Canada’s Governmental System

Overview:

Canada is blessed to have a system of government which is open and democratic. It is designed to make certain that proposals for laws are carefully considered and that every Canadian is given the opportunity to have input. 

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Three Levels of Government:

Canada has three levels of government; federal, provincial and municipal.

Federal: The Federal Government is responsible for handling all matters of national and international concern including national defence, foreign affairs and trade, currencies, fisheries and oceans, and citizenship and immigration. Canada’s federal leader is called the “Prime Minister of Canada”. 

Provincial: The Provincial Government is responsible for regional issues such as education, healthcare delivery, natural resources, and transportation and highways. Elected provincial leaders are called “Premiers”. 

Municipal: represents the interest of cities, towns, and villages, and are responsible for local matters such as waste removal, water and sewage, libraries, and parks and recreation. Elected municipal leaders are called “Mayors”.

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Federal Government:

Canada’s Parliament consists of three parts that work together to make the laws for the country; the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Commons.

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The executive branch of parliament consist of the Queen (Governor General), the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is responsible for implementing the laws made by the legislative branch which consists of the Queen (Governor General), the Senate, and the House of Commons. The judicial branch, the Supreme Court of Canada, interprets the laws and resides over the Federal Court of Canada as well as the Provincial Courts.

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The Queen (Governor General):

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, meaning that the laws governing Canada recognize the Queen as the formal Head of State. She is represented in Canada by the Governor General, who is Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, and who opens and dissolves parliament, gives Royal Assent, and oversees the swearing in of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of Canada and the Cabinet Ministers. 

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The Senate:

Under the authority of the Queen, the Senate is composed of 105 members who are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, who hold office until the age of 75. The Senate Chamber, sometimes called the “Red Chamber”, is where the Senate meets and where historic ceremonies take place, with regular proceedings being open to the public.

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The Senate studies, amends, and either rejects or approves bills that are passed by the House of Commons, and no bill can become a law in Canada unless passed by the Senate. It can introduce its own bills, except for those on spending money or imposing taxes; These must be introduced in the House of Commons. Senators also study major social, legal and economic issues through their committee work, representing the interest of Canada’s regions, provinces, territories, and minority groups as seats are distributed in order to give each major region equal representation.

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The House of Commons:

The House of Commons (HOC) is the place where parliament takes place. There are 338 members of parliament, elected to the position by their constituents; voters from within their riding. Members of Parliament, or “MPs”, meet in the House of Commons to represent their constituent’s views, discuss national issues, and call on the government to explain its actions.

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In the House Of Commons:

– A Speaker is elected from among the MPs by secure ballot, presides over the HOC, is impartial, and ensures that everyone respects the rules and traditions.

The Prime Minister is the leader of the party in power and the Head of Government. His or her duties include presiding over Cabinet meetings, meeting official foreign delegations to Ottawa and answering questions in the HOC.

The Cabinet is selected by the Prime Minister and meets regularly to discuss and decide on issues such as government spending, bills and policies, programs and services. Most are MPs, there is always at least one representative from the Senate, and most are in charge of a governmental department.

The Official Opposition is to challenge government policies, hold the government accountable for its actions and give voters an alternative in the next election. They suggest changes to government legislation or alternative proposals. 

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The House of Commons meets about 135 days a year and each day they meet is called a “sitting”. For 15 minutes each day, there is a time when an MP can make a statement lasting up to one minute on a subject of national, regional, or local importance. These are called “Members’ Statements”. There is also a 45 minute Question Period each day when opposition Members can ask questions of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers, within giving prior warning. There is also one hour each day reserved for Members who are not Cabinet Ministers to have their bills and motions debated by the House.

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Canada’s Electoral System:

Canada currently employs a “first-past-the-post” electoral system, with federal elections taking place every four years. The country is divided into “ridings”; small geographical areas based on population and composed by “constituents” who reside within them. During an election, each riding has a number of candidates who run to become the one representative of that riding within parliament. Every eligible voter 18 years and up gets one vote on their ballot, and the representative with the most number of votes within each riding wins.  It does not matter if the representative does not have the support of the majority of the voters; they simply have to win the highest number of votes. 

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There are presently 338 ridings within Canada, meaning that 338 representatives are elected to parliament during an election. The party that wins the most ridings forms the government and the leader of this party becomes Prime Minister. If the party wins more than half of the total seats, they win a majority government, whereas, if they win half or less than half of the total number of seats they win a minority government.

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How a Bill Becomes a Law:

Legislative Process:

1. First Reading:
  – The bill is printed, circulated and considered read for the first time.

2. Second Reading:
  – Members debate the bill’s principle. 

3. Committee Stage:
  – Committee members study the bill clause by clause.

4. Report Stage:
  – Members can make other amendments.

5. Third Reading: 
  – Members debate and vote on the bill.

6. Senate:
  – The bill follows a similar process. 

7. Royal Assent:
  – The bill receives Royal Assent after being passed by both Houses.