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The Government of Canada 

Three Branches of the Government  The Parliament of Canada
The Levels of Government  Provincial Legislatures

Three Branches of the Government 

Executive: Comprised of the Cabinet and the bureaucracy of the government that carry out the
government business and laws of Canada.

Legislative: The legislative bodies of Canada. They make and debate the laws.

Judicial: Comprised of the various courts of Canada. They decide who broke the law and the punishment that corresponds.

Therefore, the legislative branch would create a law about the time of year that a person could fish. The executive branch would see to it through setting up various ministries and agencies that people only fished during that time. The judiciary would put anyone on trial that broke the law and fished outside of the allotted time and would decide upon an appropriate punishment.

  The Levels of the Government

Provincial and Territorial

The levels of government were established when Canada created it's Constitution (The British North America Act) in 1867. The separate roles are defined by sections 91 and 92.

Federal Government
In general, the federal government takes major responsibility for things that affect all Canadians. This would include national defense, foreign policy and citizenship. The Federal Legislature (Parliament Buildings) and many of the Federal offices, boards, bureaucracy, etc are located in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Federal Legislative Representatives are referred to as MP's (Members of Parliament). The head of the government is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the head of the federal party that is in power (explained later). Like the way many people refer to the Federal Government of the United States as "Washington" many people use "Ottawa" to refer to the Canadian Federal Government.
In general, the federal government takes major responsibility for things that affect all Canadians. This would include national defense, foreign policy and citizenship. The Federal Legislature (Parliament Buildings) and many of the Federal offices, boards, bureaucracy, etc are located in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Federal Legislative Representatives are referred to as MP's (Members of Parliament). The head of the government is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the head of the federal party that is in power (explained later). Like the way many people refer to the Federal Government of the United States as "Washington" many people use "Ottawa" to refer to the Canadian Federal Government.

Provincial and Territorial Government:
These governments look after things like education, health and highways. (Things that would apply to a province specifically.) The provincial capital for each province is where the provincial legislature is located. Some provinces have MPP's (Member of Provincial Parliament) or MLA's (Member of Legislative Assembly) or MNA (Member of National Assembly). The head of the provincial government is the Premier. The Premier is an MPP that is voted to be the political leader of the provincial party that is in power (explained later). The MPP's making up the provincial legislature are elected at least every five years.  



Name of Legislature

Newfoundland St. John's  Confederation Building
Prince Edward Island Charlottetown n/a
Nova Scotia Halifax Province House
New Brunswick Fredericton Parliament Building
Quebec Quebec City National Assembly of Quebec
Ontario Toronto Queen's Park
Manitoba Winnipeg Legislative Building
Saskatchewan Regina Legislative Building
Alberta Edmonton Legislative Building
British Columbia Victoria Parliament Building



Name of Legislature

Northwest Territory Yellowknife Legislative Building
Yukon Territory Whitehorse n/a


Note: Often the Federal and the Provincial government share responsibility for an area. For example there is both a Federal and Provincial Ministry of the Environment. As Canada moves forth, and the government grows, new areas have emerged to be governed. When a conflict between these two levels of government arise, the power is automatically given to the federal government under the constitution.

When Canada came together in Confederation in 1867, many of it's makers, including the first Prime Minister Sir. John A. Macdonald envisioned a strong federal government and a weaker provincial one. However, throughout Canadian history Canada has increasingly had stronger provincial governments and the federal one has become weaker. Some attribute this to the national unity problems in Canada. (This is in contrast to the United States where the Constitution was designed for strong States and a weaker national government but throughout history the federal government has become stronger with weaker States.)

Municipal (or local)

Municipal governments in each city or community are responsible for things that are directly related to a city such as policing, fire fighting, snow removal, recycling and garbage collecting. Cities are run by city councils with each "ward" (which is a an area) being represented by a councilor. At the head of the council is the Mayor of the city. Councilors and the Mayor are elected by citizens at least every 5 years. 

