Part 2 - Making Acts

Chapter 2.3 - Preparation and Cabinet Approval of Bills

  • Overview: This section supplements section 4 of the Cabinet Directive on Law-making. It provides information on the various steps related to the drafting of policy proposals into the legislative form of a bill and the Cabinet's approval of the bill for introduction in Parliament. It contains a description of the activities and products involved in this process.
  • In this chapter
    • Summary of the Bill Preparation and Cabinet Approval Process
    • Legislative Drafting Conventions
    • Bill Preparation Process in Detail
    • Activities and Products for Bill Preparation and Approval
  • Audience: Officials involved in preparing a bill and seeking Cabinet approval for it.
  • Key messages
    • Preparing a bill is a complex and critical step in the process and you should not underestimate the time and effort it requires.
    • Bills are to be drafted in accordance with established conventions for legislative drafting.
    • Program officials must be prepared to respond to the critical analysis of the draft bill by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
    • This stage of the process should also be used to prepare for the Parliamentary stage.

Summary of the Bill Preparation and Cabinet Approval Process

Preparation of bills

The bill preparation process begins with a Cabinet decision authorizing the drafting of a bill in accordance with written instructions approved by Cabinet.

The Legislation Section of the Department of Justice is responsible for drafting all Government bills. The Section is part of the Legislative Services Branch and consists of legislative drafters who work with other members of the Branch, uncluding jurilinguists, legislative revisors, editors and computer services staff. If also includes drafters who work exclusively on fiscal bills for the Department of Finance.

Bills are co-drafted by pairs of drafters in the Legislation Section working simultaneously on English and French versions of the bill. Neither version is subordinated to the other. Co-drafting also reflects bijuralism, with each drafter usually having been trained in either common or civil law. One drafter has primary responsibility for communicating with instructing officers and managing administrative tasks. The sponsoring department may also ask other government departments to review and advise on the draft bill.

The process of preparing bills also involves officials in the departments from which the policy for the bills originate as well as legal counsel from the Department of Justice who work in the departmental legal services units. (see "Who does what in the Preparation of Government Bills" in this chapter). These officials and legal counsel are generally referred to as instructing officers. Their role is to supplement the drafting instructions approved by Cabinet by providing more detailed instructions to the drafters. Usually, many drafts of a bill are prepared, reviewed and discussed before a final draft is achieved.

Draft bills have traditionally been treated as Cabinet confidences. However, the Cabinet Directive on Law-making allows ministers to seek the agreement of Cabinet to consult on draft bills.

Consideration should be given to whether the bill has financial implications that will require a royal recommendation (for spending measures) or a ways and means motion (for taxation measures). These questions significantly affect legislative planning, for example, whether bills can be introduced first in the Senate. They should be considered as early as possible in the drafting process so that the drafters may advise the Legislation and House Planning/Counsel Secretariat (L&HP/C) of PCO. The Department of Finance must also be contacted for advice on the need for a ways and means motion.

As the bill is being drafted, the sponsoring department prepares the necessary briefing materials that will be needed both at the next step when the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons reviews the bill as well as later during the legislative process. These include:

  • briefing books (also known as clause-by-clause books) for use by the minister or parliamentary secretary and by the members of the parliamentary committees that review the bill;
  • draft statements for the minister, parliamentary secretary and government members during debate at the various stages of the parliamentary process;
  • a succinct background paper that describes the bill;
  • communications material.

In the final stages of drafting, the bill is printed by St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull in preparation for the Cabinet approval process.

Cabinet approval of bills

Once a bill has been drafted in both official languages to the satisfaction of the sponsoring department, the sponsoring Minister, the Director of the Legislation Section and the Privy Council Office, it must be approved by Cabinet before being introduced in Parliament.

The Cabinet approval process has several stages:

  • L&HP/C staff contact the sponsoring minister's Legislative Assistant to co-ordinate when the bill is to be introduced in Parliament.
  • Once the bill printing process begins, copies of each print are sent directly to L&HP/C and to the sponsoring department.
  • L&HP/C reviews the bill and consults the relevant PCO Policy Committee Secretariat to ensure that the bill respects the objectives approved by Cabinet.
  • L&HP/C prepares a note for the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
  • L&HP/C provides the bill and briefing note to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who then conducts a line-by-line review of the bill and makes recommendations to Cabinet on whether it should be introduced in Parliament.
  • If the bill is to be introduced, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons goes to Cabinet to seek delegated authority to approve its introduction.
  • After the Cabinet meeting, and before the introduction of the bill in Parliament, L&HP/C prepares and circulates a "Memorandum to Cabinet—Bill" (MC—Bill), along with the bill itself.
  • After Cabinet approval, L&HP/C submits the bill in its final form to the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for signature, along with the royal recommendation if the bill requires expenditure. The preparation of royal recommendations is the responsibility of L&HP/C.

Legislative Drafting Conventions


In a letter to Balzac in 1840, Stendhal said that he used to read two or three pages of the French Civil Code each morning in order to help him maintain a natural writing style. Probably few people today read federal Acts for that purpose. Yet Acts have a style of their own, which drafters believe can be justified in terms of the functions that Acts and regulations have in contemporary society.

The principal resources of legislative drafters are the resources of natural languages such as English and French, supplemented as appropriate by the artificial language of mathematical formulas.

The use made by legislative drafters of natural languages is structured by legislative drafting conventions. A legislative drafting convention bears the same relationship to a rule of grammar of a natural language as a constitutional convention bears to a rule of constitutional law. Two important conclusions can be derived from this analogy.

First, legislative drafting conventions guide legislative drafters in their selection of the various grammatically possible ways of giving legal effect to policy, just as constitutional conventions control the various legally possible ways of exercising a power. Thus, as a matter of constitutional law, the Queen or her representative in Canada, the Governor General, is free to appoint as Prime Minister whomever they wish. This discretion is controlled, however, by the constitutional convention that the Prime Minister must be the leader of a political party that can command the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons. And, as a matter of grammar, drafters are free to draft in the singular or the plural. This freedom is limited, however, by a convention favouring the use of the singular. (See "Reducing Vagueness or Ambiguity" in this chapter)

Secondly, legislative drafting conventions do not go against the rules of grammar, even as constitutional conventions do not go against the rules of constitutional law. There is no such thing as a special language for Acts of Parliament. Past attempts to alter the rules of grammar for the purposes of legislative drafting (the proviso is one example) suggest that the problems created for drafters by the ambiguity or vagueness of natural languages can be solved only by using the resources of those languages.

