Citizenship and Immigration Canada
How is Canada
Canada is a federation.
The federal system of government means that powers and responsibilities
are divided between the federal government and the 10 Canadian provincial
governments. Canada also has territorial jurisdictions in the far north
of the country.
The federal government
includes the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Government members are members
of parliament. The Parliament buildings are located in Ottawa. The laws
passed in parliament are implemented by different federal departments.
What role does the Queen play?
Queen Elizabeth II
is Canada's official head of state. She is represented in this country
by the Governor General at the federal level and the Lieutenant Governors
at the provincial level. All federal legislation must receive the assent
of the Governor General, within the parameters of the Canadian constitution.
This is what makes Canada a constitutional monarchy.
How is Parliament chosen?
of the House of Commons, the Senate and the Governor General.
The House of Commons
is the national legislature elected by Canadian citizens. It is made up
of 301 members. Members of parliament are usually associated with a political
party, although some members do sit independently.
The Senate is the
Upper House of Parliament. Members of the Senate are appointed by the
Governor General upon recommendation by the Prime Minister. In addition
to its consideration of parliamentary legislation, the Senate is also
asked to investigate important economic and social issues.
With specific exceptions,
all parliamentary legislation must be approved by the House of Commons,
the Senate and the Governor General before it can become law. Most parliamentary
legislation is introduced by the government.
How is the federal government formed?
By convention, the
political party with the most elected members in the House of Commons
will take the leading role in forming the government. If it has a majority
of seats (151), then it automatically forms a majority government. If
it has fewer than 151 seats, the leading party will seek the cooperation
of other parties. The leader of this party becomes the Prime Minister.
The party with the second highest number of seats usually becomes the
Official Opposition. Its leader becomes the Leader of the Opposition.
Since the federal election of 2 June 1997, there are five official parties
in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister
chooses a Cabinet from members of the leading party in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister and Cabinet must maintain the confidence of the House
of Commons, a practice known as 'responsible government'.
Each member of Cabinet
is responsible for the management of certain aspects of the federal government.
To this end, most Cabinet members oversee the operations of one or more
federal departments or agencies. The most senior officials in departments
are called Deputy Ministers. They are not elected, and are, generally
career public servants, directly responsible to the Cabinet Minister.
How are the provincial and territorial governments
According to the
practice of their federal counterparts, each provincial government is
drawn from the elected members of the provincial assembly. The provincial
leader, however, is called the Premier.
The provincial legislatures
do not have a Senate. In order for provincial legislation to become law,
it needs approval of the provincial assembly and the Queen's provincial
representative, the Lieutenant Governor.
The territories are
not sovereign units. Their powers are delegated by Parliament, and thus
they are subordinate bodies. The territories also have elected assemblies
that follow many of the same practices as the provincial and federal governments.
are elected regularly to manage municipalities, cities, towns and regions.
Local governments do not have constitutional powers, but rather have functions
delegated to them by other levels of government. Mayors, councillors and
school board officials, for example, are elected to their positions directly.
Usually, they do not formally represent political parties.
What are the responsibilities of the levels of
government in Canada?
In accordance largely
with the Constitution Act of 1867, the federal government handles
such matters as
- criminal law
- postal system
- foreign relations
The federal government
is also involved in many other areas including transportation, communication,
immigration, health, and environmental matters.
are constitutionally responsible for such matters as
- civil justice
- municipal institutions
In practice, the
provinces share responsibility with the federal government for such matters
- health services
- social assistance
are responsible for services within a city or region including:
- police and fire
- water and sewage
- local public transportation
How and when are elections held?
By law, federal and
provincial elections must be held at least every five years, although
they can be called earlier. If a minority government has a bill defeated
in the House of Commons, an election must take place. In all cases, the
decision to call an election is taken by the Prime Minister.
All voting is by
At the local levels
of government, elections are usually held every two or three years.
Who can vote?
To vote in a federal
election, you must be a Canadian citizen and at least 18 years old. For
provincial or municipal elections, the age and citizenship requirements
How is law enforced?
All individuals and
organizations in Canada, including Parliament, are bound by the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All individuals and organizations are
also bound by the laws of Parliament. Law enforcement agencies throughout
the country, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, have the responsibility
of ensuring universal compliance with the laws of Parliament.
How is the Canadian legal system constituted?
Canada has an independent
judiciary, with numerous levels of courts including the federal courts
at the federal level and superior courts, county courts, provincial courts,
family courts, juvenile courts and small-claims courts at the provincial
There are two forms
of law in the country: those that deal with civil disputes and those that
deal with criminal acts and punishment.
The Supreme Court
of Canada is the highest court in the land. It interprets constitutional
matters and defines the limits of federal and provincial powers. There
are nine Supreme Court justices, three of whom are always from the province
What is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
The Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution Act, 1982, and
enshrines the basic principles and values by which Canadians live and
govern themselves. It also defines and guarantees personal rights and
fundamental freedoms including freedom of conscience and religion, freedom
of thought, belief, opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly
and freedom of association.
What is official bilingualism?
allows all Canadians to communicate with the federal government, especially
the courts and Parliament, in either English or French.
What is a multicultural society?
Canada is comprised
of people from different national and ethnic backgrounds. Canadians celebrate
this diversity. Canadian society actively encourages people to practise
their customs and traditions, provided that they are in accordance with
How do Canadians view government?
Canadians are proud
of their democracy, and see government as a body responsible to them.
Canadians value principles of fair and equal access and the open exchange
of ideas. Bribery and corruption at any level of government are not tolerated.
The majority of Canadians vote regularly in government elections, and,
indeed, see voting as a responsibility in a democratic society.
This fact sheet contains information that was
current at the time of publication. It is, however, a digest from many
sources, and should not be confused with official statements of policy
or programming. The Government of Canada is not responsible for information
that changes between printings.