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The Legislative Process
Committees of the Whole House
Private Members’ Business
Private Bills Practice
Nature of Private Bills
Principles of Private Bill Procedure
Form of a Private Bill
Legislative Process for Private Bills
The Parliamentary Record
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
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23. Private Bills Practice
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Private bills trace their origins to the medieval English parliaments, and their peculiar procedure is explained by that history. In the early history of Parliament, special laws for the benefit of private parties and judicial decrees for the redress of private wrongs were founded on petitions and were not easily distinguishable in principle or in form. When petitions sought remedies which the common law afforded, the parties were referred to the ordinary tribunals. But when an individual or community was unable to obtain relief from the common law courts, the King was petitioned. The manner of receiving and trying petitions was judicial rather than legislative. As noted in
ed. (pp. 301-2): “Receivers and triers of petitions were appointed, and proclamation was made, inviting all people to resort to the receivers. These were ordinarily the clerks of the chancery, and afterwards the masters in chancery (and still later some of the judges), who, sitting in some public place accessible to the people, received their complaints, and transmitted them to the auditors or triers. The triers were committees of prelates, peers, and judges, who had power to call to their aid the lord chancellor, the lord treasurer, and the serjeants-at-law. By them the petitions were examined; and in some cases the petitioners were left to their remedy before the ordinary courts; in others, their petitions were transmitted to the judges on circuit; and if the common law offered no redress, their case was submitted to the High Court of Parliament… . In the reign of Henry IV, petitions began to be addressed, in considerable numbers, to the House of Commons. The courts of equity had, in the meantime relieved Parliament of much of its remedial jurisdiction; and petitions were now more in the nature of petitions for private bills, than for equitable remedies for private wrongs. Of this character were many of the earliest petitions; and the orders of Parliament upon them can only be regarded as special statutes, of private or local application. As the limits of judicature and legislation became defined, the petitions applied more distinctly for legislative remedies, and were preferred to Parliament through the commons; but the function of Parliament, in passing private bills, have always retained the mixed judicial and legislative character of ancient times.”
See Speaker Lamoureux’s ruling,
, February 22, 1971, p. 351.
ed., pp. 558-9. See
Todd’s Private Bill Practice
ed., Ottawa: John Durie & Son, 1868, pp. 1-2: “In passing Private Bills, while Parliament still exercises its legislative functions, its proceedings also partake also [sic] of a judicial character; the parties interested in such bills appear as suitors, while those who apprehend injury are admitted as adverse parties to the suit. Much of the formality of a Court of Justice is maintained; conditions are required to be observed and their observance proved by the promoters of a bill, and if they abandon it and no other parties take it up, the bill is dropped, however sensible the House may be of its value.”
This was done as a deliberate effort to direct private legislation to the Senate. If the bill originates in the Senate, the promoter only has to pay a fee of $200 (Senate Rule 110) instead of a fee of $500 in the House (Standing Order 134(2)). This difference in fees was first established in 1934 when the Standing Orders of the House were changed to “secure the freedom of this house from the initial consideration of large numbers of private bills by increasing the business that may be presented to the second chamber in the way of private legislation” (see
, June 30, 1934, pp. 4509-10). This has led to most private bills being introduced in the Senate. Since 1970, only six private bills have originated in the House, the last in 1978: Bill C-164,
An Act to incorporate Unity Bank of Canada
, on March 29, 1972 (
, p. 232); Bill C-264,
An Act respecting the Eastern Canada Synod of the Lutheran Church in America
, on April 3, 1974 (
, p. 94); Bill C-1001,
An Act to provide an exception from the general law relating to marriage in the case of Richard Fritz and Marianne Strass
, on July 30, 1975 (
, p. 750); Bill C-1002,
An Act to incorporate the Northland Bank
, on December 20, 1975 (
, p. 977); Bill C-1001,
An Act to incorporate the Continental Bank of Canada
, on July 14, 1977 (
, p. 1371); and Bill C-1001,
An Act respecting Bell Canada
, on April 12, 1978 (
, p. 638).
For example, during the Third Session of the Thirty-Fourth Parliament (May 1991 to September 1993), nine private bills were considered for a total of 1 hour and 54 minutes; during the First Session of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (January 1994 to February 1996), the House considered three private bills for a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes. See
Statistics Respecting House Business
prepared by the Journals Branch of the House of Commons.
See, for example,
An Act to amend the Act of incorporation of the Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the Dominion of Canada
, S.C. 1980-81-82-83, c. 186;
An Act to incorporate Green Shield Canada
, S.C. 1992, c. 56;
An Act to amend An Act to incorporate the Royal Society of Canada
, S.C. 1992, c. 58;
An Act to change the name of The Canadian Medical Association
, S.C. 1993, c. 48;
An Act to incorporate the Canadian Association of Lutheran Congregations
, S.C., 1994, c. 49.
