate in the Senate.109 However, where the House has received a petition against the bill or Members feel the bill warrants further examination, it is usually referred to a legislative committee.110
The first business of the committee is to prove the preamble of the bill; that is, to substantiate the assertions contained in the bill’s preamble and on which the rest of the bill is based. The promoters, or their parliamentary agent, present their case for the veracity of the assertions and the appropriateness of the solution provided by the provisions of the bill. Any opponents, or their parliamentary agent, may present grounds for opposition to the bill or to some part of it. If any part of the preamble is not proven to the committee’s satisfaction, then it may strike from the bill both that part of the preamble and those provisions which pertain to the unproven assertions. The committee may instead prefer to report that the preamble was found not proven and that the bill should not be proceeded with further. Any report must include the reason for any material change to the preamble of the bill or why the preamble was found not proven.111 Finally, the committee may amend the preamble by expunging any assertions the promoters may wish to withdraw.
After the committee has considered and approved the preamble, it reviews the bill clause by clause and amendments may be moved. The amendments made to a private bill by a committee ought not to be so extensive as to constitute a different bill from that which has been read a second time.112 All questions before the committee are decided by a majority of votes. The Chair of the legislative committee may vote twice: once with the other members of the committee on any question, and then a second time if the first vote results in a tie.113 The Chair initials the clauses of the bill when they are passed, with or without amendments, and signs the bill.114 Once the deliberations on the bill have been completed, the committee is required to report the bill to the House, with or without amendments.115
If a committee reports to the House that the preamble was not proven, the bill is not placed on the Order Paper except by special order of the House.116 If the committee reports to the House that the bill contains provisions which were not contemplated in the notice or petition, the bill is not placed on the Order Paper until the Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills reports on the sufficiency or otherwise of the notice or petition to cover such provisions.117
Since the bill belongs to the promoter and not to the Member in charge of ushering the bill through the House, the promoter may inform the committee at any time that he or she does not wish to proceed any further with the bill.118 This is reported to the House with the bill and the bill is withdrawn.119
Report Stage and Third Reading
These two stages are governed by the Standing Orders relating to Private Members’ Business.120 When a private bill is considered at the report stage, one day’s notice of all amendments to the bill must be given.121 During the third reading stage, the same amendments that may be proposed during third reading of a public bill may also be moved (a hoist amendment, a reasoned amendment, and an amendment to recommit the bill to committee).
Passage and Royal Assent
If a private bill that has originated in the House is passed in the same form by the Senate, the bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law. If it is amended by the Senate, a message is sent informing the House of the amendments. Between 1945 and 1978 (the last time a private bill originated in the House), no amendments were made by the Senate to private bills originating in the House. In the early years of Confederation, the Senate often amended private bills that had originated in the House. The House would typically read the amendments a second time and pass them.122 If amendments were substantive as opposed to “merely verbal or unimportant”, the House would refer the amendments to the committee that originally studied the bill.123 If these amendments were agreed to by the committee in a report to the House, they were considered by the House.124 If the amendments were read a second time and passed by the House, a message was sent informing the Senate accordingly and the bill then received Royal Assent. If the committee disagreed with the amendments, it reported accordingly to the House. If it concurred in the committee’s report, the House then sent a message to this effect to the Senate.125
If a private bill that has originated in the Senate is passed by the House in the same form, the bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law. If the House of Commons has passed the bill with amendments, a message is sent to the Senate requesting concurrence in the amendments. Subsequently, a message is received from the Senate agreeing or disagreeing with the amendments. If the amendments are concurred in by the Senate, a message is sent informing the House of its concurrence and the bill may then receive Royal Assent.126 If the Senate does not agree with the amendments, it informs the House accordingly.127