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Government of Canada

The wordmark of the Government of Canada
The bilingual Government of Canada wordmark
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The Government of Canada (French: Gouvernement du Canada), formally Her Majesty's Government[1][2][3] (French: Gouvernement de Sa Majesté), is the federal democratic administration of Canada, and by a common authority levies taxes to pay for common goods; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of institutions or specifically the Queen-in-Council. In both senses, the construct was established at Confederation, through the Constitution Act, 1867, as a federal constitutional monarchy, wherein the Canadian Crown acts as the core, or "the most basic building block,"[4] of its Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.[5] The Crown is thus the foundation of the executive (the Cabinet, a committee of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada), legislative (the Parliament of Canada), and judicial (various federal courts) branches of the Canadian government.[6][7][8] Further elements of governance are outlined in the rest of the Canadian constitution, which includes written statutes, court rulings, and unwritten conventions developed over centuries.[9]


  • Usage 1
  • Monarchy 2
  • Executive power 3
  • Legislative power 4
  • Judicial power 5
  • Federalism 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


In Canadian English, the word government is used to refer both to the whole set of institutions that govern the country (as in American usage, but where Britons would use state), and to the current political leadership (as in British usage, but where Americans would use administration).

In federal department press releases, the government has sometimes been referred to by the phrase [last name of prime minister] Government; this terminology has been commonly employed in the media.[10] In late 2010, an informal instruction from the Office of the Prime Minister urged government departments to consistently use in all department communications the term (at that time Harper Government) in place of Government of Canada.[11] The same cabinet earlier directed departments to use the phrase Canada's New Government.[10]


As per the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982, Canada is a constitutional monarchy, wherein the role of the reigning sovereign is both legal and practical, but not political.[12] The Crown is regarded as a corporation sole, with the monarch, vested as she is with all powers of state,[13] 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,[14][15][16] The executive is thus formally called the Queen-in-Council, the legislature the Queen-in-Parliament, and the courts as the Queen on the Bench.[7]

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

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 and,[17][18] within the conventional stipulations of constitutional monarchy, the sovereign's direct participation in any of these areas of governance is limited.[19][20]

The current monarch is Queen Elizabeth II. As an individual, she is also the head of state of 15 other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, though, she reigns separately as Queen of Canada, an office that is "truly Canadian" and "totally independent from that of the Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms."[21][22] Her Majesty appoints a federal viceregal representative, the Governor General of Canada, currently David Johnston. Since 1947, the governor general has been permitted to exercise almost all of the sovereign's Royal Prerogative, though there are some duties which must be specifically performed by, or bills that require assent by, the Queen; these include applying the royal sign-manual and Great Seal of Canada to the appointment papers of governors general, the issuance of letters patent,[23] the creation and modification of Canadian honours, the approval of any change in her Canadian title,[24] and the creation of new Senate seats.[25]

The Royal Prerogative also extends to foreign affairs: on the advice of the Cabinet, the sovereign or governor general negotiates and ratifies treaties, alliances, international agreements, and declarations of war,[26] and the governor general, on behalf of the Queen, both accredits Canadian high commissioners and ambassadors and receives similar diplomats from foreign states. Similarly, the issuance of passports falls under the Royal Prerogative and,[27] as such, all Canadian passports are issued in the monarch's name and remain her property.[28] The Crown also summons, prorogues, and dissolves parliament in order to call an election, as well as reads the Speech from the Throne, which outlines the legislative programme of the current government. The Crown provides the necessary Royal Assent to make those bills that are passed by the bicameral legislature into law.

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,[16][29] who rule "in trust" for the monarch and,[30] upon losing the confidence of the elected House of Commons, must relinquish the Crown's power back to it,[31] whereupon a new government, which can hold the lower chamber's confidence, is installed by the governor general. The royal and viceroyal figures may unilaterally use these powers in exceptional constitutional crisis situations.[n 1][16][32][33][34][35][36][31] Politicians can sometimes try to use to their favour the complexity of the relationship between the monarch, viceroy, ministers, and parliament, and the public's general unfamiliarity with it.[n 2]

Executive power

Current prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada's head of government

The government is defined by the constitution as the Queen acting on the advice of her privy council.[1][37][38][39] However, the Privy Council—consisting 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.[39] 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,"[40] which means appointing a prime minister—presently Stephen Harper—to thereafter head the Cabinet.[41] 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 or she resigns or is removed by the governor general, after either a motion of non-confidence or his party's defeat in a general election.

Legislative power

The Parliament of Canada, the bicameral national legislature located on Parliament Hill in the national capital of Ottawa, consists of the Queen (represented by the governor general), the appointed Senate (upper house), and the elected House of Commons (lower house).[42] The governor general summons and appoints each of the (currently) 105 senators on the advice of the prime minister,[43] while the (currently) 308 members of the House of Commons (Members of Parliament) are directly elected by eligible voters in the Canadian populace, with each member representing a single electoral district for a period mandated by law of not more than four years;[44] the constitution mandates a maximum of five years. Per democratic tradition, the House of Commons is the dominant branch of parliament; the Senate and Crown rarely oppose its will. The Senate, thus, reviews legislation from a less partisan standpoint.
The Centre Block of the Canadian parliament buildings on Parliament Hill

The Constitution Act, 1867, outlines that the governor general is responsible for summoning parliament in the Queen's name. 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 (as per the Canada Elections Act) four-year maximum is reached; no parliament has been allowed to expire in such a fashion.

Judicial power

Supreme Court Building in Ottawa

The sovereign is responsible for rendering justice for all her subjects, and is thus traditionally deemed the fount of justice.[45] 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 courts.

