Canada is a country in North America.

The Government of Canada is the federal government of Canada. The powers and structure of the federal government are set out in the Constitution Act, 1867. As all executive authority is vested in the Canadian Monarch, between the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 and the mid-1970s the institution of government in Canada was referred to as "Her/His Majesty's Canadian Goverment."[1] However, since then the more common label has been "The Government of Canada."

In modern Canadian use, the term "government" (or more specifically "federal government") refer broadly to the cabinet of the day (as of 2006, the Harper cabinet) and the non-political staff within each federal department or agency – that is, the civil service. The legislative and judicial branches, as a whole, are not normally considered part of the government in this sense.

Executive power[edit | edit source]

Head of State[edit | edit source]

Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, is the head of state and repository of executive power, which she normally does not exercise herself. As expressed in the constitution, "the Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen". The government acts in her name. The term the Crown is usually used to represent the power of the monarchy. Government ministers are ministers of the Crown. Criminal prosecutions are made by Crown prosecutors in the name of the monarch.

Since the monarch does not reside in Canada, she appoints a governor general to represent her and exercise her powers. The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the prime minister. "Advice" in this sense is a choice without options since it would cause a major political crisis if the prime minister's advice were not followed. This convention protects the monarchy. As long as the monarch is only following the advice of her ministers, she is not held personally responsible for the decisions of the government. The governor general has no term limit, but the practice in recent decades is for the governor general to be replaced after about five years in office.

Head of Government[edit | edit source]

The prime minister is the head of government. The prime minister is appointed by the governor general, but to ensure the continuity of a stable government this person will always be the one who has the confidence of the House of Commons to lead the government. In practice, the position usually goes to the leader of the political party that has the most seats in the lower house. On several occasions in Canadian history no party has had a majority in the House of Commons and thus one party, usually the largest, forms a minority government. As of 2007, Canada's New Government is a minority government.

The prime minister holds office until he resigns or is removed by the governor general; therefore, the party that was in government before the election may attempt to continue to govern if they so desire, even if they hold fewer seats than another party. Coalition governments are rare at the federal level: since Sir John A. Macdonald's Conservative]]/Liberal-Conservative governments in the mid 1800s, Canada has had only one other coalition government, the Union Government of Sir Robert Borden during World War I.

Political parties are private organizations that are not mentioned in the constitution. By the convention of responsible government, the prime minister and most of his cabinet are members of Parliament so they can answer to Parliament for their actions. But, constitutionally, any Canadian adult is eligible for the jobs, and prime ministers have held office after being elected leader but before taking a seat in the Commons (John Turner, for example), or after being defeated in their constituencies. The prime minister selects ministers to head the various government departments and form a cabinet. The members of the Cabinet remain in office at the pleasure of the prime minister.

If the Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the government, the prime minister and his cabinet are expected either to resign their offices or to ask for Parliament to be dissolved so that a general election can be held. To avoid a non-confidence motion from passing, parties enforce strong party discipline, in which members of a party - especially from the ruling party - are strongly urged to vote the "party line" or face consequences. While a member of a governing party is free to vote their conscience, they are constrained by the fact that voting against the party line (especially in confidence votes) might lead to expulsion from their party. Such an expulsion would lead to loss of election funding and the former party backing an alternate candidate. While the government likes to keep control in these circumstances, in unwritten practice, the only time the government can fall is if a money bill (financial or budget) is defeated. However, if a government finds that it can not pass any legislation it is common (but not required) that a vote of confidence should be held. The exception is if the Prime Minister or the government declared that they consider a given bill to be a matter of confidence (hence how backbenchers are often held to strict party voting).

Members can be elected as independents, such as Chuck Cadman in 2004 and Andre Arthur in 2006. Most independent members are elected under a party, but either chose to leave the party or are expelled from it. After the Conservative Party of Canada was formed, a number of members of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance party chose to sit as independents.

