House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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16. The Legislative Process

Structure of Bills

A bill is composed of a number of elements, some of which, such as the title, are essential or fundamental, while others, such as the preamble, are optional. The following is a description of the various elements of a bill.


When a bill is introduced in the House, it is assigned a number to facilitate filing and reference. [103]  Government bills are numbered consecutively from C-2 to C-200, [104] while private members’ bills are numbered consecutively from C-201 to C-1000. Although private bills are rarely introduced in the House, they are numbered beginning at C-1001. In order to differentiate between bills that are introduced in the two Houses of Parliament, the number assigned to bills introduced in the Senate begins with an “S” rather than a “C”. Senate bills are numbered consecutively beginning at S-1, whether they are government bills, private Members’ bills or private bills, and are not renumbered or reprinted when they are sent to the Commons.


The title is an essential element of a bill. A bill may have two titles: a full or long title and a short title. [105]  The long title appears both on the bill’s cover page, under the number assigned to the bill, and at the top of the first page of the document. It sets out the purpose of the bill, in general terms, and must accurately reflect its content. The short title is used mainly for citation purposes, and does not necessarily cover all aspects of the bill. [106]  The first clause of the bill normally sets out the short title (except in the case of bills amending other Acts, which do not have a short title).


Sometimes a bill has a preamble, which sets out the purposes of the bill and the reasons for introducing it. [107]  The preamble appears between the long title and the enacting clause.

Enacting Clause

The enacting clause is an essential part of the bill. It states the authority under which it is enacted, and consists of a brief paragraph following the long title and preceding the provisions of the bill: “Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:”. Where there is a preamble, the enacting clause follows it. [108] 


A clause is a fundamental element of a bill. It may be divided into subclauses, and then into paragraphs and even subparagraphs. [109] A bill may be comprised of parts, divisions and subdivisions, but not necessarily; however, the numbering of the clauses is continuous from beginning to end. A clause should contain a single idea, which is most often expressed in a single sentence. A number of related ideas will be set out in subclauses within a single clause. [110] 

Interpretation Provisions

A bill will sometimes include definitions or rules of interpretation, [111]  which provide a legal definition of the key expressions used in the legislation and how those expressions apply, and which are often among the initial clauses of a bill. However, there is nothing that requires that a bill include interpretation provisions.

Coming-into-force Provisions

A bill may contain a clause, usually at the end of the bill, specifying when the bill or certain provisions of the bill will come into force. Sometimes, legislation is passed by both Houses of Parliament and receives Royal Assent, but does not come into force immediately if it contains a provision that it will come into force only on a specific date (other than the date of Royal Assent) or a date to be fixed by Order in Council. Otherwise, the bill ill come into force on the day it is assented to.


A bill may contain schedules which provide details that are essential to certain provisions of the bill. There are two types of schedules: [112]  those that contain material that cannot be put into the form of sections, such as, for example, tables, diagrams, lists and maps, [113]  and those that reproduce an agreement that falls within Crown prerogative, such as, for example, treaties and conventions. [114] 

Explanatory Notes

When the purpose of a bill is to amend an existing Act, the drafters will insert notes to explain the amendments made by the bill. Among other things, these notes provide the original text of the provisions affected by the bill. They are considered not to be part of the bill, and they disappear from subsequent reprints of the bill. [115] 


The summary is a general description of the bill. It consists of “a clear, factual, non-partisan summary of the purpose of the bill and its main provisions”. [116]  The purpose of the summary is to improve the explanatory material that is available to understand better the contents of the bill. The summary is not part of the contents but appears separately at the beginning of the bill. Once the bill has been passed, it will also appear on a page preceding the resulting Act. [117] 

Marginal Notes

Marginal notes consist of short explanations that appear in the margin of the bill. They do not form part of the bill, and appear only as readers’ aids or for information purposes. [118] 

Underlining and Vertical Lines

In a bill that amends an existing Act, the new text is underlined when it consists of long passages, or simply indicated with a vertical line (in the margin beside the new clauses, subclauses or paragraphs). When a bill that has been amended in committee is reprinted, only the additions made since the last printing are indicated in this manner.


To make the reader’s job easier, legislative drafters insert headings throughout the text. However, those headings are not considered to be part of the bill and therefore cannot be amended. [119] 

Table of Contents

As an aid to readers, legislative drafters sometimes add a table of contents at the beginning or end of a bill. It is not, however, considered to be part of the bill.

Royal Recommendation

Bills that involve the expenditure of public funds must have a Royal Recommendation. [120]  The recommendation is made by the Governor General. Generally, it is communicated to the House before a bill is introduced, and it must be published in the Notice Paper and printed in or annexed to the bill. [121]  The Royal Recommendation is not part of the bill but appears separately at the beginning of the bill. [122]  After the bill is given first reading, the text of the Royal Recommendation is printed in the Journals. The Royal Recommendation may only be obtained by the government.

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