The Parliament of Canada

Governor General, Lieutenant Governor and Constitutional Monarchy
The House of Commons
The Senate

Parliaments that are made up to two Houses are called "bicameral" Almost every country in the Western worked that is made up of a number of states or provinces has a second chamber to represent regional interests.

The Governor General, Lieutenant Governor, and Constitutional Monarchy
Canada is both a democracy and a "constitutional monarchy". This means that we have elected officials and we recognize the British monarchy as the Head of State. This can be a confusing concept. This does not mean that Canadians are "subjects". All this means is that the British Monarchy is a symbolic figure head in Canada. The position goes back to a time when Canada was a British colony and Canada's Loyalist heritage.

When the legislatures want to pass a law there  must first be a majority in the legislature supporting the bill and federally the bill must pass in the Senate (again - explained later) and then the bill must be given something called "Royal Assent" before it becomes law. Federally the Monarchy is represented by the Governor General and provincially the Monarchy is represented by the Lieutenant Governor. (*Special note: Lieutenant is pronounced "left-tenant" in Canada.) This is like a seal of approval similar to the way that the President of the United States must sign a Bill before it becomes law.

One important difference exists here in that while the President has a choice as to whether or not he or she would like to sign a bill, a Governor General (GG) or the Lieutenant Governor (LG)does for the most part not. Because he or she is not elected (instead appointed by the Prime Minister) it would be an undemocratic interference for the GG or the LG to interfere. The Bill has already been passed by an elected majority and therefore to not sign the bill would be to over-ride the legit majority. Therefore the position of GG or LG is largely ceremonial although it was considered a legit position when Confederation came together. It has been in recent years debated over whether we should get rid of the Monarchy in Canada. For the present however the Monarchy is here to stay.

The House of Commons
Within the House of Commons Members of Parliament (or MPs) sit to debate federal legislation. Members are elected in individual ridings based on population to represent and make decisions on behalf of the people of that riding. Usually the MP is a member of one of the 5 major parties although an independent candidate may run like John Nunziata. The party with the most seats in the House of Commons forms the Government and the rest of the parties form the opposition. The party with the second most amount of seats becomes the Official Opposition. Right now the Liberal Party forms the government while the  Canadian AllianceParty forms the Official Opposition. The Government is the party that will likely get most of the legislation that it introduces into the House passed and the Official Opposition will get the greatest opportunity to question and criticize the government.

There are three main functions of  the House of Commons. The first is to debate and vote upon legislation and the second is to give the chance for the opposition to question what the government is doing with legislation, the way it conducts itself, etc. The third function is private member's business where MP's may get up and make a speech in the House about an issue or event that he/she would like to draw attention to.

It should be pointed out that the MP's have many official functions like attending important civic events, sitting on committees and helping out constituents that may need aid from the federal government. Anyone may contact an MP through performing an internet search, looking up their number in the phone book (blue pages) or through visiting the constituency office of the MP in person.

PeterMilliken.jpg (46722 bytes)

The House of Commons recently elected a new Speaker of the House, the Hon. Peter Milliken. (Who - incidentally, was my MP while I was at Queen's.) He gets to sit in this cool chair (right).

HOC_1.jpg (55092 bytes)

The Senate
The Senate is a federal body that is another House of Parliament. (In fact it is often referred to as the Upper House and the House of Commons as the Lower House.) It is comprised of the same political parties that exist in the House of Commons.  Senators are appointed by the Governor General upon recommendation by the Prime Minister. He/she will usually only appoint persons who will vote for the government in power. Therefore since the only parties that have formed the government in Canada are the Progressive Conservative and the Liberal Parties, there are only PC and Liberal senators. Also the Senate has no effective power to quash legislation. Once the bill is passed the House of Commons the Senate may only recommend certain changes or improvements. It may refuse to pass legislation by returning it to the House. In several circumstances the Senate has refused to allow legislation to pass though to be given Royal Assent (such as in 1988 over the Free Trade Agreement). The Senate refused to pass the legislation until the people had their say through an election. If the people wanted Free Trade they would vote for the Tories, if they didn't they would vote Liberal or NDP. Since the Senators are un-elected it is considered undemocratic for them to be able to have any real control over legislation. Therefore on paper the Senate has the same legislative power as the House of Commons with two exceptions: 1) The Senate cannot introduce appropriation and tax bills (money bills) into the House and that there may only be a 180 day suspension of legislation by the Senate on bills that have passed the House of Commons.