One widely recognized set of drafting conventions are those of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada.

Reducing vagueness or ambiguity

Perhaps the most important function of legislative drafting conventions is to reduce the ambiguity or vagueness of a natural language such as English or French.

An instance of such a convention is the practice of drafting in the singular rather than the plural. Commentators on drafting point out that multiple modifiers often result in ambiguity when the modified noun is plural, citing examples like:

  • "charitable and educational institutions;" and
  • "persons who have attained the age of 65 years and are disabled."

Drafting in the singular compels drafters to determine whether the intended meaning is, for the first example,

  • "a charitable and educational institution," or
  • "a charitable or educational institution"

and, for the second example,

  • "a person who has attained the age of 65 years and is disabled," or
  • "a person who has attained the age of 65 years or is disabled."

(Note that "and" does not resolve the ambiguity in the plural.)

Some of the most important conventions for reducing ambiguity or vagueness relate to definitions and paragraphing.


Some definitions in Acts of Parliament are just abbreviations. Common examples are definitions of "Minister," "Board" or "licence." Other definitions reduce ambiguity or vagueness by specifying which one of several usual meanings a word or expression is to have.

It is not the function of a definition in an Act of Parliament merely to reproduce the meaning of a word or expression in terms of the usage recorded in dictionaries, nor is the provision containing the definitions a sort of index or catalogue of frequently used words and expressions. Nor does the absence of a definition say anything about the importance of a word or expression in understanding the Act.

While a definition in an Act of Parliament compels the reader to read the defined word or expression in a particular way, there is a drafting convention prohibiting artificial or unnatural definitions, such as defining "apple" to include oranges. Artificial or unnatural definitions are an unnecessary obstacle to understanding an Act and often confuse drafters and policy makers alike.


Paragraphing, in the context of Acts and regulations, refers to the practice of listing grammatically co-ordinate elements of a sentence in a series of indented, lettered "paragraphs." By convention, each paragraph in a series must be connected grammatically in the same way as every other paragraph in the series to the portion of the sentence before the series.

The convention resolves any ambiguity that may exist in the sentence by making clear the intended syntax of the sentence.

Paragraphing can be abused. This is the case, for example, when it is used to justify excessively long or syntactically involved sentences.

Relationship of drafting conventions to bilingualism

Drafting conventions sometimes differ between English and French. This is not surprising, since:

  • ambiguity and vagueness, while common to all natural languages, arise in different ways in different languages; and
  • different languages have different resources available for dealing with ambiguity and vagueness.

Even where the drafting conventions do not differ between English and French, their application to a particular provision may produce different results. This is sometimes the case, for example, with definitions. A word in one language might have only one meaning, so that there is no need to define it in an Act, while the equivalent word in the other language might have several meanings, so that it is necessary to specify by definition the intended meaning.

A common example of a word that is defined in one language only is the word "prescribed" in the English version, which is often defined to mean "prescribed by regulation." There is no adjective in English that corresponds to "regulation" in the sense of a certain kind of legal document. Drafters have, in effect, created such an adjective in English through the use of the definition of "prescribed." But in French, there is an adjective that corresponds to "règlement," namely "réglementaire." This adjective can be (and is) used in the French version without being defined.

Parliamentary procedure

Some legislative drafting conventions are based on parliamentary procedure (See Chapter 2.4 "Summary of the Parliamentary Process").

A parliamentary committee to which a bill is referred has the right to go through the bill clause by clause. A bill must consist of one or more numbered clauses so that parliamentarians can refer to and vote on particular provisions of the bill. It is also important to combine in a single clause only those elements needed to express a single concept. Combining more than one concept in a single clause, even with multiple subclauses, may make it more difficult for parliamentarians to debate and vote on the various concepts.

A motion for leave to introduce a bill in the House of Commons specifies the title of the bill. If the contents of the bill are not referred to in the title, the bill may subsequently be ruled out of order as having been irregularly introduced. The title of the bill must therefore cover the contents of the bill. This rule applies only to the parliamentary, or long, title of the bill. Any short title of the bill is just another clause, as far as Parliament is concerned.

Facilitating access to Acts and regulations

Some legislative drafting conventions facilitate access to Acts and regulations. Most users of Acts and regulations are not interested in reading a particular Act of Parliament or regulation through from beginning to end. It is important that Acts of Parliament and regulations be arranged so users can find the provisions that are relevant to them as easily as possible and so those provisions can be precisely identified.

The clauses of a bill are consecutively numbered from beginning to end so that each clause has a unique number. The numbering of the clauses does not, therefore, reflect the possible arrangement of the bill as a series of numbered parts or of any part as a series of numbered divisions.

Once the bill receives Royal Assent, the clauses become "sections" and the subclauses become "subsections."

The renumbering of provisions in an existing Act or regulation should be avoided because it can lead to confusion about references to those provisions: do they refer to the new number or the old one?

The provisions in a bill should be grouped together thematically and should flow logically. For example, if a licensing process is being created, the provisions that deal with licence applications should be set out first and the provisions dealing with the revocation or suspension of licences should be set out after.

It is important to organize a bill in a way that meets the needs of those who are most affected by it. For example, Acts are usually drafted so that statements of principle and basic rules are at the beginning. Enforcement provisions and regulation-making powers are usually placed at the end.

Facilitating the revision of Acts and regulations

Acts of Parliament and regulations are periodically "consolidated" and "revised." The revision process facilitates access to the law by getting rid of repealed provisions and adding new text.

Several legislative drafting conventions have been established to facilitate the statute revision process. A series of conventions requires drafters to place at the end of a bill provisions that will be omitted during the statute revision process. Placing them at the end reduces the renumbering of other provisions. Examples of provisions that, by convention, are placed at the end of a bill include:

  • transitional or temporary provisions that relate to the bill as a whole;
  • provisions repealing or amending other Acts of Parliament; and
  • provisions dealing with the coming into force of the bill.

