Private Members' Bills 101

November 12, 2010 – This issue of the CARPAction Online is devoted primarily to the Private Members Bills that are particularly relevant to CARP members and older Canadians, which as of last count, number more than two dozen and touch on a range of issues. Bill C-211, for example, is an Act Respecting a Seniors Day and Bill C-478 deals with retroactive Canada Pension Plan benefits.

Unlike bills proposed by a sitting government, however, PMBs suffer a high rate of attrition and tend also to act as political statements from the their parliamentary sponsors. To put it in perspective, since November 2008, the House of Commons sat for 230 days, yet 379 PMBs have been have been introduced. No parliament in the world could address each one, let alone devote the time that is necessary to move each Bill into legislation.

The PMB process may be paved with forgotten bills, but they serve an important function in our democracy, as Liberal MP Michelle Simson recently argued in The Hill Times: while its true that the Parliamentary process involved in the passage of these bills is inherently precarious, it is a mechanism that allows Parliamentarians (particularly those of us not in government) to craft potential legislation that not only reflects the interests of the MP, but has often been suggested to the MP by his/her constituents.

CARP is taking the latter approach to PMBs. Many will likely fail, but insofar as each of the PMBs included in this issue reflects the political perspective of their respective sponsors and constituents, they deserve due attention. PMBs are equally important for introducing new legislative ideas into political and parliamentary debate.

Throughout this issue, we have collected most of the relevant bills, described their intentions (where available), listed their sponsor, and indicated if or when they have been scheduled for reading in the House. We also gave a number of sponsors the opportunity to seek CARP member support. We urge our readers to do the same using the E-Voice. If there is a Bill worthy of your support, contact your local MP and let him or her know, but first, heres more about how the PMB process works.

How PMBs Work

Bills sponsored by Private Members fall into two categories: public bills and private bills. Public bills deal with matters of public policy under federal jurisdiction, whereas private bills concern matters of a private or special interest to specific corporations and individuals and are far less common.

Private Members Bills may only be debated during the hour set aside for Private Members Business each day, which is governed by the provisions of Chapter XI of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons . Since there are many more bills introduced than there is time allotted for first and subsequent readings, the majority of PMBs will not succeed in earning a scheduled time-slot. Whats more, making it to parliamentary debate and subsequent readings generally requires hard-earned cross-party support.

For all these reasons, PMB sponsors draft the bills with broader goals in mind. For one, PMBs show constituents that MPs are in tune to their needs. In other cases, the PMBs intend to highlight an important issue that deserves greater attention and public debate, even if the bill has little chance of becoming legislation.

The Bloq Québécois bill on Euthanasia, proposed by MP Francine Lalonde, is one such bill, helping to igniting debate on palliative care and end-of-life issues. Similarly, Conservative MP Candice Hoeppners bill to repeal the long-gun registry received a great amount of attention, even if it was effectively a government bill.

A Private Members Bill is typically drafted with the assistance of Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) employed by the House who ensure that it conforms to statutory law (including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and all relevant drafting conventions.

In drafting Private Members Bills, Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) acts on a Members clear, written instructions about the purposes and objectives of the proposed legislation and ensure that the draft bill is acceptable in terms of its form and content. Members can also receive assistance from staff of the Library of Parliament to perform substantive legal or policy research that will enable them to develop their legislative proposal.

When completed, a Private Member’s Bill is certified by Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) and then sent to the Member who can introduce it in the House when he or she sees fit, after giving 48 hours written notice.

A Private Members Motion

A private Members motion is usually a draft resolution which, if adopted, becomes an expression of the opinion of the House. Motions are also used to introduce resolutions for amending the Constitution.

Financial Limitations

There is a constitutional requirement that bills proposing the expenditure of public funds must include a Royal Recommendation, which can be obtained only by the Crown. A private Member may introduce a public bill containing provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds if a Royal Recommendation is obtained by a Minister before the bill is read a third time and passed. This means that PMBs from government MPs are more likely to get support than are those from opposition backbenchers. Only a Minister can introduce bills that impose taxes. However, private Members bills that reduce taxes, reduce the scope of a tax, or impose or increase an exemption from taxation are acceptable.

Notice

Once a bill has been drafted, the Member must give 48 hours written notice of his or her intention to introduce the bill, indicating the committee to which it will be referred following second reading. After the 48-hour notice period has expired, the bill may be introduced during Routine Proceedings and given first reading whenever the Member is ready to proceed.

Seconders

A Member who would like to show support for a bill already appearing on the Order Paper by seconding it may notify the Clerk of the House in writing (Standing Order 86(3)) before its introduction in the House. The names of the Members wishing to support the bill will be added to the list of seconders on the Order Paper.

For a more detailed explanation of the PMB process, click here
For the Calendar of upcoming PMB readings in The House, click here

Keywords: government