May 27, 2021 15 minutes (audio)
Stephanie: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on parliament. I’m Stephanie and I’m here with Erin for a very special two-part mini-series.
Erin: That’s right Stephanie; over the next 2 episodes, we’re going to take a deeper dive into a topic that we always get a lot of questions about: how a bill becomes a law.
Stephanie: Before we get into all that though, I thought it would be good to start off with a fun exercise.
Erin: What did you have in mind?
Stephanie: Okay. When I say go, I want you to make a list of every law that you’ve interacted with in some way since you got up this morning.
Erin: Every single law?
Stephanie: Yup. Every single one.
Erin: Okay. I’ll do my best.
Stephanie: And… Go!
Erin: Alright so, I used my phone as my alarm clock, so that’s at least one for Wi-Fi and telecommunications; my bed was probably made in a factory so that would have required some kind of workplace regulations act; I went to get a coffee so that would have been a traffic law and using the sidewalk probably would’ve been a by-law; the coffee itself would have been impacted by international trade laws I suspect, and food inspection laws. So, what was that – like at least 6 different laws?
Stephanie: It's a good start. But in reality, each part of your morning where you listed the theme for a law, was probably closer to 3 of 4 individual laws [at least] that you were interreacting with. Take driving to get your morning coffee for example. This one activity involves dozens of laws like; having a driver’s license, the side of the road that we drive on, there were laws involved in the construction of the road, so the size and the materials used, there are laws about the speed limit, following traffic signals and wearing your seatbelt. It’s a lot just getting into your car.
Erin: Wow! That’s a pretty crazy exercise!
Stephanie: I know right? It really makes you think about all of the different types of legislation that exist and that we come into contact with every day without even realizing it.
Erin: I guess we should dive in and look at how all of these laws actually come to be. We’re going to start this journey by looking at the different types of bills that we have in our parliamentary system here in Ontario.
Stephanie: Before we even get into the types though, let’s take a closer look at the word “bill” for a second. “Bill’ is the term that is used to discuss a proposed law, essentially a bill is an idea, written in legal language and it can propose a new law or change an existing one. Fun fact: the word bill comes from the Latin word “bulla” which was also the word for the little ball of lead used to seal official documents, including the documents that were presented to the Monarch by the English House of Commons back in the Middle Ages. Over time, the word became synonymous with the documents themselves and with the evolution of language “bulla” eventually became “bill”.
Erin: In Ontario, we have 4 different types of bills that fall into 2 different categories; Private Bills and Public Bills. We’re going to start with the categories and work our way down to the specific types within each one.
Stephanie: Why don’t we start by looking at Private Bills – I’ll be honest Erin, when I started working at the Legislature, I had no idea what they were, what they did, or how they worked!
Erin: Well to be fair, that was probably the same for me too.
Stephanie: Luckily over time, we have figured it out! And we’re here to shed some light on these mysterious pieces of legislation.
Erin: I mean, we couldn’t leave anyone in the dark on this.
Stephanie: I see the puns have returned.
Erin: Of course! There’s never enough puns in the world! But Private Bills, they’re both a category and a type of bill. These bills are initiated by a member of the public and relate to matters of particular interest to one specific individual or group.
Stephanie: In other words, Private Bills don’t create laws that apply to everyone, they only apply to the individual or group that requested them.
Erin: Private Bills have a pretty long history with their origins being traced all the way back to the time of the Magna Carta. Back then, petitioning the Crown and Parliament was the only way individuals had to gain or enforce rights that the common law courts couldn’t or wouldn’t grant for them.
Stephanie: Over time, the courts evolved and took over much of this responsibility leaving Private Bills to focus mainly on personal matters that couldn’t be settled by the courts. For example, an incorporated company that needs an exemption from the law for a very specific reason.
Erin: Looking at Ontario around the time of Confederation, this is when we see the specific powers of the Provincial Private Bill begin to develop.
Stephanie: According to the Constitution Act of 1867, Provincial Legislatures were given the right to pass laws in relation to local works, the incorporation of companies, and other matters deemed of a local or private nature.