The Senate has been seen by many Canadians as useless, unfair and undemocratic. Certain parties (especially the Reform Party) are demanding Senate reform and a Triple E Senate which means a Senate that would have Elected representatives, Equal Representation (of the Provinces) and Effective Power which means that the Senate would be given the power to reject and quash legislation like in the United States. There have even been calls to abolish the senate entirely.

The Senate was designed to give "sober second thought" to legislation. At one time it was comprised of men of rank or status that owned property. It was to control the "tyranny of the masses" so that an elected body could not get away with persecuting a minority for by enacting something that could jeopardize the country. This fear was from the experiences of the United Empire Loyalists who were persecuted in the United States and came to Canada and to curb the democracy that was seen as "mob rule" to many Canadians. It was believed that civilized, cultured men of status would protect the nation and its peoples from any such danger. Often however Senators were appointed based on political favours to the Prime Minister or the party in power rather than service to the country. A Senate appointment was a fairly sweet deal considering that it paid well and that one kept the position for life. Today after some reform Senators must retire by the age of 75 and appointments are usually Canadians who have done something good for the country (and will most likely vote in favor of the government in power.)

Senators are appointed provincially and regionally which means that every area of Canada has a certain amount. This regional representation is central to the role of the Senate in our system of government and the Senate Chamber serves as a forum for the expression of regional concerns.


Province Number of Senators
Maritimes   30
  Newfoundland 6
  Nova Scotia 10
  New Brunswick 10
  PEI 4
Central Canada   48
  Quebec 24
  Ontario 24
Western Canada   24
  Manitoba 6
  Saskatchewan 6
  Alberta 6
  British Columbia 6
Northern Canada   2
  NWT 1
  Yukon 1
TOTAL   104

Other Senator duties aside from debating legislation include ambassadorial/diplomatic relations, research and investigations by Senate committees.

Requirements to be a Senator:
a) be at least 30 years of age
b) be a Canadian citizen by birth or naturalization;
c) have an estate worth $4000;
d) own real property within the province for which he or she serves worth at least $4000
e) be a resident in the province for which he or she is appointed.

Occupations represented in the Senate include business executives, lawyers, dentists, doctors, farmers, journalists, labour union executives, accountants and academics.

Sen_1.jpg (49294 bytes) The Senate of Canada - the red represents royalty, unlike the green which represents the 'commoners' in the House of Commons.  This is where the speech from the throne is delivered. 

The Provincial Legislatures

The set up of the provincial government is very much like the set up of the federal government with one exception - at the provincial level there is no Senate. Once a bill is passed it automatically goes on to give Royal Assent.

Therefore at different ridings across a province representatives (MPPs, MLA's etc) are elected to represent and make decisions on behalf of the people that live in that riding. The representatives are usually from one of the major parties of the province although independent candidates may be elected. There are several different parties in various provinces that do not exist federally such examples are the Saskatchewan Party in Saskatchewan and the Parti Quebecois in Quebec. Also in certain provinces some of the 5 major parties do not exist. For example in Ontario there is no Provincial Reform party. Provincial parties act separately than the federal parties although for the most part the policies are along the same line. For example the Federal Conservatives are more to the left on the political spectrum than the provincial Conservatives which are more to the right in Ontario.


The pictures of the House of Commons and Senate came from the Parliament website: