Government of Canada

Government of Canada

The Canadian Government, formally Her Majesty's Government in Canada, [ [ MacLeod, Kevin S.; "A Crown of Maples"; Queen's Printer for Canada; Ottawa: 2008] ] is the federal government of Canada. Powers and structure of the federal government are set out in the Constitution of Canada.


In Canadian English, the word "government" is used to refer both to the whole set of institutions that govern the country (following American usage, but where Britons would use "state"), and to the current political leadership (following British usage, but where Americans would use "administration"). For example a Canadian could be a "government employee" but never a "state employee", and they would support or oppose the policies of the "Harper government" but never the "Harper administration".

Because Canada is a federation, "the government" may refer to the federal, provincial or municipal government. Because "aboriginal peoples ... had legal systems prior to the arrival of Europeans", it could also refer to an aboriginal government. ["Campbell v. British Columbia", (2000), 189 D.L.R. (4th) 333, (B.C.S.C.), per Williamson, J. at p. 355.] In this article, "government" refers to the structure of the Canadian federal state.

Executive power


Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, is the sovereign and head of state of Canada, and gives repository of executive power, judicial and legislative power; 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." However, sovereignty in Canada has never rested solely with the monarch due to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, later inherited by Canada, which established the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the monarch is still the sovereign of Canada.

In Canada's federal system, the headship of state is not a part of either the federal or provincial jurisdictions; the Queen reigns impartially over the country as a whole; meaning the sovereignty of each jurisdiction is passed on not by the Governor General or the Canadian parliament, but through the Crown itself. Thus, the Crown is "divided" into eleven legal jurisdictions, eleven "crowns" – one federal and ten provincial. [ [ Jackson, Michael; "Canadian Monarchist News": Golden Jubilee and Provincial Crown; Spring, 2003] ] The viewed this system of constitutional monarchy as a bulwark against any potential fracturing of the Canadian federation. [Smith, David E.; The Invisible Crown; University of Toronto Press; 1995; p. 26]

In practice, the sovereign rarely personally exercises her executive, judicial or legislative powers; since the monarch does not normally reside in Canada, she appoints a governor general to represent her and exercise most of her powers. The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the prime minister. "Advice" in this sense is a choice generally without options since it would be highly unconventional for the prime minister's advice to be overlooked; a convention that protects the monarchy. As long as the monarch is 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, and is said to serve "at Her Majesty's pleasure"; however, the practice is for the governor general to be replaced after about five years in office.

Just as the sovereign's choice of governor general is on the prime minister's advice, the vice-regal figure exercises the executive powers of state on the advice of the ministers of the Crown who make up the Cabinet. The term "the Crown" is used to represent the power of the monarch.

Though the sovereign or viceroy rarely intervene directly in political affairs, the real powers of the position of the monarch in the Canadian Constitution should not be downplayed. The monarch does retain all power, but it must be used with discretion, lest its use cause a constitutional crisis. Placement of power in the sovereign's hands provides a final check on executive power. If, for instance, she believed a proposed law threatened the freedom or security of her citizens, the Queen could decline Royal Assent. Furthermore, armed removal of her by parliament or government would be difficult, as the monarch remains Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, [ [ Constitution Act, 1867] ] who swear an oath of allegiance to her.


The Prime Minister of Canada 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 must have 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 2008, Canada's government has 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 it so desires, even if it holds fewer seats than another party. Coalition governments are rare at the federal level: since Sir John A. Macdonald's 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 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 any Canadian adult is constitutionally eligible for the position, 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 the other ministers of the Crown to head the various government departments and form the Cabinet; these individuals are appointed by the governor general and remain in office at the pleasure of the viceroy.

If the Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the government, the prime minister and the rest of Cabinet are expected either to resign their offices or to ask for a dissolution of Parliament so that a general election can be held. To avoid a no-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" (see Chief Government Whip (Canada)) or face consequences. While a member of a governing party is free to vote his conscience, he is constrained by the fact that voting against the party line (especially in confidence votes) might prevent advancement within the party or lead to expulsion from the party. Expulsion leads to loss of election funding and the former party backing an alternative candidate. While the government likes to keep control of the agenda, by convention a government can only fall 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) for a vote of confidence to be held. In addition, the prime minister may declare a given bill to be a matter of confidence. 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 that a new alliance could be formed that would have the confidence of Parliament.

Legislative power

Canada's Parliament consists of the Monarch and a bicameral legislature: an elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate. 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 (also called ridings 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.

The Senate is not without power. Because the governing party generally nominates its supporters as senators, the Senate's influence is usually the greatest when a new party comes to power after another party has been in power a long time. The Constitution contains a special provision that allows the prime minister to counteract that situation by recommending the appointment of an additional eight senators.


Criminal law, most of which is contained in the federal 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 different from province to province, some non-criminal legislation, such as the federal Divorce Act (R.S.C. 1985, Chapter 3 (2nd Supp.)), 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, who are appointed by the governor general and led by the Chief Justice of Canada. This court hears appeals from decisions rendered by the various appellate courts from the provinces and territories. Trial courts from common law provinces are 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 judgments from higher courts to be persuasive but not binding. See Courts of Canada.


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, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled in 1895 that the federal government could exercise its residual 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 the provinces, so that today Canada is a highly decentralized federation. Further decentralization of functions has been implemented to accommodate Quebec. All provinces however have the right to assume the powers now exercised only by Quebec.

Each province has a lieutenant-governor to represent the Canadian sovereign, a premier and cabinet to advise the viceroy, and a (unicameral) legislature. 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 prime minister. Lieutenant governors are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister.


External links

* [ Official website of the Government of Canada]
* [ Governor General of Canada]
* [ Prime Minister of Canada]
* [ Government Telephone Directory]
* [ Information on the Government of Canada]
* [ Federal government e-mail naming standards]
* [ Government Forms]
* [ Privy Council Office: Governing Responsibly: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State]
* [ Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat]
* [ Federal Identity Program - Titles of Federal Organizations]
* [ Federal Identity Program] from Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
* [ General Enquiries - Federal Government Organizations]
* [ Provincial Government Telephone Directories]

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