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The government of Canada is the system whereby the federation of Canada is administered by a common authority; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of managerial institutions or specifically the Queen-in-Council. In both senses, the construct was established at Confederation, through the Constitution Act, 1867, as a constitutional monarchy, wherein the Canadian Crown acts as the core, or "the most basic building block,"[1] of the kingdom's Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.[2] The Crown is thus the foundation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Canadian government.[3][4][5] Further elements of governance are outlined in the rest of the constitution of Canada, which includes written statutes, court rulings, and unwritten conventions developed over centuries.[6]



In Canadian English, the word government is used to refer both to the whole set of institutions that collectively govern the country as well as the reigning monarch, or her viceroy, in her current council; when used in the latter context, the word is usually capitalized to make the distinction.[7] Thus, Canadians would say the 28th Ministry is the Government that currently administers the Canadian government. Contrasts can be drawn with the British usage – where the government is synonymous with the state – and the American usage – where the Government is synonymous with the administration.

Because Canada is a federation, the government can refer to the federal, provincial, or municipal governments. Because aboriginal peoples "had legal systems prior to the arrival of Europeans", it could also refer to an aboriginal government (acting as a municipal government entity).[8] In this article, government refers to the structure of the Canadian federal state.


Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, wearing the Sovereign's insignia of the Order of Canada and the Order of Military Merit

As per the Constitution Act, 1867, Canada is a constitutional monarchy, wherein the role of the reigning sovereign is both legal and practical. The Crown is regarded as a corporation, with the monarch, vested as she is with all powers of state,[9] at the centre of a construct in which the power of the whole is shared by multiple institutions of government acting under the sovereign's authority;[10][11] the Crown has thus been described as the underlying principle of Canada's institutional unity,[12] with the executive formally called the Queen-in-Council, the legislature the Queen-in-Parliament, and the courts as the Queen on the Bench.[4]

Royal Assent and the royal sign-manual are required to enact laws, letters patent, and Orders-in-Council, though the authority for these acts stems from the Canadian populace,[13][14] and, within the conventional stipulations of constitutional monarchy, the sovereign's direct participation in any of these areas of governance is limited.[15] As the monarch – presently Queen Elizabeth II – is shared as head of state of 15 other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, she appoints as her viceregal representative in Canada a Governor General – currently Michaëlle Jean – to act in her stead; since 1947, the Governor General has been permitted to exercise almost all of the sovereign's Royal Prerogative, though some powers do remain the Queen's alone. Further, the monarch and Governor General typically follow the near-binding advice of their Ministers of the Crown in Cabinet. It is important to note, however, that the Royal Prerogative belongs to the Crown and not to any of the ministers,[11][16] and the royal and viceroyal figures may unilaterally use these powers in exceptional constitutional crisis situations,[n 1][11][17][18][19][20][21]

The Canadian monarchy is a federal one in which the Crown is unitary throughout all jurisdictions in the country, with the headship of state being a part of all equally.[22] As such, the sovereignty of the federal and provincial regions is passed on not by the Governor General or federal parliament, but through the overreaching Crown itself. Though singular, the Crown is thus "divided" into eleven legal jurisdictions, or eleven "crowns" – one federal and ten provincial.[23] A Lieutenant Governor serves as the Queen's representative in each province, carrying out all the monarch's constitutional and ceremonial duties of state on her behalf, not the federal government's or the Governor General's.

Executive power

Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada's head of government
The bilingual Government of Canada wordmark

The government is defined by the constitution as the Queen acting on the advice of her Privy Council.[24][25][26][27] However, the Privy Council – comprised mostly of former members of parliament, Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, and other elder statesmen – rarely meets in full; as the stipulations of responsible government require that those who directly advise the monarch and Governor General on how to exercise the Royal Prerogative be accountable to the elected House of Commons, the day-to-day operation of government is guided only by a sub-group of the Privy Council made up of individuals who hold seats in parliament.[27] This body of Ministers of the Crown is the Cabinet.