Another series of conventions relating to techniques of amendment facilitates the consolidation of Acts, whether through the statute revision process or through public or private publications of the text of one or more Acts "as amended." In order to facilitate consolidation, an amendment of one Act by another must be

  • express and not implied—in other words, where it is known that the provisions of an Act are inconsistent with the provisions of a bill that is being prepared, the bill should expressly amend the Act, rather than leaving it for users and the courts to work out the inconsistency; and
  • textual and not indirect—in other words, the bill should alter the text of the Act rather than providing that the Act is to be read or construed or applied or have effect in a certain manner or is deemed to operate in a certain manner, where that manner is not reflected in the text of the Act.

In addition, it is conventional to replace a provision, and not merely to insert or delete words in the provision, except where a single word or expression is being altered. This convention also facilitates consolidation because the drafter, aided by electronic databases of Acts of Parliament, rather than the user, produces the text of the provision as amended.

Bill Preparation Process in Detail

Who does what in the preparation of bills?

Departmental officials
Who are they?

A wide range of officials in the sponsoring department may be involved in the preparation and enactment of a bill. They are responsible for developing the policy that the bill expresses as law and are generally referred to as "program officials."


Program officials should be knowledgeable about the various aspects of the bill's subject matter, particularly in terms of the organization and operation of the Government. Their knowledge permits them to guide the drafters and channel difficult questions toward those who can answer them.

They should have ready access to senior officials in their department so that they can get answers or decisions about priorities and policies. Many questions necessarily arise during drafting, usually requiring a quick response.

Departmental legal advisers
Who are they?

Legal services to each department of the Government are provided by the Department of Justice through its Legal Operations Sector. Each department has a legal services unit staffed by legal advisers from this Sector.

What is their role?

Departmental legal advisers can explain how the legislative process works and what it requires. They can also provide information about the time it takes to draft a bill and ensure that the detailed drafting instructions are carefully formulated.

They can also explain what effect particular provisions may have and can help departmental officials correct provisions that are likely to present legal problems, particularly as regards the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Departmental legal advisers can also sensitize departmental officials to the possibility that particular proposals may limit guaranteed rights and freedoms and may have to be justified as reasonable limits under section 1 of the Charter. They can provide information on the kinds of evidence that may be needed to justify the resulting Act if it is ever challenged. They also help provide advice on the constitutional implications of proposed bills through the Cabinet support system. (See "Constitutional Issues and the Cabinet Support System" in Chapter 2.2)

Finally, departmental legal advisers are in a good position to remind their clients of the importance of putting together a team of instructing officers who are familiar with the legislative process. They will also stress the uniquely Canadian bilingual and bijural aspects that must be addressed to produce quality legislation. (See "Co-drafting" in this chapter).

Instructing officers
Who are they?

Generally speaking, the instructing officers are departmental legal advisers in the sponsoring department. Because a bill is a complex legal document, the legal advisers are well-suited to the task of giving drafting instructions and commenting on both language versions of the successive drafts of the bill. Departmental legal advisers are familiar with the subject matter of the bill as well as the legal difficulties that it may involve. They also appreciate the care required in preparing drafting instructions and commenting on both versions of each draft.

Alternatively, instructing officers may be program officials from the sponsoring department. However, they should contact the director of their legal services unit as early as possible to involve the director or, at the very least, ensure the involvement of departmental legal advisers. The legal advisers assigned to the bill should be experienced, have a sound understanding of the subject matter and be capable of communicating effectively in both official languages.

How many instructing officers should there be?

The number of officials giving instructions varies with the scope and complexity of the bill. However, as a general rule, the group of instructing officers should be small. The role of instructing officers is to distill policy decisions made in the sponsoring department into drafting instructions. If there is a large group of officials involved in a drafting meeting, much of the time may be spent discussing policy issues, rather than providing drafting instructions.

Occasionally, the subject matter of a bill involves more than one department. In these cases, instructing officers may come from several departments.

Why should instructing officers be bilingual?

Instructing officers must be capable of working in both official languages. The Cabinet Directive on Law-making requires draft legislation to be prepared in both official languages. It also requires sponsoring departments to ensure that they have the capability to:

  • instruct in both languages;
  • respond to questions about the proposed legislation from drafting officers in either language and relating to each legal system; and
  • critically evaluate drafts in both languages.

Because bills are drafted in both official languages, drafting is much easier when all the principal participants have a sound understanding of both languages. The resulting bill will take less time to draft and its quality will be better assured.


Drafting involves transforming Government policy into legislative form and style. Drafters in the Legislation Section of the Department of Justice are active partners with the instructing officers and are equally responsible for ensuring that the bill gives effect to the policy.

Drafters are also concerned with the coherence and consistency of federal Acts, as well as their fairness and the integrity of the legal system. They have an advisory role on many issues involving legal principles and policies (See "Particular Legal and Policy Considerations" in Chapter 2.2).

In this way, and by keeping in mind the effectiveness and efficiency of the entire legislative process, drafters provide valuable advice on a number of matters, such as:

  • the time required to draft and print the bill;
  • whether the proposed provisions are appropriate to achieve their objectives;
  • whether there are gaps in the proposals that need to be filled with additional details or whether it is better to leave matters to be dealt with through general provisions;
  • the appropriate form of the provisions;
  • the inclusion of certain types of provisions in the bill.

Drafters also provide a sense of perspective. Because they are less involved in developing the underlying policy, they are better able to draft language that will be understood by members of Parliament, the public and the courts. Drafters are attuned to the need for clarity and certainty in legislation. This need is met by adhering to legislative drafting conventions as well as keeping in mind the rules and principles applied by the courts when they interpret legislation.

The legislative process sometimes demands quick responses to problems as they arise. Given the importance of the drafters' role in influencing policy, it is essential that they be consulted as soon as possible in such circumstances since it is more difficult to change the course of policy downstream in the process than to do so further upstream.


