How a Private Member’s Bill becomes law

Randy Hillier, one of the sponsors of Bill 16, left a comment on my last blog entry that significantly increases my optimism about this bill’s potential to become law, so much so that I decided to write an updated article about it.

So, I know I’m likely to get some of this wrong since I’m not an expert in parliamentary procedures, but I think I’ll be able to explain the gist of it. If you’d like to read for yourself how a Private Member’s Bill becomes law, check out this Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

The Ontario Legislature, also known as Parliament or the House, is made up of elected Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP’s). These are the men and women that you have elected to represent you. After the election, the seats won by each party are added up. There are 107 seats available. According to the Ontario Legislature website, the Liberals have 53 of those and the two opposition parties (the Conservatives and the NDP) have 37 and 17 respectively, for a total of 54.

This means that, if every member of the House were to show up for a particular vote and if all the members of the Liberal Party (the government) voted one way and if all the members of the other two parties voted the other way, the government would lose!

Now, every bill that is presented to the Legislature must go through three readings, passing at least two votes, in order to become law. In a majority government, such as the Liberals have had for the previous 8 years before this session, most (if not all) of the government-sponsored bills would pass and most (if not all) of the private member’s bills would not pass. Such are the perks of having a majority government!

This time round, it’s a little different. This time, the government doesn’t get to pass GO and collect $200 quite as easily. Most of the time, if the contents of a particular bill aren’t too irritating to the opposition parties, they’ll let it slide, because there are some restrictions which cause the opposition party members to be very careful where they use their votes.

So, back to the process. The bill gets introduced.  That’s called the First Reading. Nobody raises an eyebrow at this. It’s introduced, accepted, and put on the books to come back for Second Reading.

Here’s where things get interesting. Second Reading is an actual House vote. 107 members (in theory) casting their ballots. So, on February 23, the whole House is going to decide if Bill 16 goes forward!

So, in my opinion, it’s still crucial to have the public outcry and support. If all the members of all the parties are allowed to vote their preferred way (rather than sticking to a party line), then there are definitely going to be members on the Liberal side who disagree with the current law and members on the other side who are in favour of keeping things the way they are.

So this might not turn out to be a 54 to 53 vote! In fact, it likely won’t be since Kim Craitor of the Liberals is one of the architects of Bill 16.

We still have to let every member of every party know how important this vote is and why.

So, assuming that the bill passes Second Reading (and that’s still a big assumption), then the bill can be sent to the Committee of the Whole House. That’s where the entire House reviews the bill and votes on amendments. In this particular case, that’s probably not going to happen. Instead, the bill will probably be referred to a subcommittee which consists of up to eleven members of the House.

In 2005, that committee was the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly. They listed to four days of public input and talked privately with a number of interested parties. Various members suggested amendments to the bill and then the committee reviewed the bill line-by-line (actually clause-by-clause), voting on each amendment. There were nine members on that committee and, because the government was a majority government, six of them were Liberals, with one of those voting only in the event of a tie. The other three members were two Conservatives and one NDP. So, as you can guess, all of the government’s amendments passed and all of the other members’ amendments were rejected, resulting in our new Dog Owners’ Liability Act (2005).

This time, because the government is in the minority, that committee will consist of more opposition members than government members, which will allow the new bill (Bill 16) to make it through the process relatively unscathed. I’m not 100% sure if there are going to actually be more opposition members or if there’s a possibility of a tie. We’ll have to wait and see. Randy may be able to shed more light on that.

So, there’s a really good chance that Bill 16 at the end of the committee process will look very much like Bill 16 at the beginning, which is definitely what we want.

At the end of the committee process, the committee will return the bill to the House with their recommendations and amendments. This then leads into the Third Reading and the final vote. If enough members of the House vote in favour of the bill, then, for all intents and purposes, it becomes law on its effective date (sometime in the near future). There are some minor formalities, but the chances of it getting blocked at that point are pretty well nil.

Randy said something in his comment about each member having only one voting day per session of the Legislature (a session can be months or even years long). I’m not sure I understand that completely, but it seems that the problem can occur if a member has more than one issue that they’re truly passionate about and has to pick between them to decide which one is going to get their one and only voting day.

I’m assuming that, if this bill goes to committee, that each member on the committee will be able to vote and that the opposition parties would put members on that committee who are going to vote in favour of the bill, so I’m still optimistic.

If anybody has more detailed or accurate information about how this all works, I’d love to hear from you.  Just leave a comment here and I’ll update my blog.

2 thoughts on “How a Private Member’s Bill becomes law

  1. The Speaker is LIberal MPP Dave Levac this time. The Speaker only votes to break a tie.

    Therefore, the LIberals are down two seats, since ties are extremely rare. Not impossible, but most Speakers only vote once at most during their tenure.

    So that’s good for Bill 16.

    As for Committee, technically you are correct. However, I’m told the government is arguing that since they are the government, even in a minority position, they should have a majority on Committee. That’s why no Committees have been formed yet, and until this wrangling ends, things will drag on. What’s more, they have been saying they will block anything they don’t like from coming to Third Reading – how’s that for democracy in action?

    I presume the voting days Randy is talking about relate to Private Members’ Bills, such as 16. I will check with him to be sure.

    Incidentally, 16 will not be whipped as it is not a government Bill, so that’s another advantage.

    It is crucial that everyone who is interested, even if they don’t live in Ontario, lets the three party leaders know that they support Bill 16.

    Maybe someone moved because they couldn’t stand Ontario’s ‘breed’ ban any longer. They might like to visit Ontario with their dogs, or even move back here, but existing legislation prohibits that.

    They may live in Manitoba and want to drive to the east coast with their dogs, but Ontario’s legislation means their pets can be seized and killed if they vaguely resemble a mish-mash of three very different breeds.

    Even people in the US may feel that while Ontario’s law stands, it is being used as an example of success in their own jurisdiction as justification for BSL. I remember when I first heard about the DDA in the UK, I thought “Wow, those must be some wicked dogs, if the Brits are banning them. They LOVE dogs”. That was ca. 1990 and i quickly found out it was nonsense.

    People think Canada is super tolerant (wrong) and like Sweden east, so this legislation is creating a very bad impression elsewhere.

    The thing is, we really are all in this together. Everyone must stand together and make their views very clear, whether they reside in Ontario or not.

  2. PS Ballot days are Private Member days. Private Members’ Bills are drawn by lottery. Randy used his for 16 which was most excellent, since he came up early.

    Ontario Party Leaders are:

    Hon Dalton McGuinty (Liberal)
    Mr Tim Hudak MPP (Progressive Conservative)
    Ms Andrea Horwath (New Democratic Party)

    Addresses/fax nos/phone nos/emails available here:

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