The origin of new legislation

There are two types of bills that can become legislation: government bills and private members bills. The information on this page corresponds primarily to government bills. For informational purposes, however, note that new legislation can also originate from private members bills, which are sponsored by individual members of the provincial legislature or by initiatives from private parties. These bills follow a different process than that outlined here.

Bills introduced by the party that has formed government, are called government bills. They are introduced by ministers or MLAs of the governing party. These bills originate through Cabinet. Prior to setting the Legislative Agenda for the spring and fall sessions, government departments submit their requests for proposed bills to Cabinet through the Executive Council. After reviewing the proposals, Cabinet decides which bills will be on the spring and fall legislative agenda. It is common practice that bills are sponsored in the Legislature by the cabinet minister in charge of the department most affected by the bill. The MLA or Cabinet minister sponsoring a bill, in conjunction with other departments, will consult with their departments’ stakeholders, study policy issues that may arise, and consider the economic and social impact of the proposed legislation. Occasionally, the department will circulate discussion papers to engage their stakeholders and provide a chance for the public to express their concerns with the proposed legislation. The documents prepared during this initial stage can be important in determining the policy behind any legislation that is eventually introduced.

Following study and consultation, the department prepares a legislative proposal which must go through a cabinet review process before a bill is drafted and again before the bill is introduced into the legislative assembly.

Alberta Justice has a centralized drafting office. This branch of Alberta Justice and Solicitor General (“Alberta Justice”) is known as the Legislative Counsel division. Usually, after the legislative agenda for the session has been set, a drafter from the Legislative Counsel division at Alberta Justice will meet with the MLA or minister that is sponsoring the bill and the team assigned to the legislation to decide how to best achieve their objectives.

Readings in the Legislature

Legislation is introduced in the Legislative Assembly as a bill. Each bill must pass three readings in the Legislative Assembly and receive royal assent before it is passed into law:

First Reading
Second Reading
Third Reading
Royal Assent

First reading

The first reading occurs on the day the legislation is introduced. The minister of the sponsoring ministry will briefly introduce the bill in the legislature. At this stage, there is no debate. The first reading version of the bill contains explanatory notes about the legislation. These notes do not appear in the final version of the legislation. Bills dating back to 1906 are available on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website. Please note that bills dated before 2001 are scanned copies of the original bills.

Second reading

During second reading, the sponsoring minister explains the purpose of the bill, and debate takes place on its main principles. Speeches in the legislature by the minister responsible for the legislation can be important in determining the intention behind the legislation. The proceedings of the legislature and of legislative committees are recorded in Hansard.

After the bill has passed second reading, it is sent to committee for detailed consideration on a clause by clause basis. This can be a standing legislative committee, or a Committee of the Whole. The Committee of the Whole is a committee that includes all members of the Legislative Assembly that meets to discuss certain amendments to the bill can be proposed at this stage. You may want to review a transcript or report of the committee’s proceedings to find out why the bill was amended.

The committee of all Members of the Legislative Assembly that meets to discuss specific clauses of a bill. Amendments to the contents of bills are considered during this stage. The committee meets after second reading and before third reading and is presided over by the Chair of Committees or designate. Committees can also seek comment from other interested parties. This is important, as committees may recommend that a bill proceed to third reading, or that it not proceed. Committee reports could be a very valuable resource for researching legislative intent.

Third reading

The final version of the bill is circulated for third reading. There is usually no debate at this stage. Eventually, the government publishes volumes containing all legislation passed in a session of the legislature. Later, the legislation will be published in a hardcover sessional volume. Notice of new legislation in Alberta is routinely published in the Alberta Gazette.

Finding a bill

Bills are available from the Legislative Assembly website, as are the Hansard debates. Go to the legislative session in which the bill was enacted. Bills can be found by bill number or by title.

Ascertaining the status of a bill

There are various ways to ascertain the status of a bill and to obtain references to the documents arising out of the legislative process:

Citing a bill

According to the 8th edition of the McGill Guide, the proper format for citing a bill includes the bill number, the name of the bill, the legislative session, the jurisdiction, and the year.

Bill 4, The Elections Amendment Act, 1st Sess, 42nd Leg, Alberta, 2017.

Royal assent and coming into force

After the bill passes third reading, it receives royal assent from the Lieutenant Governor, the Queen’s representative. At that time it is assigned a chapter number.

If the bill is silent on how and when it comes into force, then it comes into force immediately upon receiving royal assent. If the bill indicates that it is to come into force in some other way, then it does not come into force on royal assent. See sections 4 to 6 of The Interpretation Act, SA 2000, c I-8.

The most common way for a bill to come into force is by order in council. This means that the bill does not come into force until the Lieutenant Governor in Council (in other words, Cabinet) issues an order proclaiming the legislation into force. There are several ways to locate proclamation information for a bill or a particular section of a bill.

  • The Alberta Justice website publishes a list of recent proclamations.
  • The information table for a particular Act will indicate whether and when amendments have been proclaimed into force. They are available through Alberta Queen’s Printer.
  • Quicklaw contains legislative history notes.
  • QP Source Professional highlights recent changes to statutes.
  • Another source of proclamation information are the information tables published in the sessional volumes.
  • Proclamations are published in Alberta Gazette Part I, which is also available in QP Source Professional.

Once you have found a reference to an order in council, you may want to find a copy of it. To do this, you can use QP Source Professional for orders in council from 1996 to present, or the Alberta Queen’s Printer to find any orders in council dated from June 1998.  The Queen’s Printer office (780-427-4952) may be able to assist with locating pre-1998 documents.

Additional Resources

Statutes and Regulations

Legislative Assembly

The Alberta Law Collection (legislation from 1906-1990).

The University of Alberta Statute Guide

The University of Calgary Statute Guide