Jurilinguists in the Legislative Services Branch of the Department of Justice are specialists in legal language. Their primary role is to help drafters achieve the highest possible quality of language when drafting legislation. They keep a watchful eye on linguistic quality, focusing in particular on style, terminology and phraseology, to make certain that the linguistic quality is appropriate to legislative drafting and the subjects dealt with. They also ensure that the two official-language versions of legislation are parallel in meaning.

The first jurilinguists were employed in conjunction with the implementation of co-drafting. Their services were essential because the French version of federal Acts had been neglected for decades. Despite the constitutional rule that the French and English versions are equally authoritative, hasty translations from the English had peppered the French versions of federal legislation with peculiar anglicisms and clumsy constructions, which have been difficult to eradicate. The jurilinguists were given the mandate of ensuring that in future the French version of legislation would be true to that language and its idiom. More recently, with the growing impetus toward plain language, a need has emerged for similar support for the English version. In these circumstances the Jurilinguistic Services Unit was established in 1998. It consists of jurilinguists who work under the supervision of the Chief Jurilinguist and legislative counsel.

Jurilinguists keep abreast of the evolution of language in terms of both the law and legislation and the subjects dealt with, and, by carrying out the necessary research, they provide advice to drafters, either during the systematic revision of bills or in response to specific questions. The recommendations of jurilinguists are not binding on the drafters, who are ultimately responsible for their own files. However, through the high calibre of their skills and the soundness of their advice, jurilinguists have been instrumental in bringing about a marked improvement in the quality of federal legislation over the years.

Legislative revisors and paralegals

Legislative revisors of the Legislative Revising Office in the Legislative Services Branch of the Department of Justice provide support to drafters by revising and editing draft legislation. The Office also prepares Acts for printing and maintains consolidated versions of all federal Acts and regulations.

Revising relates to the substance, form and language of legislation. In addition to checking for correct grammar and spelling, the legislative revisors check for clarity, consistency of language and the logical expression of ideas. They also verify the accuracy of cross-references, check historical precedents and citations, and ensure conformity with the rules and conventions governing the drafting and presentation of legislation. Revisors provide advice on appropriate wording of amending clauses, the format of schedules, the standard wording of particular expressions, the formulation of coming into force provisions, and other matters of a technical nature. Finally, they edit motions to amend bills and review reprints of bills amended by parliamentary committees.

In addition to performing revising functions, legislative paralegals in the Office also assist drafters by drafting consequential and related amendments to lengthy bills.

Another function carried out by the Office is overseeing the printing of government bills before they are introduced in Parliament and the printing of Acts after Royal Assent. Acts are published in the "Assented to" service, the Canada Gazette and in the Annual Statutes. The Office is also responsible for publishing the consolidation of the Constitution Acts, 1967 to 1982 and the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers, an indispensable reference tool.

Finally, the Office maintains master copies of all federal Acts and regulations, including historical indexes of amendments. These master Acts and regulations are for internal use and are essential tools in the drafting of bills.

How are drafters assigned?

Once a legislative proposal has received Cabinet's approval, the Director of the Legislation Section assigns responsibility for drafting.

Each proposal is assigned to a team of two drafters: one responsible for the English version, the other for the French version. In exceptional cases, several teams of drafters may be assigned to draft very lengthy bills.

The choice of drafters depends on:

  • the workload and experience of the drafters; and
  • the complexity, subject matter and urgency of the bill.

Although specialization in particular fields is not encouraged, drafters are frequently assigned files on the basis of their experience in the same area or in a related area.

How are drafting timetables established?

Time constraints are among the most important matters to be considered in drafting a bill. Drafting timetables are based on the priorities established by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and approved by Cabinet.

A bill is much like a book: once the outline is out of the way, it still has to be written and published. The time required depends on its nature, the complexity of its subject matter, the quality of drafting instructions and comments from the instructing officers and the political requirements that the bill is called upon to answer. But, in every case, enough time is needed for drafting to produce an acceptable product. Without this time, the quality or effectiveness of the bill may be compromised.

The drafting phase ends with printing a series of page proofs of the bill. Printing is interspersed with revisions made by drafters, jurilinguists, editors and instructing officials. The time needed for these aspects also has to be taken into account. This is the quality control stage. It deals with not only the wording, but also the substance that the wording conveys. It is often only at this stage that central agencies (Privy Council Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, Department of Finance) can fully appreciate the proposed legislation.

It is no exaggeration to say that three weeks should be set aside for the printing stage. Printing in bill format is an effective way to focus attention on the details of the proposal.

Before promising the sponsoring minister to produce a bill within a particular time frame, instructing officers should discuss with the drafters the timetable for producing the bill. Once the instructing officers are attuned to the drafting considerations, they will be able to advise their minister realistically. It is crucial not to underestimate the time required to prepare a bill that is well-drafted and effective.

The following are some of the things that should be taken into consideration:

  • the legislative priorities of the Government;
  • the parliamentary calendar;
  • the schedule of the sponsoring minister;
  • the workload of the drafters;
  • the amount of drafting to be done by the drafters and the amount of review required by the sponsoring Department and central agencies;
  • the amount of editing required and the comparison of the two versions;
  • the time needed for printing the bill;
  • the number of departments involved; and
  • if Cabinet has agreed that the draft bill may be used for consultation, the amount of time needed for that consultation.

Questions about drafting priorities are determined by the Director of the Legislation Section and the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Legislation and House Planning/Counsel Secretariat, taking into account the factors listed above. The approval of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is sought when necessary.

When does the drafting begin?

Ordinarily, drafting begins once a legislative proposal has been authorized by Cabinet through a Record of Decision. In exceptional circumstances, when it is necessary to meet the priorities of the Government, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons may give approval for drafting to begin before the Cabinet authorization has been formally obtained. The sponsoring Department must contact the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Legislation and House Planning/Counsel, who consults with the Director of the Legislation Section.


What is co-drafting?

Co-drafting involves drafting the two versions of a bill together using a team of two drafters. One is responsible for the English version, while the other is responsible for the French. The Legislation Section uses the technique of co-drafting to ensure that each language version is properly drafted and reflects both the civil and common law systems.