Erin: In these early days, Ontario’s Parliament dealt with a large number of Private Bills, especially since many of them were related to authorizing public work projects and establishing municipalities.
Stephanie: Over time, the number of Private Bills presented to the Legislature has decreased and continues to fluctuate. Fun fact: Typically, Public Bills are numbered sequentially but the numbering restarts if there is a new session of Parliament, whereas Private Bills keep their numbering system until the next election.
Erin: Private Bills can also be quite diverse; from granting tax exemption status to a charity organization, to establishing specific types of entities like a trust foundation. But the most common type of Private Bill we see nowadays, according to our procedural experts at least, are bills granting a specific accommodation to an entity that can only be granted through legislation.
Stephanie: A great example of this is Bill Pr21 from the first session of the 41st Parliament. A member of the public applied to revive a corporation that had previously been dissolved and they found an MPP to sponsor their Private Bill. In this case, the individual was seeking to revive the corporation because of an active court case that was initiated after the corporation had already been dissolved. The MPPs involved in the discussion surrounding this particular bill ultimately decided that it was necessary to revive the corporation and the bill was passed.
Erin: Private Bills can only be introduced by MPPs who are not Ministers and the bills are usually, although not always, pretty short in length.
Stephanie: This is in contrast to Public Bills which can be introduced by Ministers or non-Ministers [depending on the bill] and tend to be longer and more complex. They’re proposed laws that relate to matters of public policy and apply to the general public.
Erin: In other words, Public Bills are seeking to make a change that applies to everyone in the province.
Stephanie: As we said earlier, there are actually multiple different types of Public Bills, 3 to be exact: Government Bills, Private Members’ Public Bills and Committee Bills.
Erin: Just like Private Bills, Public Bills are also not unlimited in their scope. We need to refer to the Constitution Act of 1867 as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to really understand what Public Bills can address. Both of these documents include sections that outline the specific powers of provincial laws. Despite that, Public Bills in Ontario cover a broad range of topics.
Stephanie: Perhaps the most common, or at least the most well-known type of bill outside of parliament, are Government Bills. Now if you remember back to our second episode about the difference between government and parliament, you’ll remember that government refers to the Executive Council or Cabinet Ministers.
Erin: So, when we talk about Government Bills, it must be a Minister who introduces the bill on behalf of the Government. These bills seek to implement the agenda of the Government of the day and are a way to directly carry out their legislative program. One of the key differences between a Government Bill and all of the other types of bills that we have in Ontario, is that this is the only type of bill that can direct new public spending or impose a new tax.
Stephanie: Fun fact: If another type of bill tries to impose a tax it would be ruled out of order and removed from the order paper [essentially, it would be deemed invalid].
Erin: A good example of a Government Bill is Bill 85 from the first session of the 39th Parliament, the Photo Card Act of 2008. With this bill, the Government of the day was seeking to create new forms of identification for residents of Ontario. The bill also specifically lays out the duties and powers of a particular Ministry, in this case the Ministry of Transportation. In our example, the Ministry of Transportation is obligated to keep records related to the proposed ID cards and ensure that all cards issued are real by using the appropriate seal and badging. The bill itself is quite lengthy which is typical of a Government Bill, especially one that’s creating a new program or service, like this one.
Stephanie: Another way that we can tell that this is a Government Bill is by looking at the section related to fees. Only a Government Bill can create a service that collects fees. In our example, if someone were to request one of these ID cards, they would be charged an issuing fee. Because Government Bills tend to be very complex and can often deal with multiple moving pieces, they usually take longer to move through the Legislative Process – but more on that in our next episode.
Erin: In the case of our example Government Bill, after quite a lengthy debate and some amendments, the MPPs did ultimately pass the bill. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves so we’ll take you through all of the steps it went through next time.
Stephanie: It is a multi-step process so giving it its own episode is a must! The next type of Public Bill we have is called a Private Member’s Public Bill.
Erin: Now you might be thinking: “Hold on a second! They’re trying to pull a fast one on me. They’ve already talked about these Private Bills.” And you’d be partially correct. We have already talked about a Private Bill, but we also have what’s called a Private Member’s Public Bill and I promise you they’re very different.