One of the main duties of the Crown is to "ensure that a democratically elected government is always in place,"[28] which means appointing a prime minister – presently Stephen Harper – to thereafter head the Cabinet.[29] Per convention, the Governor General must appoint as Prime Minister the person who holds the confidence of the House of Commons; in practice, this is typically the leader of the political party that holds more seats than any other party in that chamber, currently the Conservative Party. Should no party hold a majority in the Commons, the leader of one party – either the one with the most seats or one supported by other parties – will be called by the Governor General to form a minority government. Once sworn in by the viceroy, the Prime Minister holds office until he resigns or is removed by the Governor General, after either a motion of no confidence or his party's defeat in a general election.

Legislative power

The Centre Block of the Canadian parliament buildings on Parliament Hill

Canada's bicameral legislature, located on Parliament Hill in the national capital of Ottawa, consists of the sovereign, the House of Commons, and the appointed Senate.[30] The Governor General summons and appoints each of the 105 members of the upper house on the advice of his or her Prime Minister,[31] while the 308 members of the lower house are directly elected by eligible voters in the Canadian populace, with each Member of Parliament representing a single electoral district for a period of not more than four years.[32] Per democratic tradition, the House of Commons is the dominant branch of parliament, the Senate and Crown rarely opposing its will. The Senate, thus, reviews legislation from a less partisan standpoint, and the monarch and viceroy provide the necessary Royal Assent to make bills into law and summon, prorogue, and dissolve parliament in order to call an election, as well as reading the Throne Speech.

The Constitution Act, 1867, outlines that the Governor General alone is responsible for summoning parliament, and a parliamentary session lasts until a prorogation, after which, without ceremony, both chambers of the legislature cease all legislative business until the Governor General issues another royal proclamation calling for a new session to begin. After a number of such sessions, each parliament comes to an end via dissolution. As a general election typically follows, the timing of a dissolution is usually politically motivated, with the Prime Minister selecting a moment most advantageous to his or her political party. The end of a parliament may also be necessary, however, if the majority of Members of Parliament revoke their confidence in the Prime Minister's ability to govern, or the legally mandated four year maximum is reached; no parliament has been allowed to expire in such a fashion.

Judicial power

The sovereign is responsible for rendering justice for all her subjects, and is thus traditionally deemed the fount of justice.[33] However, she does not personally rule in judicial cases; instead the judicial functions of the Royal Prerogative are performed in trust and in the Queen's name by Officers of Her Majesty's Court.

The Supreme Court of Canada – the country's court of last resort – has nine justices appointed by the Governor General and led by the Chief Justice of Canada, and hears appeals from decisions rendered by the various appellate courts from the provinces and territories. Below this is the Federal Court, which hears cases arising under certain areas of federal law.[34] It works in conjunction with the Federal Court of Appeal and Tax Court of Canada.[35]


The powers of the parliament of Canada are limited by the constitution, which divides legislative abilities between the federal and provincial governments; in general, provincial legislatures may only pass laws relating to topics explicitly reserved for them by the constitution, such as education, provincial officers, municipal government, charitable institutions, and "matters of a merely local or private nature,"[36] while any matter not under the exclusive authority of the provincial Legislatures is within the scope of the federal parliament's power. Thus, parliament alone can pass laws relating to, amongst other things, the postal service, the census, the military, navigation and shipping, fishing, currency, banking, weights and measures, bankruptcy, copyrights, patents, First Nations, and naturalization.[37] In some cases, however, the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial parliaments may be more vague. For instance, the parliament in Ottawa regulates marriage and divorce in general, but the solemnization of marriage is regulated only by the provincial legislatures. Other examples include the powers of both the federal and provincial parliaments to impose taxes, borrow money, punish crimes, and regulate agriculture.