History of co-drafting

Section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867 requires Acts to be enacted, printed and published in both official languages. The two versions must be enacted at the same time and are equally authoritative. If these requirements are not met, the Act is invalid.

It is also important to keep in mind that, when a federal Act is considered in court, the court interprets and applies both versions. This underscores even further the importance of ensuring that both versions reflect the intention of the Government.

In 1976, in response to severe criticism from the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Department established a committee to propose ways of ensuring the equality of French and English versions throughout the legislation preparation process and providing the Government with bills of the highest possible quality. The committee concluded that there was no magic solution and recommended co-drafting, an original drafting method that has since been adopted by other countries.

Co-drafting is now a well-established practice that has proven to be effective in drafting federal bills to reflect the equal status of both official languages enshrined in the Official Languages Act and later in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (See Chapter 1.2 "Legal Considerations").

What is the object of co-drafting?

The object of co-drafting is to produce two original and authentic versions through the close and constant cooperation of the two drafters. Each version should fully reflect the departmental instructions while respecting the nature of each language as well as Canada's twin legal systems (common law and civil law).

In co-drafting, neither version is a translation of the other. In contrast to the traditional approach of translation, one version is not unchangeable. The two drafters often prompt each other to change or improve their versions.

Both versions include the same headings, sections and subsections. Although they need not be parallel at the level of paragraphs or subparagraphs, an effort is made to arrive at a parallel structure in order to make it easier to read both versions together.

How does co-drafting work?

The main feature of co-drafting is that each bill is carefully thought out and drafted by two drafters, rather than just one. Both work together very closely from beginning to end to produce a better bill. One of them co-ordinates the various steps in drafting the bill, but this drafter does not assume sole responsibility.

How does the Record of Decision affect the drafting?

The drafting instructions in a Cabinet Record of Decision form the basis on which a Government bill is drafted. These instructions both determine and limit what the draft bill contains. The instructions should be general enough and flexible enough to permit the bill to be drafted to express the underlying policy but to leave room for developing the details of the legislative scheme. (See "Preparing Bill-drafting instructions for a Memorandum to Cabinet" in Chapter 2.2)

In the course of drafting a bill, problems sometimes arise that were not foreseen when Cabinet approved the drafting instructions. The relevant PCO policy secretariat and the Legislation and House Planning/Counsel Secretariat must be consulted to determine whether any changes require approval by Cabinet.

Approval is required if the changes have an impact on the policy approved by Cabinet or raise policy considerations not previously considered by Cabinet. The changes are subject to the same procedure as the initial proposal, namely, the submission of a Memorandum to Cabinet for consideration by the original policy committee of Cabinet and approval by the Cabinet.

Urgent major changes need not follow the full procedure, but may be approved by the Prime Minister and the Chair of the relevant policy committee of Cabinet together with other interested Ministers.

How are detailed drafting instructions given?

Who is responsible for giving detailed instructions to the drafters?

Instructing officers are responsible for providing drafters with the instructions they need to prepare a bill that fits within the framework set out in the Cabinet decision and that will be legally effective in implementing the proposals of the sponsoring department.

These detailed instructions are especially important because the drafting instructions in the Cabinet decision are usually quite general, regardless of how carefully they have been formulated. (See "Preparing Bill-drafting Instructions for a Memorandum to Cabinet" in Chapter 2.2)

What is their purpose?

In addition to being a necessary tool for drafters, the detailed instructions provide an opportunity for the sponsoring department to think through its proposals in order to produce a coherent set of provisions to implement the proposals.

What should they contain?

The instructions should contain complete and detailed information, as well as supporting documentation, about the following:

  • the context of the desired provisions;
  • the problems to be resolved and the solutions proposed;
  • the particular objectives of the sponsoring department and the means by which they may be implemented;
  • any regulations that may be needed;
  • any amendments required to other Acts;
  • any relevant legislative precedents;
  • any legal difficulties;
  • how contraventions of the Act will be dealt with; and
  • any transitional provisions necessary to implement changes to an existing legislative scheme.

The quality of drafting instructions largely determines whether the drafting deadlines will be easily met, and whether the general quality of the resulting bill will be high. This is why it is important that instructions conform to a number of rules.

The instructions must be as complete as possible. They should reflect definite policies and decisions of the sponsoring department, rather than a range of options. They need not contain every detail involved in drafting the bill: details of lesser importance can be dealt with later in the course of examining, discussing and revising the drafts.

What form should they be in?

The instructions need not be in any particular form, as long as they are clear and concise.

When the bill is long and complex, the initial instructions should be in writing. However, instructions can also be orally transmitted at drafting meetings dealing with the intended meaning of particular provisions.

Should they be in the form of a bill?

In general, drafting instructions should not be in the form of a bill. Rather than making it easier to draft, this usually slows things down because the drafters have to interpret the text of the instructions to extract the policy objectives before they can begin to formulate their own drafts. The role of the instructing officials is to communicate these policy objectives to drafters clearly and precisely. The best way to accomplish this is through instructions expressed as simply as possible.

Occasionally, at the request of the drafters, it may be helpful to point to precedents in existing legislation to help them achieve a similar legislative effect. If the drafters clearly understand the policy objectives, reference to precedents can help them prepare a bill that fits into the body of federal legislation. However, precedents must be used with caution and can seldom be adopted without making adjustments so that they work effectively in the new legislative scheme.

How are drafts prepared, discussed and revised?

When are meetings held to discuss drafts?

Meetings are scheduled by the lead drafter after consultation with the second drafter to ensure her or his availability.

Who attends the meetings?

The meetings are attended by the drafters, the instructing officers and other officials from the sponsoring department as required.

It is of the utmost importance that both drafters actively participate at the meetings. The positions and points of view of the sponsoring department should be expressed and explained in as much detail as is required, as should the problems and situations that the bill is intended to deal with.

How to prepare for meetings

Before the first drafting meeting, the departmental officials and their legal advisers should prepare to brief the drafters on the background of the proposals and the Cabinet decision. Before meetings to discuss drafts, they should study both versions of the drafts to verify that each version reflects the policy developed by their department and approved by the Cabinet. They should also determine whether any legal or other problems are raised by either version.

The departmental review of the drafts must not be confined to one version on the assumption that the other will necessarily say the same thing. (See "Co-drafting" in this chapter). Both versions must be carefully examined by the sponsoring department to ensure that they accurately express the policy in each language.

As noted above, it is important to keep in mind that the courts interpret and apply both versions of federal legislation, and so it is crucial to ensure that both reflect the government's intentions.

Drafters encourage instructing officers to be critical when they review a draft of the bill. The goal is to put together, with the support of each participant, a bill that meets the Government's needs and is consistent with the policy and direction approved by Cabinet.

How are the meetings conducted?

Drafters pose any questions that they think will help them to understand the principles and objectives of the bill. The instructing officers explain the intention of the sponsoring department and allow the drafters to propose alternative solutions or solutions that are simpler or more compatible with existing federal Acts.

The meetings proceed in both official languages. The instructing officers provide their instructions and comments, as well as any supporting documentation, in both English and French. By the same token, the drafters usually ask questions and make comments in the language of their choice. The bilingual character of the meetings poses few problems when the instructing officers have been carefully chosen.

How are drafts prepared?

After each meeting, the drafters consult together on the best way to reflect the results of the meeting in their drafts. They also regularly consult the jurilinguists on terminology, syntax and other linguistic questions. Toward the end of the process, the drafters send their drafts to the jurilinguists as well as to the legislative revisors, who make suggestions for improving grammar, syntax, style, arrangement and coherence.

The drafters may also consult other sections or units of the Department of Justice in order to check particular points of law that arise when drafting.

The drafting shuttle

Depending on the urgency of the bill and the drafters' other priorities, they prepare a draft reflecting the consensus reached at the meeting.

Drafts are sent out in both languages at the same time for review by the instructing officers.

Other drafting meetings and drafts follow until those involved in the drafting process, and particularly the sponsoring Minister, are satisfied with the ultimate draft.

What security measures must be taken with draft bills?

A draft bill is a confidence of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and is protected by section 69 of the Access to Information Act and section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act. As a general rule, draft bills are classified as secret and should be handled accordingly. They should not be shown to persons outside the public service without prior Cabinet authority, which may be sought in the Memorandum to Cabinet.

Bill summary

The sponsoring department must prepare for each bill (with minor exceptions such as Appropriation bills) a summary of its contents. The purpose of the summary is to help parliamentarians and members of the public understand the bill. The summary is printed on page 1a of the bill. If the bill is enacted, the summary is to be printed with the resulting Act.

The summary should be a clear, factual, non-partisan overview of the bill and its main purposes and provisions. It should not contain any reference to Cabinet decisions, Records of Decision or other Cabinet confidences.

The summary must be prepared in both English and French. Its length should be proportionate to the length of the bill and should not as a rule exceed two pages of single-spaced type in each language.

The sponsoring department should provide the summary (in electronic format, if possible) to the drafters at least one week before the bill is to be printed as a page proof.

Finally, the summary should be drafted so that no changes are needed when the note is published with the resulting Act. For example, verbs should be in the present indicative and the words "enactment" or "amendments" should be used, rather than "bill".

Explanatory notes

Explanatory notes provide details about particular provisions that are being amended by a bill. The Legislation Section of the Department of Justice is responsible for the preparation of these notes, which are published in bills at first reading to explain changes being made to existing Acts. These notes describe only the changes being made or quote the existing provisions of the Acts being amended.

Printing and Distribution of draft bills


This section deals with the printing of draft bills in final form for introduction in Parliament. It also discusses how and to whom the copies are distributed. This process is distinct from the production and distribution of computer printouts of earlier drafts by the drafters themselves. Printing occurs once the drafters and the instructing officers are satisfied that the text of a draft bill will not require major changes. The drafters arrange for printing instructions to be given to St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull.

Requests for release of government bills

Draft government bills are classified "Secret". Consequently, the text or partial text of draft bills may be released only to members of the Legislation Section or the Legislation and House Planning/Counsel Secretariat (L&HP/C) (Privy Council Office) or to the instructing officer of the sponsoring department or a person designated by that officer. Requests from other persons for information about a Government draft bill not yet introduced in Parliament should be referred to the instructing officer.


Normally, a bill is printed and revised three times before it is scheduled for review by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to determine whether it should be approved for introduction. The first version is called the page proof. (If there is another version before the examination page proof, it is called the revised page proof.) The examination page proof is the version that goes to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for review. The next version is called the final page proof. (If the bill is printed again before introduction, it is called a revised final page proof.)

The examination page proof must be sent to L&HP/C no later than 10 days before the day on which the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons will be conducting the bill review. This rule may be varied only in exceptional circumstances. Once the Government House Leader has reviewed the bill, it may be printed in final page proof. No further changes may be made, except those requested by the Government House Leader.

Draft bills are printed by St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull. Printing is requested by the Director of the Legislation Section by letter when the drafters of the bill, in consultation with the instructing officers, consider that it is ready for printing. The bill is printed from electronic data provided by the drafters to Informatics Services in the Legislative Services Branch of the Department of Justice. The data is coded and verified by Informatics Services before being transmitted to St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull for photo-composition (the production of a camera-ready page) and the printing of proofs. For subsequent "press runs", changes to the data are input by Informatics Services on the basis of a manuscript prepared by the legislative revisors responsible for the bill on the instructions of the drafters. The data is then transmitted to St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull for printing.

Special printing arrangements

If the sponsoring department requires extra copies, the instructing officers should indicate this to the drafters who will make sure the extra copies are ordered. The instructing officers should also advise the drafters if they wish to pick up their copies from the printer, for example when a bill is printed on Friday evening and they want to have copies Saturday morning.

Changes to printer's copy

A printer's copy is controlled by the Legislative Revising Office to ensure that all changes have been properly proofread and to provide an authoritative record of the changes so that there is no confusion about what the changes are.

After a draft bill has been printed, drafters make changes by writing them in hand on a copy of the bill or by preparing "strips". A strip is typed text that is inserted where the change is made and should be used whenever the changes are lengthy.

