1. Introduction to Federal Legislation

2. Bills

3. Legislative Research

Federal Legislation – Introduction

Government-made law is referred to as legislation. Bills, statutes, regulations and by-laws all fall under this heading. Legislation is a primary source of law and is binding on the courts and adjudicative bodies where it applies. It will even displace case law, another primary source of law, if the two conflict. Legislative research is therefore a crucial part of your research plan.

As you will learn in more detail in other classes, the government and its powers are separated into three "branches”: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary (the courts). The executive branch is responsible for managing and administering the daily bureaucratic affairs of the country, whereas the legislative branch debates and creates federal statutes. The judiciary branch interprets and applies the law.

The term bill refers to a draft or proposed piece of legislation that is making its way through the legislature. The final step of this process is Royal Assent. Once a bill receives Royal Assent, it becomes a statute. Note however that even though a bill has reached Royal Assent, it has not necessarily come into force (Further discussed in Section 3.4.)

A regulation is a rule issued by the executive branch under authority "delegated” or "enabled” by a particular statute.  This authority is granted by a specific provision in the statute. It may specify that the authority is being granted to the Cabinet Minister responsible for the area of policy addressed. It may also delegate the power to the "Governor in Council” (or "Lieutenant Governor in Council” provincially) which means, essentially, a decision with Cabinet approval.  The provision may also set out particular restrictions on the power it is delegating. Each regulation, and the authority of the Executive to make it, must arise from a statute.

Statutes are therefore referred to as "enabling statutes”, and regulations as "subordinate” or "delegated” legislation. "Subordinate legislation” is also used to refer to legislation of a subordinate body (i.e., one other than a Parliament or legislature, such as a statutory instrument, regulation or by-law).