See, for example,
An Act to amend and repeal The Alliance Nationale Consolidated Act
, 1945, S.C. 1986, c. 64;
An Act to revive E.G. Klein Limited and to provide for its continuance under the Canada Business Corporation Act
, S.C. 1980-81-82-83, c. 185;
An Act to revive Yellowknife Electric Limited and to provide for its continuance under the Canada Business Corporation Act
, S.C. 1987, c. 56.
S.C. 1963, c. 10. This statute authorized the Senate alone to dissolve or annul marriages by resolution. Prior to the enactment of this Act, the innocent party to divorce in either Newfoundland or Quebec (their provincial courts were not empowered to hear divorce cases) would petition Parliament for a private bill to dissolve the marriage. The petition would allege a matrimonial offense and pray for “relief”. Most petitions were first considered in the Senate before its Committee on Divorce (where the fees for a private bill were less than the fees imposed in the House of Commons). The majority of divorce bills were uncontested and passed both Houses without question. However, if any Member questioned the reasons for the divorce or if the participants in the cases wished to be heard, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Miscellaneous Private Bills had the authority to rehear the case. Petitioner and respondent, both represented by counsel, would appear before the committee, which would function as a court of law. The House dealt with the bill when a report was received from the committee. See
, p. 243. In 1968, the
(S.C. 1967-68, c. 24) set up divorce courts in these two provinces, and the Senate was no longer empowered to dissolve or annul marriages.
S.C. 1990, c. 46.
S.C. 1974-75-76, c. 33.
S.C. 1964-65, c. 52.
S.C. 1953-54, c. 48, and S.C. 1966-67, c. 87.
ed., p. 857.
See, for example,
Green Shields Canada Act
, S.C. 1992, c. 56.
See, for example,
An Act respecting the acquisition, operation and disposal of the Windsor–Detroit Tunnel by the City of Windsor
, S.C. 1987, c. 55.
See, for example,
An Act to provide an exception from the public general law relating to marriage in the case of Gerald Harvey Fudge and Audrey Marie Saunders
, S.C. 1984, c. 52.
See, for example, Bill S-25,
An Act respecting Hudson’s Bay Company
, June 17, 1970, p. 1026; Debates, October 5, 1970, pp. 8797-8800), and Bill C-259,
An Act to extend the term of a patent relating to certain food additives
, June 17, 1987, p. 1184;
, June 18, 1987, pp. 7346-7). Unlike British parliamentary practice which has provisions for a cross-category of bills having both public and private attributes, these so-termed hybrid bills do not exist in Canadian parliamentary practice. Hybrid bills may be defined as public bills which affect a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class (
ed., p. 554). As Speaker Lamoureux stated in a 1971 ruling, “We have, according to our standing orders and our long established practice, just two kinds of bills—private bills and public bills”. See
, February 22, 1971, p. 351;
, pp. 3617-29.
See rulings in
, February 22, 1971, p. 352;
, April 15, 1985, pp. 3699-700. See also
, February 2, 1911, cols. 2883-4, where the Speaker ruled that a bill which a Member wished to introduce as a public bill was in fact a private bill and, as such, the Member was instructed that the rules respecting private bills had to be followed. Almost 65 years later, the Speaker made a similar ruling when a private Member attempted to introduce a bill entitled
An Act for the parole of Dr. Henry Morgentaler
as a public bill(see
, October 23, 1975, pp. 795-6).
ed., p. 853. See also
, February 22, 1971, p. 352.
, February 22, 1971, p. 351.
See Edward P. Hartney,
Manual of Private Bill Practice of the Parliament of Canada
, Ottawa: Maclean, Roger & Co., 1882, p. 2.
In the First Parliament, the House of Commons adopted the rules and practice in force in the Province of Canada with regard to private bills. (There had been no clearly defined practice for private bills in the legislatures of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.) See
ed., p. iii.
According to a principle outlined before a special committee of the British House of Commons in 1832, a person should come before Parliament as a suitor only if there was no other way of obtaining some redress for a grievance. This principle was subsequently observed by the Canadian Parliament. See
ed., p. 336. See also
Chapter 22, “Public Petitions”
A petition may only be presented through a Senator or a Member of the House of Commons. See
ed., p. 256. Even if a private bill is to originate in the Senate, the practice has been that individuals interested in obtaining a private bill also petition the House of Commons. The person or corporation seeking passage of a private bill is referred to as the applicant, the petitioner or the promoter of the bill. In one exceptional case in 1989, a Member of the House was the applicant of a private bill for the incorporation of a national passenger rail service and another Member the sponsor. Given that the petition for the bill was not filed within the specified time limit then in force, the two Members were invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members’ Business. At that meeting, a letter was read into the record from the sponsor indicating that the applicant was no longer interested in proceeding with the bill (see
, September 29, 1989, p. 555; October 2, 1989, p. 562; October 5, 1989, p. 579; Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members’ Business,
Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence
, October 24, 1989, Issue No. 9, pp. 3-5).
ed., p. 581.
Standing Orders 36 and 131.
Standing Order 131(3). On occasion, the name of the sponsor of a private bill has been changed by unanimous consent (see, for example,
, September 30, 1988, p. 3652).
Standing Order 131(2).
Standing Order 131(1).
Standing Order 134(1).
Standing Order 136(1). Standing Order 136(2) to (5) sets out the rules for drafting a private bill. (See section on “Form of a Private Bill”.) The first mention in the printed text of the Standing Orders of the term “Examiner” with regard to private bill procedure occurred in 1890 and resulted from amendments to the Standing Orders adopted in June 1887 (
, June 17, 1887, pp. 313-4; June 23, 1887, p. 412). The 1890 version of the Standing Orders stated that the Examiner would report to the Comittee on Standing Orders that he had examined the bill and “noted variations from the provisions contained in the Model Bill” before its consideration by the Committee. As well, the Examiner would revise and certify all private bills passed by the Committee and the reports thereon before they are presented to the House “to ensure uniformity”. See
Rules, Orders and Forms of Proceeding of the House of Commons of Canada
, 1890, Rule No. 59A.
See, for example,
, December 18, 1963, p. 697. See also Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and Private Members’ Business,
Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence
, October 24, 1989, Issue No. 9, pp. 4-5, where the sponsor of a private bill informed the committee considering the promoter’s late petition that the promoter did not wish to proceed with his private bill.
ed., p. 581. Neither Members nor Officers of the House are allowed to transact private business before the House for profit (
ed., p. 582).
Standing Order 146(1).
Standing Order 146(3). Prior to 1927, parliamentary agents were not required to pay a sessional fee of $25. In 1927, the Special Committee appointed to revise the rules of the House presented a report. See
, March 15, 1927, pp. 232-84. Included in this report, which was adopted by the House, was the recommendation that a parliamentary agent pay a fee of $25 for any session in which he had some business before the House. See
, March 22, 1927, pp. 316-68, in particular pp. 366-7;
, pp. 1434-5. See also
Standing Orders of the House of Commons
, 1927, Standing Order 119(3).
Standing Order 146(4).
is a periodical publication of the Government.
The notice, which appears in Part 1 of the
, is a reprint of Standing Order 130. The notice also advises that further information may be obtained from the Private Members’ Business Office at the House of Commons. See, for example,
, Part 1, September 27, 1997, pp. 3097-8.
Standing Order 129. See, for example,
, Part 1, April 25, 1998, p. 920. Prior to March 23, 1990, when the present Standing Order was adopted (see
, March 23, 1990, p. 1397), the Clerk would have the Standing Orders relating to Private Bills published weekly in the
(see, for example,
, Part 1, January 7, 1989, pp. 18-26). After the first six weeks of a session, the notice would also indicate when the time limit for filing petitions had expired. See, for example,
, Part 1, January 6, 1990, pp. 5-13.
Standing Order 130(1), (3). When an application for a private bill originates in Quebec or Manitoba, the notice must be published in English in an English-language newspaper and in French in a French-language newspaper and in both languages in the
. Proof that the notice was duly published is established by statutory declaration (an affidavit) sent to the Clerk of the House.
Standing Order 130(1).
Standing Order 130(2).
Standing Order 130(3). On one occasion, when a number of private bills failed to pass because of the dissolution of Parliament, the applicants of the bills attempted to have the same bills considered in the House the following Parliament without first publishing the required notices of intention. This matter was referred to the Select Standing Committee on Standing Orders, which recommended in its First Report that the rules regarding notice be suspended. The Report was subsequently adopted by the House. See
, February 9, 1927; pp. 88-9; February 18, 1927, pp. 134-5.
Standing Order 141(2). The provisions of this Standing Order have been suspended on occasion (see, for example,
, March 16, 1978, p. 499 (bill originating in the House);
, July 17, 1980, p. 396 (bill originating in the Senate)).
Standing Order 145.
Standing Order 142.
Standing Order 144.
ed., p. 599.
ed., p. 287.
ed., p. 336.