Stephanie: It would probably be easiest to understand if we look at how the word “private” is being used in both types of bills. When we talked about Private Bills earlier, the word “private” referred to the fact that the bill only dealt with the private interests of the member of the public who initiated the bill in the first place. Because remember, those bills can only make changes that apply to one group or individual.
Erin: Contrast that to a Private Member’s Public Bill where the word “private” in this case is talking about the MPP who is doing the introducing of the bill. Fun fact: They’re considered to be a “Private Member” because they’re not a Minister.
Stephanie: These Private Members’ Public Bills don’t apply to just one person or group; they will apply to everyone in the province if they are passed. To clear things up, let’s look at an example. You may remember that we recently did a special episode in honour of International Women’s Day. In that episode, Sharon Murdock, one of the former MPPs we interviewed, talked about a particular bill that she helped bring forward: The Avian Emblem Act.
Erin: It’s a great example of a Private Member’s Public Bill because although Sharon was part of the party that formed the Government at the time, she was not a Minister and so her bill couldn’t have been a Government Bill, it had to be a Private Member’s Public Bill.
Stephanie: The Avian Emblem Act was introduced in the third session of the 35th Parliament. The bill, sought to recognize the common loon as the official bird of Ontario. Private Members’ Public Bills often seek to commemorate an event or individual or recognize the contributions of a specific group in Ontario. So, the Avian Emblem Act is a good representation of the subject matter of this specific type of bill.
Erin: They can also reflect a cause or issue that’s of particular importance to the MPP introducing the bill or that’s important in their riding. Private Members’ Public Bills unlike Government Bills can’t impose a new tax or direct the spending of public funds. Fun fact: Even though they can’t impose taxes Private Members’ Public Bills can lower them or implement a tax break.
Stephanie: The last type of Public Bill that we have in Ontario is called a Committee Bill. These types of bills are the newest and rarest type of bill we have in the province. In 1999, the Standing Orders – which are the rules of procedure for parliament – were amended to allow Standing Committees to propose legislation and introduce bills in the House. Fun fact: since 1999, there have only been 3 Committee Bills introduced in the House and only 2 of them were passed and officially became laws.
Erin: Stay tuned for a later episode where we take a deeper dive into the world of our Legislative Committees.
Stephanie: The first Committee Bill to be adopted by the Legislature was Bill 65 in the first session of the 37th Parliament. Bill 65 sought to establish the Ontario Association of Former Parliamentarians – an association meant to foster good relations and community among former Members of Provincial Parliament.
Erin: Committee Bills are born from studies initiated by some of the Standing Committees of the Assembly. Once each session of parliament, any MPP on one of these Standing Committees can propose an area that they wish the Committee to study and report back to the House. But the Committee can only launch a study like this if the subject matter falls within its assigned mandate.
Stephanie: At least two-thirds of the committee must agree to the Member’s request for a study. The Committee may then write their recommendations as a proposal. After that, the idea is presented in the Chamber and still has to go through all of the usual steps that a Public Bill would have to go through to become a fully-fledged law.
Erin: And that’s how Committee Bills are… hatched.
Erin: What can I say! I had to make sure I fit some puns in.
Stephanie: Well, tune in next time, not for the puns – but for part 2 of our mini-series.
Erin: We’re going to breakdown the Legislative Process in more detail and learn how a bill becomes a law. And, most importantly, hear some more sweet puns.
Stephanie: She can’t be stopped! Trust me, I’ve tried.
Stephanie: But wait! Before we go, let’s check our fun facts.
Erin: I can’t believe we almost forgot. Well by my count today, we had…. 6!
Stephanie: Not our best count, but honestly shocked we managed 6 fun facts about bills!
Erin: Here’s hoping next time we can maybe squeeze in a couple more.
Stephanie: Thanks for listening to ON Parliament, where we spread the word on parliament!
Erin: Got to go, I think I hear the bells.
Stephanie: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Erin: Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Stephanie: Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Erin: Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing.
Stephanie: For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter (external link) and Instagram (external link): @onparleducation. Et en français sur Twitter (external link): @parloneducation.
Erin: Thanks again, and see you next time.