Successive printer's copies are kept on file in the Legislative Revising and Publishing Office and are not to be taken from that office without the knowledge of its members.

Minor, necessary technical changes to draft bills that are in final or revised final page proof form may be made if the signature copy (the copy that is to be tabled for introduction) has not been signed by the Government House Leader. The legislative revisors responsible for the bill communicate the changes to L&HP/C and to the House of Commons Legislative Services. This ensures that changes made on the signature copy are included in the printed copies for first reading.

Steps involved in each printing

The following describes in detail the steps usually involved in each printing and the time they may take. The times are given as a general model and may be shortened or lengthened in particular cases.

Page proof and revised page proof

Instructions for the printing request letter should be given before noon and all English and French WordPerfect documents of the draft bill and any table of contents and explanatory notes should be available to Informatics Services by noon. Draft bills are printed overnight and copies are available in the morning on the next working day.

Examination page proof

This printing should be regarded as the last chance for changes before introduction, other than those required as a result of the examination by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Instructions for the printing request letter should be given before noon. All corrections and changes, in English and French, should be given to the legislative revisors before 1 p.m. The legislative revisors process the corrections and changes and provide a printer's manuscript to Informatics Services. Copies will be available on the next working day after processing by Informatics Services. This print should be available no later than the Friday that is 11 days before the scheduled meeting of Cabinet at which the bill is to be considered. L&HP/C may waive this requirement in exceptional circumstances.

Final Page proof and revised final page proof(s)

This is the print of the bill that will be introduced in Parliament. Instructions for the print request letter should be given before noon and all corrections and changes, both English and French, should be given to the legislative revisors before 1:00 p.m. The legislative revisors process the corrections and changes and provide a printer's manuscript to Informatics Services. Copies will be available on the next working day after processing by Informatics Services.

Time required for printing

The time required to print a bill must be taken into consideration in determining when the bill will be ready for examination by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and delegation of authority for introduction.

The time required may vary depending on a number of factors:

  • The timetable is based on average-length bills (50 pages or less); larger bills will likely require more time.
  • Bills that have been significantly changed since the last print will require more time.
  • Priorities will be set by the Director of the Legislation Section in consultation with L&HP/C if many bills are being processed and printed on the same day. This will likely delay the printing of some lower-priority bills.
  • Bills that contain non-standard text (for example, schedules with tables, equations) usually require more time.
Sample calendar

The following sample calendar illustrates the time requirements. Each step in the printing process is represented by a letter. The meaning of each letter is explained after the calendar.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday





































  1. Page proof printing: The drafters notify the Director of the Legislation Section before noon of page proof printing and send all documents in French and English to Informatics Services by noon.
  2. The page proofs are delivered in the early morning to the Legislative Revising Office and distributed in the Legislation Section. The drafters, jurilinguists, legislative revisors and sponsoring department have five working days to review the page proofs.
  3. Examination page proof printing: The drafters notify the Director of the Legislation Section before noon of examination page proof printing, and all changes in French and English are given to the legislative revisors by 1 p.m. The legislative revisors prepare the printer's copy in the afternoon and Informatics Services processes the changes in the evening and sends the document to the printer.
  4. The examination page proofs are delivered in the early morning to PCO and to the Legislative Revising and Publishing Office for distribution in the Legislation Section.
  5. Final page proof printing: The drafters notify the Director of the Legislation Section before noon of final page proof printing, and all changes in French and English are given to the legislative revisors by 1 p.m. The legislative revisors prepare the printer's copy in the afternoon. Informatics Services process the changes in the evening and send the document to the printer. This print may be as late as the Monday before the Cabinet meeting, depending on when the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons examines the bill.
  6. The final page proofs are delivered in the early morning to PCO and to the Legislative Revising Office for distribution in the Legislation Section.
  7. Cabinet meeting.
  8. Notice of introduction must be published in the House of Commons Notice Paper 48 hours in advance(no notice is required for introduction in the Senate).
  9. Introduction in Parliament.
Printing alternative copies

Unless a bill is of extreme urgency or importance (such as strike legislation), only one version, drafted in accordance with the record of decision of Cabinet (the RD) should be printed in page proofs.

If additional alternative versions of the bill are desired, they should be in computer printout form only. This practice will prevent the possibility of the wrong draft being introduced.

Distribution and number of copies of bills

The Privy Council Office and the Department of Justice each require a fixed number of copies of each print page. The sponsoring department receives 10 copies, unless it requests additional copies. Usual distribution:

  • page proof and revised page proof (39 copies)
    • 20 for Justice
    • 9 for PCO
    • 10 for the sponsoring department
  • examination page proof (48 copies)
    • 20 for Justice
    • 18 for PCO
    • 10 for the sponsoring department
  • final page proof and revised final page proof (98 copies)
    • 20 for Justice
    • 66 for PCO
    • 10 for the sponsoring department
    • Two for the House of Commons Legislative Counsel (including bills that are introduced first in the Senate).

Bills are printed and distributed in accordance with the instructions in the print-request letter for each printing.

All copies for the sponsoring department and the Department of Justice (unless the print-request letter indicated that the sponsoring department will pick up its copies) are received in the Legislative Revising and Publishing Office, which is responsible for internal distribution. The first drafter provides the sponsoring department with its copies.

Printing costs

The department sponsoring the bill is responsible for all printing costs of a draft bill before its introduction in Parliament and for the cost of copies of the bill that it requires after it is introduced.

St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull currently charges $8.50 for each camera-ready page it produces for a page proof, revised page proof or examination page proof and $10.50 per page for final page proofs. It then charges six cents for each page printed from the camera-ready copy. To estimate the cost of printing, use the following formula:

Cost of camera-ready pages: $8.50* X no. of printed pages
*$10.50 for final or revised final page proof
Cost of copies: six cents X no. of copies X no. of printed pages
= cost of camera-ready pages plus cost of copies

Thus, if a bill is 20 pages long and 32 copies are printed, St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull will charge

(8.50 X 20) + (20 X .06 X 32) = $208.40 (for page proof, revised page proof or examination page proof)

(10.50 X 20) + (20 X .06 X 32) = $248.40 (for final page proof or revised final page proof).
Printing and reprinting of bills in Parliament

Once a bill is introduced, subsequent printings are arranged by the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the House of Commons or the Senate.

