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I – The Canadian political system |

The AANB made Canada a constitutional monarchy, whose sovereign is the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, currently Queen Elizabeth II.

Canada is a federation, meaning that powers are divided between a central (federal) government and 10 provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, New Scotland, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador).

Federal and provincial powers are enshrined in the Constitution. The jurisdictions of the three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) are devolved to them by the federal government and are not listed in the AANB.

Elizabeth II is the Canadian head of state.

Signing of the Canadian Constitution by Queen Elizabeth II in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, in the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Ron Poling

Previously, only the British sovereign could amend the Constitution. In 1982, Canada repatriated its Constitution, that is to say, it gave itself mechanisms to modify it itself, following an agreement between the federal government and nine provinces. Quebec refused its consent to this agreement, in particular because it did not obtain any specific constitutional status.

In addition, since 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been enshrined in the Constitution. Despite these changes, Canada remains a constitutional monarchy and the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, is still Queen of Canada.

The Canadian governmental system is inspired by British parliamentarianism and is above all a matter of tradition. The Federal Parliament consists of two chambers:

  • The House of Commons (lower house) brings together 338 elected members.
  • The Senate (upper house) has 105 members appointed by the Prime Minister and represents all regions of the country.

A less partisan and more independent Senate.

In December 2015, the Trudeau government established a new independent, non-partisan body to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments. This Advisory Committee makes merit-based recommendations for choosing those who should be appointed to the Senate.

Who runs Canada?

Mary Simon in front of a microphone, in front of two Canadian flags.

Mary Simon is the current Governor General of Canada. It represents Queen Elizabeth II.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Constitutionally, the Canadian head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.

This is represented by a governor general at the federal level and by 10 lieutenant-governors, one per province. The three territories each have a Commissioner representing the Queen. These functions are above all ceremonial.

The Governor General, or his representative, grants Royal Assent to laws passed by Parliament.

She summons and dissolves Parliament, reads the Speech from the Throne, signs certain state documents and presides over certain swearing-in ceremonies.

Legislative power

Justin Trudeau smiles in front of a lectern with his new government in the background.

Justin Trudeau is the current Prime Minister of Canada.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

Canada is also a parliamentary democracy. The deputies, meeting in the House of Commons, hold the legislative power, that is to say the power to make and vote on laws. They debate bills in the House, participate in committees that study them in depth, propose amendments, adopt or reject them.

Although bills are usually introduced by government party MPs, opposition MPs can also introduce bills on their own behalf.

The Senate also contributes to the legislative process by passing bills passed by the House of Commons before they receive Royal Assent. Senators can defeat a bill, which they don’t often do. They can also amend bills introduced by the House of Commons.

The Senate also has the power to introduce bills on the condition that they have no financial implications, or that they require no public expenditure.

Executive power

In Canada, the Cabinet, or Council of Ministers, holds executive power. Its role is to establish the policies of the government in place and to administer the State in accordance with the laws voted by the legislative power.

The head of the executive is the prime minister. By parliamentary tradition, he is the leader of the party that won the most seats in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister appoints cabinet ministers, senators, provincial lieutenant governors and judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. He also chooses the moment of the dissolution of the Parliament, therefore of the calling of the elections, and the date of the ballot.

With rare exceptions, Ministers are chosen from among Members of Parliament. By comparison, in the United States, the Constitution strictly prohibits elected officials from being ministers.

What is the opposition?

Erin O'Toole raises her right hand to greet her supporters.

The Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Erin O’Toole, is the current Leader of the Opposition.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

According to tradition, the party with the second highest number of MPs becomes the official opposition. Its leader becomes the Leader of the Opposition.

To have the status of official party in the Commons and thus obtain research funds, a party must elect at least 12 members.

During each fiscal year, certain days are designated for the opposition to engage in debates on subjects of its choice.

The opposition can also take advantage of these days to request a vote in the House on a question of its choice. However, it is up to the party that forms the government to decide which days are allocated to the opposition.

Majority or minority government

Cliché and black and white of the House of Commons.

The House of Commons in 1941

Photo: The Canadian Press

Parliamentary tradition dictates that the party which obtains the greatest number of deputies forms the government. If a formation wins more than half of the seats in the House of Commons, we will speak of a majority government, which has control of the chamber.

On the other hand, if a party obtains the most seats, but this number is less than half of the seats, it risks forming a minority government. This status means that the opposition, which is larger in number, can block the adoption of its bills. The opposition can also overthrow the government on important issues, such as the budget.

To govern, the party in power must have the support of the House. Faced with a minority government, the opposition can try to withdraw its confidence by tabling a motion of no confidence. If this motion obtains the majority of the votes of the deputies, the government is also overthrown.

When the government falls, the House of Commons is dissolved and an election is called.

A minority party can join forces with another party in the House of Commons to obtain an absolute majority. In this case, it can be a sporadic alliance, like the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party in 2005. It can also be a formal alliance, whereby the party that agrees to ally obtains positions in government.

If a party is in power but does not elect deputies in all the provinces, custom allows the Prime Minister to appoint ministers from among the senators of these provinces. This happened in particular in 1979 and 1980, during the respective governments of Joe Clark and Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Ministerial Senators cannot sit in the House of Commons, but can sit in Cabinet and on the Priorities Committee.

The Prime Minister can also appoint an unelected as minister, but he must have him elected as soon as possible in a by-election. If the candidate loses the election, he must resign from his position as minister.


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