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How Senate amendments become law

Messages between the House of Commons and the Senate: One way the two sides talk.

The House of Commons and the Senate have a number of ways to talk to each other about potential disagreements over legislation. Sometimes they both agree on amendments.

In other cases, when the two chambers have passed different versions of the same bill, they may try to bridge the gap with a formal message.

For example, when the Senate amends any piece of legislation, it must be reviewed by the House of Commons before it becomes law. Senate amendments to legislation may be accepted, altered or rejected by the House of Commons. In the event that the House of Commons disagrees with one or more amendments, it can send a message back to the Senate to detail its position. At this stage, the House of Commons and the Senate have each adopted different versions of the bill.

The Senate can accept or reject a message from the House, or propose further amendments by way of a motion. Both chambers must adopt the bill in the same form before it can become law.

A recent example of the message process was seen during the consideration of Bill S-3, Government legislation concerning historical discrimination of Indigenous women and their descendants in Indian registration.

The bill originated in the Senate, where several amendments were made at the committee level. The Senate as a whole adopted the amended legislation and it advanced to the House of Commons in June 2017.

When S-3 was reviewed in a House of Commons committee, some of the changes made in the Senate were reversed. The House as a whole adopted a different version of the bill than the Senate, and sent a message to the Senate to that effect at the end of June.

Over the summer of 2017, the government commissioned a study to provide further insight on potential changes to Bill S-3. In November 2017, the Government Representative in the Senate, Senator Peter Harder, announced the Government had reconsidered its position on S-3. With Government support, Senator Harder moved a motion in response to the message to bring S-3 closer in line with the Senate’s position. After three days of debate, including a dozen speeches from Senators, the Senate adopted the motion and sent a message to the House of Commons to detail the changes. The House of Commons concurred with the message from the Senate.

How Senate amendments become law