The Supreme Court of Canada—the country's court of last resort—has nine justices appointed by the governor general on recommendation by the prime minister 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.[46] It works in conjunction with the Federal Court of Appeal and Tax Court of Canada.[47]


The powers of the parliaments in Canada are limited by the constitution, which divides legislative abilities between the federal and provincial governments; in general, the legislatures of the provinces 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,"[48] while any matter not under the exclusive authority of the provincial legislatures is within the scope of the federal parliament's power. Thus, the parliament at Ottawa alone can pass laws relating to, amongst other things, the postal service, the census, the military, criminal law, navigation and shipping, fishing, currency, banking, weights and measures, bankruptcy, copyrights, patents, First Nations, and naturalization.[49] In some cases, however, the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial parliaments may be more vague. For instance, the federal parliament 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.

See also


  1. ^ See Note 1 at Queen's Privy Council for Canada.
  2. ^ It was said by Helen Forsey: "The inherent complexity and subtlety of this type of constitutional situation can make it hard for the general public to fully grasp the implications. That confusion gives an unscrupulous government plenty of opportunity to oversimplify and misrepresent, making much of the alleged conflict between popular democracy—supposedly embodied in the Prime Minister—and the constitutional mechanisms at the heart of responsible government, notably the 'reserve powers' of the Crown, which gets portrayed as illegitimate." As examples, she cited the campaign of William Lyon Mackenzie King following the King–Byng Affair of 1926 and Stephen Harper's comments during the 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute.[12]


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ Government of Canada. "Speech From the Throne > Frequently Asked Questions". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 4 June 2010. 
  3. ^ Grand Chief's Office, Treaty 3 Between Her Majesty the Queen and the Saulteaux Tribe of the Ojibway Indians at the Northwest Angle on the Lake of the Woods With Adhesions, The Grand Council of Treaty #3, retrieved 4 June 2010 
  4. ^  
  5. ^  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b MacLeod 2008, p. 17
  8. ^ Department of Canadian Heritage 2009, p. 4
  9. ^ Brooks, Stephen Farper (2007). Canadian Democracy: An Introduction (5 ed.). Don Mills: Oxford University Press. p. 126.  
  10. ^ a b Cheadle, Bruce (3 March 2011), "Tories re-brand government in Stephen Harper's name", The Globe and Mail, retrieved 26 April 2011 
  11. ^ "'"Tories defend use of 'Harper Government. CTV. 7 March 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  12. ^ a b  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Smith, David E. (10 June 2010), "The Crown and the Constitution: Sustaining Democracy?", The Crown in Canada: Present Realities and Future Options (Kingston: Queen's University): 6, retrieved 18 May 2010 
  15. ^  
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille (2000). "House of Commons Procedure and Practice > 1. Parliamentary Institutions". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 28 September 2009. 
  19. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 16
  20. ^ Russell, Peter (1983), "Bold Statecraft, Questionable Jurisprudence", in Banting, Keith G.; Simeon, Richard, And no one cheered: federalism, democracy, and the Constitution Act, Toronto: Taylor & Francis, p. 217,  
  21. ^ Crown of Maples- Constitutional Monarchy in Canada (2008 ed.). Queen's Printer for Canada. 2008. pp. 5, 12, 20, 40, 49.  
  22. ^ "The Queen and Canada: History and present Government". The Royal Household. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  23. ^ Heard, Andrew (1990). Vancouver: Simon Fraser University Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  24. ^  
  25. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.26
  26. ^ Brode, Patrick (1 May 2006), "War power and the Royal Prerogative", Law Times, retrieved 22 October 2012 
  27. ^  
  28. ^ Elizabeth II 2006, 3.b, 3.c
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 8
  31. ^ a b Nathan Tidridge (2011). Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government. Dundurn. p. 65.  
  32. ^  
  33. ^ Robert MacGregor Dawson; William Foster Dawson (1989). Democratic Government in Canada (5 ed.). University of Toronto Press. pp. 68–69.  
  34. ^ Forsey 2005, pp. 4, 34
  35. ^  
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^  
  38. ^ Victoria 1867, III.9 & 11
  39. ^ a b Marleau & Montpetit 2000, The Executive
  40. ^ Boyce, Peter (2008), written at Sydney, Jackson, Michael D., ed., "The Senior Realms of the Queen", Canadian Monarchist News (Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada, published October 2009), Autumn 2009 (30): 9, retrieved 22 October 2009 
  41. ^ 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. 
  42. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.17
  43. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.24
  44. ^  
  45. ^ .  
  46. ^  
  47. ^  
  48. ^ Victoria 1867, VI.92
  49. ^ Victoria 1867, VI.91

Further reading

  • Bourinot, John George; Sir, Thomas Barnard Flint (2008), Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada (4th ed.), Lawbook Exchange,  
  • Dawson, R. MacGregor; Dawson, WF (1989). Norman Ward, ed. Democratic Government in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  
  • Johnson, David (2006), Thinking government: public sector management in Canada (2nd ed.), Broadview Press,  
  • Hale, Geoffrey; Geoffrey E. Hale (2006), Uneasy partnership: the politics of business and government in Canada, Broadview Press,  
  • Malcolmson, Patrick; Richard Myers (2009), The Canadian Regime: An Introduction to Parliamentary Government in Canada (4th ed.), University of Toronto Press,  
  • Morton, Frederick Lee (2002), Law, politics, and the judicial process in Canada, Frederick Lee,  
  • Roy, Jeffrey (2006), E-government in Canada: transformation for the digital age, University of Ottawa Press,  
  • Roy, Jeffrey (2007), Business and government in Canada, University of Ottawa Press,  

External links

  • Government of Canada (Official)
    • Public Accounts of Canada, from 1995, in pdf
    • Wayback Times: Archives of the Government of Canada website
  • Information on the Government of Canada
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