Canada's Political System

Canada is a parliamentary democracy operating in the framework of a constitutional framework. There are three levels or branches of government: federal, provincial, and municipal. Canadians vote to elect their chosen representatives at all three levels. Each branch of government has its own areas of responsibility.

The head of the Canadian Government, symbolically, is the Governor General, who is appointed by the Prime Minister. The Governor General represents the Queen of England. This position is symbolic of Canada's heritage as part of the British monarchy. The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that has been elected by the people.

Canada's Parliament consists of three bodies: The House of Commons, the Queen as Head of State, and the Senate. The House of Commons houses the Canada's Federal (national) government and opposition parties. These elected representatives in the House of Commons hold the real political power. Officials are elected for a period of 5 years generally. Each elected representative represents a region in Canada as well as a political party; those who are part of the elected political party and appointed as Ministers to specific portfolios (i.e., education, finance) from the Government. Representatives, known as MPs (Members of Parliament) who are not part of the elected party are part of the Opposition. All elected MPs sit in the House of Commons and debate issues of national and regional importance.

The Queen, represented in Canada by the appointed Governor General, holds no real power. The GG gives Royal Assent to bills once they have been passed by the House of Commons and the Senate by signing the bill. This is a symbolic gesture of approval by the British monarchy.

The Senate is composed of individuals appointed by the Governor General at the request of the Prime Minister. There are 105 Senators representing different regions in Canada. Their role is to review proposed bills of law, and send them back to the House of Commons for amendments. In reality, this does not happen. They can also propose new bills, although this rarely happens. The Senate's role is largely symbolic of Canada's British political heritage.

Canada's Rights and Freedoms