When there are enough seats for another party to form a government after the resignation of a prime minister, the Governor General may ask the other party to try to form the government. This became clear after the King-Byng Affair in 1926. In practice, it is unlikely there could be a separate and new alliance created.

The current P.M. is the Right Honourable / le Tres Honorable Steven Harper, Conservative and monarchist, from Calgary.

Legislative power[edit | edit source]

Canada's Parliament consists of the monarch and a bicameral legislature: an elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate. The Governor General appoints Canadians, who are recommended by the Prime Minister, to the Senate according to a formula that distributes the seats among the provinces. In practice, legislative power rests with the party that has the majority of seats in the House of Commons, which is elected from 308 constituencies (or electoral districts) for a period not to exceed five years. Canada's highly disciplined political parties and first-past-the-post electoral system have, since the 1970s, usually given one political party control of the Commons. The five-year period has only been extended once, in 1916. The prime minister may ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament and call new elections at virtually any time. That request was refused only once, during the minority government of 1926. By custom, prime ministers usually call new elections after four years in power. Because the first-past-the-post electoral system leads to a one-party rule for a protracted amount of time, it has led to calls for a different kind of electoral system based on proportional representation.

The Senate is not without power. Its clout is usually the greatest after a party has been in power a long time (and hence nominated Senators that would most likely support their policies), and a new party forms the government. Brian Mulroney used a special provision to recommend the appointment of an additional eight senators so that he could get bills he wanted passed through the Senate. Also, after the criminalization of abortion was decided to be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Supreme Court of Canada, a new bill was prepared by Kim Campbell, who was then Minister of Justice. While it passed in the House of Commons, there was a tied vote in the Senate. In the case of tied votes, the bill is not passed. For more on this particular case, see the page on abortion in Canada.

Judiciary[edit | edit source]

Criminal law, most of which is contained in the federal Criminal Code of Canada|Criminal Code (R.S.C. 1985, Chapter C-46), is uniform throughout the nation and is under federal jurisdiction. Civil law is based on the common law of England, except in Quebec, to which Britain granted the right in 1774 to retain the French civil code. While legislation regarding non-criminal matters is, generally speaking, different from province to province, there are some non-criminal legislation, such as the federal Divorce Act (R.S.C. 1985, Chapter 3 (2nd Supp.)), that is applicable throughout the nation. Justice is administered by federal, provincial, and municipal courts.

The Supreme Court of Canada is the court of last resort. The Supreme Court has nine justices, led by the Chief Justice of Canada, and are appointed by the Governor General. This court hears appeals from decisions rendered by the various appellate courts from the provinces and territories. A trial-level court from a common law province is required to follow previous decisions from both the Supreme Court of Canada and the appellate court of its respective province or territory. In contrast, a Quebec trial-level court may treat judgements from higher courts to be persuasive but not binding. See Courts of Canada.

Federalism[edit | edit source]

Residual power — that is, all powers not specified in the constitution — resides with the federal government; the original intent of this provision was to avoid the sectionalism which had resulted in the American Civil War. However, in 1895 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that the federal government could exercise its residuary power only in wartime. As a result, responsibilities for new functions of government such as labour law or social welfare had to be accommodated under powers specified in the British North America Act. Many ended up being assigned to provincial areas of jurisdiction, so that Canada today is a highly decentralized federation. Further decentralization of functions has been implemented to accommodate provincial aspirations, chiefly those of Quebec. However, all provinces have the right to assume the powers now exercised only by Quebec, and Alberta and Ontario have expressed interest in doing so.

Each province has a Lieutenant-Governor, a Premier, and a single (unicameral), elected legislative chamber. Provincial governments operate under a parliamentary system similar in nature to that of the federal government, with the premier chosen in the same manner as the Canadian prime minister. The lieutenant-governor, recommended by the prime minister and then appointed by the governor general, represents the Crown in each province. Lieutenant-governors, like the governor general, have broad powers that are only rarely used.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Documents on Canadian External Relations: Chapter VIII: Relations with the United States; Part III
  • Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.