Canada was created in 1867 and currently consists of ten
provinces and three territories. Canada is a parliamentary
democracy whose form of government is a constitutional monarchy
with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. The Governor General,
to whom The Queen has delegated all of her powers over Canada
(except the power to appoint or dismiss the Governor General), is
obliged to follow the wishes of Canada's elected
representatives. As The Queen's representative in Canada, the
Governor General's role is largely ceremonial. Canada's two
official languages are English and French and both have equal
status in federal courts, Parliament and in all federal
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Canada is a federal state in which legislative power is
constitutionally divided between the federal government and the
provincial governments. A third level of government, municipal or
local government, has only the powers granted to it by the
applicable provincial government. The federal and the provincial
governments have exclusive jurisdiction and legislative powers over
specified matters. The federal government also has
"residual" jurisdiction over matters not specifically
assigned to the provinces. In addition, while Canada's three
territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) have
legislatures and govern themselves on local matters, their
constitutional responsibilities are fewer than those of the
The federal government has control over matters of national
interest, such as trade and commerce, transportation and
communication, banking, currency, customs and excise, external
relations, defence and criminal law. The provincial governments
have power over matters of a local nature, such as property and
civil rights within the province, municipal institutions,
education, health and welfare, and the administration of justice.
For more than three decades, Canada has had the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which imposes limitations on
government powers in order to protect civil liberties.
Canada has a parliamentary government. The legislative power of
the federal government is vested in the Parliament of Canada, which
consists of the Crown, an upper house, known as the Senate, and a
lower house, known as the House of Commons. The members of the
House of Commons (known as Members of Parliament, or MPs) are
chosen in a general election held on the third Monday of October in
the fourth calendar year following the last general election,
though there is no prohibition on a general election being called
on another date, when, on the advice of the Prime Minister, the
Governor General dissolves Parliament. The federal government is
headed by the Prime Minister, who is normally the leader of the
political party that has the most members in the House of Commons.
The members of the Senate are currently appointed by the Governor
General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and
appointments are distributed on a regional basis.
Canada's provinces have systems of government which parallel
that of the federal government in several ways. A premier leads
each provincial government by virtue of being the leader of the
political party with the most support in the provincial
legislature, and forms a cabinet from the elected members of the
governing party. As the federal and the provincial governments are
elected separately, there may be different political parties in
power at each level. There are no provincial bodies equivalent to
There are two legal systems in Canada: British-based common law
and European-style civil law. Civil law predominately applies in
the province of Québec, and common law applies in all other
provinces and territories. Both legal systems are subject to the
Constitution of Canada.
The Supreme Court of Canada is Canada's highest court. It is
the final court of appeal having jurisdiction to hear appeals from
the courts of appeal of each province, as well as from the Federal
Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over a relatively small
range of specialized areas under the jurisdiction of the federal
government, such as intellectual property. The Supreme Court of
Canada consists of nine judges, three of whom must be from the
province of Québec. The judges of the Supreme Court, the
Federal Court and certain provincial courts (so-called
"Superior Courts") are appointed by the Governor General
on the advice of the Prime Minister and cabinet.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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