For about 150 years, the term “omnibus bill” went without a firm definition in the procedural rules of either the Senate or the House of Commons. Often when omnibus bills were introduced, questions arose about their nature, admissibility and appropriateness, among other matters.
Over time, the essential characteristics of what was generally considered to be an omnibus bill were expressed by a variety of parliamentary sources. Omnibus bills came in different forms. They could be voluminous, complex and far‑reaching, and they could seek to create or amend many disparate statutes.
However, successive Speakers of the House of Commons have indicated, when ruling in favour of the procedural admissibility of omnibus bills, that the multiple components of these bills were held together and made coherent by a unifying principle, a single purpose, a unifying thread or a unitary purpose.
In 2017, the House amended its Standing Orders to provide a definition of “omnibus bill”: an omnibus bill is a government bill that seeks to repeal, amend or enact more than one Act, yet it does not contain a common element that connects its various provisions, or it seeks to link unrelated matters. For the purposes of voting, the clauses of the bill can be combined thematically and these groups of clauses addressed separately as part of a single debate at each stage of the process.
Although today the use of omnibus bills is well entrenched in Canadian parliamentary practice, it is often still seen as an exception to the usual legislative process. Nonetheless, few studies have attempted to answer recurring questions about these bills. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about omnibus bills.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: Omnibus Bills: Frequently Asked Questions
By Michel Bédard, Library of Parliament
Revised by Andre Barnes, Library of Parliament