Private Bills versus public bills,
Speaker John Bosley, House of Commons, April 15, 1985.
Background: Different rules pertain to the introduction and
debate of private, as opposed to public bills. In most cases the distinction is
clear; however, in some instances the Speaker may be asked to make a ruling as
to the status of a particular bill. On April 2, the Minister of Communications
moved the second reading of Bill C-19, an Act respecting the reorganization of
Bell Canada. The Minister gave a detailed explanation of the history and
purposes of the bill. The member for Humboldt-Lake Centre (Mr. Althouse) asked
the Chair to examine the bill to see if it should not properly be classed as a
The Ruling (Speaker John Bosley): Private bills are defined on page
891 of Erskine May's Twentieth Edition in the following terms: "Private
bills are bills for the particular interest or benefit of any person or
persons. Whether they be for the interest of an individual, of a public company
or corporation, or of a county, district or other locality, they are equally
distinguished from measures of public policy; and this distinction is marked in
the very manner of their introduction."
This definition is confirmed in Citation 700
from Beauchesne's Fifth Edition which states: "A public bill relates to
matters of public policy while a private bill relates to matters of a
particular interest or benefit to a person or persons."
The same citation indicates that the British
hybrid bill –that is, a public bill affecting private interests–is not
recognized in Canadian practice. It also indicates that a bill containing
provisions which are essentially a feature of a private bill cannot be
introduced as a public bill.
Citation 836 states: "Private
legislation is legislation of a special kind for conferring particular powers
or benefits on any person or body of persons, including individuals and private
corporations, in excess of or in conflict with the general law."
Citation 838 sets out four principles which
have been followed in determining whether a private bill should not be allowed
to proceed as such, but should be introduced as a public bill. The first of
these principles is the essential one, namely that public policy is affected.
Given these definitions and principles the
determination as to whether a bill is a private bill or a public bill should be
fairly straightforward. However, the Canadian practice, both in the federal
Parliament and the provincial Legislatures, has not always been consistent. I
do not propose to go into any detail with regard to these inconsistencies,
because the immediate duty of the Chair is to make a determination in respect
of Bill C-19, an Act respecting the reorganization of Bell Canada.
This bill deals with a company, incorporated
under the Canada Business Corporation Act in 1982 but it is a company which was
first incorporated by private legislation in 1880. The present bill makes
provision for duties and obligations which the company must follow but it goes
on to place restrictions on the company obviously not found elsewhere. Thus the
bill at once provides for exceptions to the general law and at the same time it
imposes obligations on the company. The bill also goes on to give the Canadian
Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission authority over the company.
and the right to make certain orders towards it, as well as to demand certain
information from it.
The first ten clauses of this bill,
including the declaration that the works of the company are works for the
general advantage of Canada, are, in effect, a reformulation of the provisions
of the private bills or statutes under which Bell was established and continued
since 1880. These statutes are listed in Clause 14 of the bill. While the
question whether a bill is properly characterized as private or public does not
arise frequently, there are Precedents that are of assistance to the Chair.
After examining them, the Chair feels that it must rely on the February 22,
1971 ruling of then Speaker Lamoureux.
In that case Bill C-219, an Act to establish
the Canada Development Corporation was before the House and Messrs. Baldwin and
Lambert, then the members for Peace River and Edmonton West, argued long and
hard about the regularity, of that bill. Experienced as they were, their
arguments did not convince the Chair. In that case, Speaker Lamoureux mentioned
a third class or category of bills, that is "hybrid bills", a class
of bills that he ruled does not exist in Canadian practice.
Speaker Lamoureux was clear, in 1971, that:
"in order that a bill be designated as private it should not and cannot
include any feature of public policy because such characterization will
transcend any private nature it may have.",
He went on to find that where a bill was not
purely private but also affected the public interest, it must be treated as it
It is clear to me that while this bill
affects private interests, it also clearly affects public policy, concerning,
as it does, a multiplicity, of public interests.
The conclusive argument, in my view, is to
be found in Clause 3 of the bill, which states: "In the event of any
inconsistency between the provisions of this Act and any other Act of
Parliament or anything issued, made or established under that other Act, the
provisions of this Act prevail.
In the opinion of the Chair such a provision
could only be included in a public bill since a private act, being an exception
to the general law, could not prevail over any other act of Parliament. It is
therefore the view of the Chair that bill C19 is properly before the House as a