June 29, 2021 13 minutes (audio)
Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on parliament. I’m Erin and I’m here with Stephanie for part two of our mini-series on how a bill becomes a law.
Stephanie: In our last episode, we looked at the different types of bills that we have here in Ontario.
Erin: As a continuation, today’s episode is going to focus on the actual steps that these bills need to go through for them to officially become laws.
Stephanie: Erin, we’re gonna start off with a mini true or false quiz to test your knowledge of the legislative process.
Erin: Oh boy. Well, we wouldn’t want to start the episode under any false pretenses…
Stephanie: I don’t know how you manage to find a pun for every occasion…
Erin: What can I say, it’s truly a gift.
Stephanie: That is one thing to call it…Anyways… True or False: Each bill must go through 3 steps or readings on its journey to becoming a law.
Erin: I’m going to go with true.
Stephanie: Correct! We’re going to talk about all of the steps in this episode. Next question. Members can introduce new bills in the Chamber any time they want; True or False.
Erin: Hmm that’s a good one. But I’m going to have to say false.
Stephanie: Correct again! There’s only one time of day when new bills can usually be introduced in the House. True or False: When we refer to “the House” we’re actually talking about the decision-making body or all MPPs.
Erin: That’s true. And honestly, we’re probably going to use that term a lot today.
Stephanie: Alright, last question. The final step before a bill officially becomes a law is called Royal Assent.
Erin: Ooh I know this one for sure! True!
Stephanie: Correct yet again! Gold star for you – you got all of them right.
Erin: Excellent. I really needed that kind of boost today.
Stephanie: Now let’s dive in. When we talk about the “Legislative Process” it might sound kind of complicated at first. But we’re going to break down all of the steps and use one of our bills from our last episode as an example to guide you through it.
Erin: In a nutshell, a bill must go through 3 main steps in the Chamber before it can become a law in Ontario. These steps are called “Readings”. At the end of each one of these readings, there is a vote. Many bills are also sent to one of our Legislative Committees for review before the final reading in the House. Fun fact: this practice of having bills pass 3 readings and a committee phase was already firmly established in the British Parliament by the middle of the 16th century.
Stephanie: This process is the same for all four types of our bills that we discussed last time – Government Bills, Private Members’ Public Bills, Committee Bills and Private Bills – although the details at each stage vary by type of bill.
Erin: For our episode today, we’re going to focus on the specific steps that a Government Bill goes through on its journey to becoming a law. And let’s use our example Government Bill from last time, the Photo Card Act of 2008, to better understand how each of these steps works.
Stephanie: Before a bill is even introduced in parliament, the idea must be developed, written down using official language, and recorded using the proper form. All bills have certain elements or sections that are mandatory - there is always a long and short title, an “enacting clause” and one or more sections that list the details of the specific change the bill is seeking to make.
Erin: Usually Government Bills are developed in part by staff within the specific Ministry that is bringing the bill forward. In our case, likely a team within the Ministry of Transportation helped develop our example bill.
Stephanie: Once the ideas for a bill have been written down, the Member who is responsible for the bill, in our case the Minister of Transportation, would then introduce the bill for the first time in the Chamber. This takes place during a specific part of the afternoon proceedings called “Introduction of Bills”. No matter the type of bill, they must all be introduced during this specific part of the day – Members normally can’t introduce bills at any other time.
Erin: During Introduction of Bills, any MPP can request that the House consider their proposed legislation. This request is followed by a vote. The majority of bills pass this first vote since agreeing at this stage doesn’t imply any type of approval of the specific content of the bill by the other Members. MPPs are in essence agreeing to read the bill, consider it further, and continue on to a formal debate in later stages.
Stephanie: After the vote, the MPP who introduced the bill will give a short explanation of what the bill will do or why it’s important for the province. This stage is also known as First Reading.
Erin: In our example, the Photo Card Act was introduced and did pass the vote to move on to the next step in the process. This all happened quite quickly and on the same day. Fun fact: there are two main types of votes: a voice vote and a recorded division. Most bills pass First Reading with a voice vote.
Stephanie: Following First Reading, the Members will usually take some time to research the proposed bill and discuss the changes with their constituents. After formulating their pros and cons, the Members will come back for Second Reading. Fun fact: Although possible for all readings to happen on the same day – it is very unusual as the Standing Orders prevent this from happening often.
Erin: The main purpose of Second Reading is for the MPPs to debate the overall principle of the bill. At this stage, they aren’t looking at specific details, but rather debating the general purpose and meaning of the bill for the people of Ontario, and in particular, for their constituents.
Stephanie: Second Reading debates tend to be the longest, especially for Government Bills. Typically, debates would last between six and a half to ten hours at this stage.
Erin: Now we know that that sounds like a really long time and it can be. But the time allotted for Second Reading is usually divided and can stretch over the course of multiple days or weeks. Or in some rare cases, sometimes even months. Once the debate has concluded, the Members will again vote on the bill. Although this time, they are voting on whether or not they agree with its overall principle.
Stephanie: In the case of our example bill, Second Reading spanned the course of four days and roughly five and a half hours of total debate time. Following the debate, the Members voted and it was then sent to a committee.