  1. ^ Department of Canadian Heritage (February 2009), Canadian Heritage Portfolio (2 ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 3, ISBN 978-1-100-11529-0,, retrieved 5 July 2009 
  2. ^ Coyne, Andrew (13 November 2009). "Defending the royals". Maclean's (Toronto: Rogers Communications). ISSN 0024-9262. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  3. ^ Victoria (29 March 1867), Constitution Act, 1867, III.15, Westminster: Queen's Printer,, retrieved 15 January 2009 
  4. ^ a b MacLeod, Kevin S. (2008), A Crown of Maples (1 ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 17, ISBN 978-0-662-46012-1,, retrieved 21 June 2009 
  5. ^ Department of Canadian Heritage 2009, p. 4
  6. ^ Brooks, Stephen (2007). Canadian Democracy: An Introduction (5 ed.). Don Mills: Oxford University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0195431032. 
  7. ^ Brooks 2007, pp. 9-10
  8. ^ Campbell v. British Columbia, 189 D.L.R. (4th) 333 , 355 (Supreme Court of British Columbia 2000).
  9. ^ Privy Council Office (2008). Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State – 2008. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-100-11096-7. Retrieved 17 May 2009. 
  10. ^ Table Research Branch of the House of Commons (March 2008), Compendium of Procedure, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 1,, retrieved 14 October 2009 
  11. ^ a b c Cox, Noel (September 2002). "Black v Chrétien: Suing a Minister of the Crown for Abuse of Power, Misfeasance in Public Office and Negligence". Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law (Perth: Murdoch University) 9 (3): 12. Retrieved 17 May 2009. 
  12. ^ Parliament of Canada. "Canada: A Constitutional Monarchy". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 25 September 2009. 
  13. ^ Forsey, Eugene (2005). How Canadians Govern Themselves (6 ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. p. 1. ISBN 0-662-39689-8. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  14. ^ Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille. "House of Commons Procedure and Practice > 1. Parliamentary Institutions". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 28 September 2009. 
  15. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 16
  16. ^ Neitsch, Alfred Thomas (2008). "A Tradition of Vigilance: The Role of Lieutenant Governor in Alberta". Canadian Parliamentary Review (Ottawa: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) 30 (4): 23. Retrieved 22 May 2009. 
  17. ^ McWhinney, Edward (2005). The Governor General and the Prime Ministers. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press. pp. 16-17. ISBN 1-55380-031-1. 
  18. ^ Dawson, R. MacGregor; Dawson, W.F. (1989). Democratic Government in Canada (5 ed.). Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press. pp. 68-69. ISBN 8-0820-6703-4. 
  19. ^ Forsey 2005, pp. 4, 34
  20. ^ Library and Archives Canada. "Politics and Government > By Executive Decree > The Governor General". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  21. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Role and Responsibilities > Role of the Governor General > Constitutional Responsibilities". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  22. ^ Roberts, Edward (2009). "Ensuring Constitutional Wisdom During Unconventional Times". Canadian Parliamentary Review (Ottawa: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) 23 (1): 13. Retrieved 21 May 2009. 
  23. ^ Jackson, Michael D. (2003). "Golden Jubilee and Provincial Crown". Canadian Monarchist News (Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada) 7 (3): 6. Retrieved 21 May 2009. 
  24. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 18
  25. ^ Wrong, Humphrey Hume (10 November 1952), Telegram 219, in Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, "Relations With the United States", Documents on Canadian External Relations (Ottawa) 18 – 867,, retrieved 18 May 2009 
  26. ^ Victoria 1867, III.9 & 11
  27. ^ a b Marleau 2000, The Executive
  28. ^ Boyce, Peter (2008), The Queen's Other Realms: The Crown and its Legacy in Australia, Canada and New Zealand (ISBN 9-781-86287-700-9), written at Sydney, in Jackson, Michael D., "The Senior Realms of the Queen", Canadian Monarchist News (Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada) Autumn 2009 (30): 9, October 2009,, retrieved 22 October 2009 
  29. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Media > Fact Sheets > The Swearing-In of a New Ministry". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  30. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.17
  31. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.24
  32. ^ Elizabeth II (31 May 2000), Canada Elections Act, 56.1.2, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada,, retrieved 20 November 2009 
  33. ^ Parliamentary Debates, Senate, 17 February 2000, columns 1500–1510
  34. ^ Federal Court. "About the Court > Jurisdiction". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  35. ^ Elizabeth II (27 March 2002), Courts Administration Service Act, 2.a, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada,, retrieved 20 November 2009 
  36. ^ Victoria 1867, VI.92
  37. ^ Victoria 1867, VI.91

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