Acts begin their lives as ‘bills’. A bill must pass through stages before it becomes law.
The following is a basic summary of the stages in the parliamentary phase of the legislative process for public bills (the process may change slightly from time to time).
Bills are introduced in either the Senate or the House of Commons (most bills are introduced first in the House of Commons so that is the process we will discuss). A bill is not actually read aloud during the 'reading' of it. This stage consists of a clerk announcing the 'first reading of the bill'. A motion is then put forward that the bill be 'read' a second time. Once the motion is adopted, the bill is printed and distributed to the members of Parliament and is also made available to the public.
At this stage the principle of the bill and its broad purposes are fully debated. This is usually a lengthy process involving a number of different speakers on the bill.
Once the second reading is completed, the bill is usually referred to the standing committee that deals with the subject of the bill. The committee may hear witnesses or receive reports on the bill. They study it clause by clause and may make changes.
At this stage the committee reports the bill including any changes it made back to the House of Commons. This is the last opportunity for the members to propose amendments to the bill. Amendments are always debated and voted on. Once proceedings have concluded, a motion is put forward to concur or agree to the bill. Once the motion is adopted the bill moves on to its third reading.
This involves a review of the bill in its final form. Debate at this stage is much shorter that at the second reading. No amendments are possible at this stage.
Once the bill has had three readings in the House of Commons it is sent to the Senate to be read, studied, debated and voted on. Any amendments made by the Senate must be confirmed by a vote of the House of Commons. If the two sides disagree on an amendment, a conference is held where attempts are made to resolve the conflict. If the disagreement is not resolved the bill is defeated. If the disagreement is resolved, the bill moves on to the final stage.
Once a bill has been passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate it is ready for Royal Assent. This formal ceremony is presided over by the Governor-General of Canada or a deputy Governor-General (judge of the Supreme Court of Canada). Representatives of both the House of Commons and the Senate attend the ceremony which is held in the Senate Chamber. The title of the bill is read aloud and the Governor-General, or deputy indicates Royal Assent with a nod of the head.
Royal Assent has the effect of bringing an Act into force unless the Act itself states that it is to come into effect on some other date. Once an Act is brought into force it becomes a part of the law.