Obtaining copies after introduction

A limited number of copies are provided to Ministers and other Members of the House of Commons and Senators.

Bills are available on the Internet. Paper copies can be obtained through Canadian Government Publishing (45 Sacré-Coeur Blvd., Hull, Québec K1A 0S9, (613) 956-4800) if they are ordered in advance. Copies may also be obtained from the Lowe-Martin Group (363 Coventry Road, Ottawa, Ontario K1K 2C5, (613) 741-0962). However, they must be ordered from Lowe-Martin before the bill is printed.

Copies are also available through stores that sell government publications.

Activities and Products for Bill Preparation and Approval

This table sets out the steps that a legislative project team must follow to prepare a bill and have it submitted for Cabinet approval. Key activities and products are indicated for each step.

Throughout this stage it is essential for instructing officers to keep in touch with the Legislation and House Planning/Counsel Secretariat (L&HP/C) of the Privy Council Office about their progress in preparing the bill and when it will be ready for review by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Step Activities and Products

Assignment of drafters to draft the bill

The Director of the Legislation Section assigns drafters in the Legislation Section of the Department of Justice to draft each language version of the bill once Cabinet approves the Memorandum to Cabinet. Drafters may be assigned before MC approval if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons so authorizes. This authorization is granted on the advice of the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet (Legislation and House Planning/Counsel), who should be contacted first about this authorization and who will in turn consult the Director of the Legislation Section.

Establish a critical path for drafting and introduction in Parliament

Within the framework of the Government's legislative agenda, the instructing officers and the drafters, in consultation with the L&HP/C, agree on a timetable for drafting and a target date for having the draft bill ready for Cabinet consideration. The timetable may be revised from time to time.

Detailed drafting instructions

The drafting instructions are contained in the Cabinet Record of Decision approving the drafting of the bill. The details of these instructions are fleshed out by the instructing officers either in writing or orally at meetings with the drafters.

Financial aspects

The financial aspects of a bill should be taken into account as early as possible in the drafting process in order to determine whether a royal recommendation (for spending provisions) or a ways and means motion (for taxing provisions) is needed. This will allow the drafters to advise L&HP/C on these matters. The Department of Finance must also be consulted if a ways and means motion is needed.

Preparation, review and revision of drafts

Drafters prepare drafts for review by the instructing officers and other departmental officials concerned. Drafters advise L&HP/C on the status of drafting through the Legislation Section's weekly status report on bills. The Legislation Section also advises L&HP/C on the need for a royal recommendation through the weekly status report on bills.

Jurilinguistic review

Once the main elements of a bill are established, it is submitted for review by jurilinguists with respect to the terminology, sentence structure, style and organization of ideas.

Drafts edited

Once the drafting is nearing completion, the draft is reviewed by legislative revisors in the Legislative Services Branch.

Comparison both versions of draft

Once the drafting is nearing completion, both versions of the draft are reviewed by a jurilinguist in the Legislative Services Branch to ensure they are consistent with one another.


The sponsoring department may wish to consult on drafts with other interested departments. Consultation may also take place with persons outside the Government, if Cabinet has authorized the consultation.

Finalization of draft before printing

The Director of the Legislation Section, on the advice of the drafters, determines when the drafting of the bill is sufficiently advanced for it to be printed.

Draft to L&HP/C

Instructing officers provide L&HP/C with a copy of the draft bill before it is printed in page proof form.

Printing draft bill

Draft bills are ordinarily printed three times (page proof, examination page proof and final page proof). St-Joseph Ottawa-Hull prints the bill, generally overnight. Instructing officers, drafters, legislative revisors and PCO review the copies. Instructing officers provide further instructions.

Preparation of bill-summary

Departmental program officials prepare a short bilingual summary of the bill. The drafters review the summary and incorporate it into the printed bill.

Advise L&HP/C on need for a royal recommendation

When a draft bill is sent for final page proofs, the Director of the Legislation Section sends L&HP/C a letter indicating whether a royal recommendation is required and, if so, the particular provisions that attract the requirement.

Internal departmental approval of draft bill

Approvals are required before the draft bill is sent to L&HP/C for Cabinet approval.

The draft bill and the legislative plan, which includes a communications strategy, are sent to the Minister as a package for approval.

Speeches, press releases and backgrounders are prepared.

Once the Minister approves the bill and the plan, the Minister's staff notify L&HP/C.

Preparation of information packages

Legislative project team prepares information packages for the Minister, Parliamentary Secretary and the sponsoring Senator. Copies are also forwarded to the Deputy Minister and Associate DM.

Packages contain:

  • backgrounder
  • clause by clause explanatory notes
  • Qs and As
  • talking points (if necessary)
  • a description of the consultation process
  • an outline of the regulations, if any
  • letters of support and other material such as press releases.

A version of the information package is also prepared for Members of the House of Commons, Senators, Opposition critics and committee members. These packages contain all the documents that are in the briefing book with the exception of any confidential material.

Preparation of speeches and press releases

This involves a speech meeting with the speechwriter, departmental communications branch, program officials, parliamentary relations officials and the Minister's office. A meeting usually takes place after the planning session on the legislation plan.

Program officials should bring copies of any background material that would be useful to the speechwriter.

The number and length of speeches required are determined by the Minister's Office and depend on the legislation in question.

Press releases are normally required at introduction and at Royal Assent.

Bill review by the Leader of the Govern-ment in the House

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (LGHC) conducts a review of the bill before seeking delegated authority from Cabinet to approve its introduction.

Examination page proofs must be sent to L&HP/C in both languages at least 10 days before the bill review.

Senior departmental officials are required to present the bill to the LGHC clause by clause and they should be prepared to explain each clause and answer any questions, including technical or drafting questions. They also explain the projected time frame for passage and the reasons for it (for example, costs, implementation date, etc.).

Cabinet approval (delegated authority)

Depending on the outcome of the bill review, the LGHC may seek Cabinet authority to approve introduction of the bill.