Law Basics

The Legislative Process

What are Bills?

  • First draft of new legislation introduced into the Federal Parliament or Provincial/Territorial Legislatures
  • Provincially and federally, bills are numbered from 1 at the start of each new legislative session. 
    • Essential to know the year as well as the bill number when searching for a bill.

Progress of Bills through Federal Parliament

  • Bill follows a series of steps on the way to becoming a new piece of legislation: 
    • Introduced on First Reading
    • Debated and typically referred to a legislative committee on Second Reading
    • Returns for a final vote on Third Reading.
  • At the provincial level, a bill that has passed third reading goes to the Lieutenant Governor for Royal Assent. Once Royal Assent is given, the bill has become a fully passed, and is now referred to as an act or statute.
  • At the Canadian federal level, a bill may be introduced in either the House of Commons (Bills numbered C-1, etc.) or at the Senate (Bills numbered S-1, etc.). After third reading in the chamber in which it was initially introduced, the bill goes to the other chamber to go through the same series of three readings. After a bill has passed both House and Senate, it goes to the Governor General for Royal Assent.
  • The progress of bills through each step of the sequence outlined above is tracked during each legislative session. Reports on the progress of Federal bills can be found on the parliamentary website, LEGISinfo.

​Progress of Bills through Provincial and Territorial Legislatures

  • Provincial and territorial bills pass through essentially the same process as federal bills do, with the exception that there is no upper house they need to go through - they pass through just the one sequence of first reading to Royal Assent carried out by the provincial or territorial legislature. Progress of these bills can be found on the legislature websites of each jurisdiction.

Coming Into Force

  • New act may come into force immediately on Royal Assent, or at a later date.
  • Later date will either be indicated in the act itself, or it will be determined at some point in the future, at which point the act will be "proclaimed in force". 
  • Check whether an act is in force by checking the most recent "Table of Public Statutes" for the appropriate jurisdiction (i.e. federal or provincial).

Amendments and Repeals

  • Once a new act has come into force, it can changed, or, to use the technical term, amended. Amendments can be minor or very important, and can include wording changes to existing sections of an act, the addition or deletion of entire sections, or the repeal of an entire act, which is often then replaced by an entire new act.
  • Acts that are published electronically will include all amendments that have been made to the act as of a particular date - this is called the "current to" date and will be indicated at the beginning of the act. However, if you need to know if there have been any amendments after the "current to" date, or how a particular amendment changed the act, this is a more complicated task - contact Rutherford Reference or a Law Librarian for assistance.
  • For more information regarding amendments and repeals, see heading under Legislation "Noting Up a Statute".