Structure of Bills

A bill is composed of a number of elements, some of which, such as the title, are essential, 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.109 During each session of a Parliament, government bills are numbered consecutively from C-2 to C-200.110 Private Members’ bills are numbered consecutively from C-201 to C-1000 throughout the life of a Parliament, since they are not nullified by prorogation. Private bills, which are rarely introduced in the House, are numbered beginning at C-1001. In order to differentiate between bills introduced in the two Houses of Parliament, the number assigned to bills introduced in the Senate begins with an “S” rather than a “C”. Government bills originating in the Senate are numbered consecutively from S-1 to S-200, Senators’ public bills are numbered consecutively from S-201 to S-1000, and Senators’ private bills are numbered beginning at S-1001. Senate bills are neither renumbered nor reprinted when they are sent to the Commons.111


The title is an essential element of a bill. A bill may have two titles: a full or long title and an abbreviated or short title.112 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 purposes of citation, and does not necessarily cover all aspects of the bill.113 The first clause of the bill normally sets out the short title. Clause 1 of a bill may instead contain what is referred to as an “alternative title”, which may actually be longer than the long title.114


Sometimes a bill has a preamble, which sets out its purposes and the reasons for introducing it.115 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:”. In the event that there is a preamble, the enacting clause follows it.116


Clauses—particular and separate articles of a bill—are its most fundamental constitutive element. Clauses may be divided into subclauses, and then into paragraphs and even subparagraphs.117 A bill may (but need not) also be divided into parts, divisions and subdivisions, each containing one or more clauses; however, the numbering of the clauses is continuous from beginning to end. A clause should express a single idea, preferably in a single sentence. A number of related ideas may be set out in subclauses within a single clause.118

Interpretation Provisions

A bill will sometimes include (usually among its initial clauses) definitions or rules of interpretation119 which provide a legal definition of key expressions used in the legislation and indicate how those expressions apply. There is, however, no formal requirement that a bill include interpretation provisions.

Coming-into-force Provisions

A clause may be included in a bill specifying when the bill or certain of its provisions shall come into force. The coming into force of legislation may be delayed after Royal Assent if the bill contains a clause providing for its proclamation on another specific date or on a date to be fixed by Order in Council. In the absence of a coming-into-force provision, the bill will take effect on the day it is assented to.120


Schedules providing details that are essential to certain provisions of a bill may be appended to it. There are two types of schedules:121 those that contain material unsuitable for insertion in the main body of the bill, such as, for example, tables, diagrams, lists and maps,122 and those that reproduce agreements falling within the prerogative of the Crown, such as, for example, treaties, conventions and protocols.123

Explanatory Notes

When the purpose of a bill is to amend an existing Act, the drafters will often insert notes to explain the amendments made by the bill. Among other things, these notes reproduce the original text of the provisions affected by the bill. They are not considered to be part of the bill, and they disappear from subsequent reprints.124


The summary is a comprehensive and usually brief recapitulation of the substance of a bill. It offers “a clear, factual, non-partisan summary of the purpose of the bill and its main provisions”.125 The purpose of the summary is to contribute to a better understanding of the contents of the bill, of which it is not a part. For this reason, it appears separately at the beginning of the bill and is not subject to amendment. The final version of the summary may be updated to reflect amendments to the bill. Once the bill has been passed, it will also appear on a page affixed to the front of printed versions of the resulting Act.126

Underlining and Vertical Lines

In a bill that amends an existing Act, 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 highlighted in this manner.


To assist the reader, legislative drafters insert headings throughout the text. In past practice, such headings have never been considered to be part of the bill and have not therefore been subject to amendment. In recent years, however, some authorities on the legislative process have modified their position in this regard in response to jurisprudence, and committees of the House have occasionally amended headings when changes to a bill justify an amendment to a heading.127

Table of Contents

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

Royal Recommendation

Bills that involve the expenditure of public funds must be accompanied by a royal recommendation128 issued by the Governor General and generally, although not necessarily, communicated to the House before a bill is introduced. The royal recommendation must be published in the Notice Paper and printed in or annexed to the beginning of the bill.129 The royal recommendation is not a part of the bill, but appears separately in it.130 After the bill is given first reading, the text of the royal recommendation is printed in the Journals. A royal recommendation is granted by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.131 The absence of a royal recommendation does not preclude the bill from advancing to third reading; however, before the question can be put at this stage, a royal recommendation must be appended to the bill.132