Erin: The Committee Phase of the legislative process is perhaps the most interesting, because it’s when the public can usually present their specific ideas on the bill directly to a group of MPPs.
Stephanie: After Second Reading, bills are usually referred to one of our legislative committees, where the specific details of the bill can be amended. Fun fact: there are 2 types of legislative committee: Standing Committees and Select Committees. Both are made up of a smaller group of MPPs who are responsible for amending legislation, studying different issues and scrutinizing government policy. Stay tuned for a later episode when we take a deep dive into the world of committees.
Erin: At this point in the legislative process, since the principles of the bill have been agreed to by the Members [thanks to the vote at the end of Second Reading], the MPPs may make changes or amendments to the bill but only as long as they don’t change its overall purpose.
Stephanie: During the Committee Phase, there are often public consultations, which allows individual members of the public to present their opinions on the bill.
Erin: The committee is also responsible for something called “clause-by-clause consideration”. This is when they review each section of the bill individually and vote on any and all amendments that they want to make to each section before moving on to the next one.
Stephanie: The Committee Phase can be quite lengthy depending on the bill they are reviewing. Committees can also travel around the province to ensure that they are accessible and hear from all Ontarians.
Erin: Once a committee has completed their public hearings and clause-by-clause consideration, they must report their findings and any amendments back to the other Members in the House.
Stephanie: The Photo Card Act was referred to one of our Standing Committees after Second Reading. The bill stayed with the committee for just over a week where it underwent close to four hours of consideration. That time was divided between some statements by witnesses but mostly was allocated to clause-by-clause consideration where a number of amendments were discussed and adopted by the committee members.
Erin: Fun fact: The Member who introduced the bill is responsible for choosing the committee the bill gets sent to, in most cases.
Stephanie: After the bill has been reported back to the House the next step would be Third Reading. This is the last chance the MPPs have to debate the bill. Since the principle of the bill has already been agreed to, Third Reading debate centres around whether or not the Members feel that the details of the bill are acceptable. The Members will also discuss any amendments that were made by the committee.
Erin: Third Reading debates can be quite lengthy for Government Bills although they tend not to last quite as long as Second Reading debates. The maximum tends to be between six and seven hours.
Stephanie: Just like at the other two Readings, a vote is required at Third Reading as well. If the bill passes the vote it means the MPPs are giving the bill its final approval.
Erin: Our example bill went through a further three and a half hours of debate, spread out over the course of multiple days before it passed its final vote.
Stephanie: Fun fact: If a bill does not pass a vote at the end of Second or Third Reading, it is the end of the road for that proposed law. Bills can’t go back through those steps. In fact, the process would have to start all over again, and only if the bill is modified.
Erin: That’s actually called the Same Question Rule – it’s an ancient parliamentary rule that states that a decision made by the House is final. Essentially, this means that once parliament has made a decision it can’t consider the same issue again during the same session.
Stephanie: Makes sense! Did we just come up with another double fun fact?
Erin: Yah we did – and I also got to say ancient parliamentary rule.
Stephanie: Wow our jobs are fun.
Erin: Yeah they are!
Stephanie: Now a bill doesn’t become a law automatically after Third Reading. There’s one final step that all bills need to go through before they can officially be declared a law or an act [which is their official title once they pass this last step].
Erin: The last step in the legislative process is called Royal Assent. And let me tell you, it’s quite “steeped” in tradition…
Stephanie: Please tell me you weren’t trying to make that a pun…
Erin: Hey! It’s really hard coming up with puns sometimes! But I thought that was a pretty valiant effort.
Stephanie: No, no, it was not.
Erin: Well next time you’re more than welcome to come up with a sweet pun.
Stephanie: I’m going to leave the pun attempts to you… but back to the last stage. Once a bill has passed all three readings it gets sent to the Lieutenant Governor to receive Royal Assent. This is when the Queen’s representative agrees or assents to a bill in the Queen’s name.
Erin: After that, the bill officially becomes an Act of Parliament! The Lieutenant Governor isn’t allowed to change the bills – this convention dates back to the 1400s when the British Commons convinced King Henry V to agree that the Lords and King could not change any of the wording of the bills that they had already agreed to amongst themselves.
Stephanie: Fun fact: Many people think that Royal Assent must take place in the Chamber but that’s not true. Royal Assent can take place anywhere in the presence of the Lieutenant Governor and the Clerk. Often, there is also a Minister present as a witness.
Erin: In the case of our example bill, it received Royal Assent in late November of 2008. Meaning it took just shy of six months for the bill to go through all of the steps and officially become an act or law.
Stephanie: Wow. What a process.
Erin: I think you mean what a legislative process…
Stephanie: There it is. I knew you couldn’t keep the puns at bay for long.
Erin: Yeah, I kinda lost my groove there for a bit, but I definitely got it back.
Stephanie: I set you up real good there.
Stephanie: But as always, what is our fun fact count for the day?
Erin: Well, by my count, today we had 8 – including our sweet double fun fact!
Stephanie: Nice! Tune in next time for a special interview episode: we got to sit down with Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor and learn all about what it means to be the Queen’s Representative for the province.
Erin: This is one episode you definitely don’t want to miss!
Stephanie: Thanks for listening to ON Parliament, where we help 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.