Government of Canada

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Her Majesty's Government
The bilingual Government of Canada wordmark
Formation 1867
Country Canada
Head of state Monarch
Viceregal representative Governor general
Seat Rideau Hall
Legislative (Queen-in-Parliament)
Legislature Parliament
Meeting place Centre Block
Executive (Queen-in-Council)
Main body Queen's Privy Council for Canada
Leader President of the Privy Council
Main organ Cabinet
Head of government Prime minister
Meeting place Langevin Block
Judicial (Queen on the Bench)
Court Supreme court
The wordmark of the Government of Canada
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

The Government of Canada (French: Gouvernement du Canada), formally Her Majesty's Government[1][2][3] (French: Gouvernement de Sa Majesté), is the federal administration of Canada. 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, legislative, and judicial 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]


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]


Main article: Monarchy of Canada

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]

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Canada, wearing her Canadian insignia as Sovereign of the Order of Canada and the Order of Military Merit

Royal Assent is required to enact laws and, as part of the Royal Prerogative, the royal sign-manual gives authority to 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 Royal Prerogative also includes summoning, proroguing, and dissolving parliament in order to call an election, and extends to foreign affairs: the negotiation and ratification of treaties, alliances, international agreements, and declarations of war;[21] the accreditation of Canadian, and receipt of foreign, diplomats; and the issuance of passports.[22]

The person who is monarch of Canada (currently Queen Elizabeth II) is also the monarch of 15 other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, though, he or she reigns separately as King or 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".[23][24] The sovereign appoints a federal viceregal representative—the Governor General of Canada (currently David Johnston)—who, since 1947, is permitted to exercise almost all of the monarch's Royal Prerogative, though there are some duties which must be specifically performed by, or bills that require assent by, the king or queen.

Executive power[edit]

The government is defined by the constitution as the Queen acting on the advice of her privy council.[1][25][26][27] 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.[27] 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,"[28] which means appointing a prime minister (at present Justin Trudeau) to thereafter head the Cabinet.[29] 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 Liberal 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.

The monarch and governor general typically follow the near-binding advice of their ministers. It is important to note, however, that the Royal Prerogative belongs to the Crown and not to any of the ministers,[16][30] who rule "in trust" for the monarch and,[31] upon losing the confidence of the commons, must relinquish the Crown's power back to it,[32] 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] 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]

Legislative power[edit]

Main article: Parliament of Canada

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).[33] The governor general summons and appoints each of the (currently) 105 senators on the advice of the prime minister,[34] 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;[35] 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[edit]

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.[36] 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.[37] It works in conjunction with the Federal Court of Appeal and Tax Court of Canada.[38]


Main article: Canadian federalism

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,"[39] 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.[40] 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.

Public understanding[edit]

Polls have suggested Canadians generally do not have a solid understanding of civics,[41] which has been theorised to be a result of less attention being given to the subject in provincial education curricula, beginning in the 1960s.[42] By 2008, a poll showed only 24% of respondents could name the Queen as head of state;[43] Senator Lowell Murray wrote five years earlier: "The Crown has become irrelevant to most Canadian's understanding of our system of Government."[44] John Robson opined in 2015: "intellectually, voters and commentators succumb to the mistaken notion that we elect 'governments' of prime ministers and cabinets with untrammelled authority, that indeed ideal 'democracy' consists precisely in this kind of plebiscitary autocracy."[45] Politicians have, on occasion, taken advantage of such misunderstandings, as when then members of the Cabinet, headed by Stephen Harper, suggested in 2008 a change of government by way of a non-confidence vote by a coalition of opposition parties was undemocratic and tantamount to a coup d'état[46] and Harper in 2015 stated Canadians voters elect governments.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See 'Responsibilities' and Note 1 at Cabinet of 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 MacLeod, Kevin S. (2008), A Crown of Maples (1 ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 18, ISBN 978-0-662-46012-1, retrieved 21 June 2009 
  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. ^ Department of Canadian Heritage (February 2009), Canadian Heritage Portfolio (PDF) (2 ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 3, ISBN 978-1-100-11529-0, retrieved 5 July 2009 
  5. ^ Coyne, Andrew (13 November 2009). "Defending the royals". Maclean's (Toronto: Rogers Communications). ISSN 0024-9262. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  6. ^ Victoria (1867), Constitution Act, 1867, III.15, Westminster: Queen's Printer (published 29 March 1867), retrieved 15 January 2009 
  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. ISBN 978-0-19-543103-2. 
  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 Forsey, Helen (1 October 2010). "As David Johnson Enters Rideau Hall...". The Monitor (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives). Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  13. ^ Privy Council Office (2008). Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State – 2008. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-100-11096-7. Retrieved 17 May 2009. 
  14. ^ Smith, David E. (10 June 2010), "The Crown and the Constitution: Sustaining Democracy?" (PDF), The Crown in Canada: Present Realities and Future Options (Kingston: Queen's University): 6, retrieved 18 May 2010 
  15. ^ Table Research Branch of the House of Commons (March 2008), Compendium of Procedure (PDF), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 1, retrieved 14 October 2009 
  16. ^ a b 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. ^ Forsey, Eugene (2005). How Canadians Govern Themselves (PDF) (6 ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. p. 1. ISBN 0-662-39689-8. Retrieved 14 May 2008. 
  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, ISBN 978-0-458-95950-1 
  21. ^ Brode, Patrick (1 May 2006), "War power and the Royal Prerogative", Law Times, retrieved 22 October 2012 
  22. ^ Elizabeth II (2006). "Canadian Passport Order" (PDF). 4.4. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada (published 28 June 2006). Retrieved 19 May 2009. 
  23. ^ Crown of Maples- Constitutional Monarchy in Canada (2008 ed.). Queen's Printer for Canada. 2008. pp. 5, 12, 20, 40, 49. ISBN 978-0-662-46012-1. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  24. ^ "The Queen and Canada: History and present Government". The Royal Household. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  25. ^ Wrong, Humphrey Hume (10 November 1952), Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, ed., "Relations With the United States (Telegram 219)", Documents on Canadian External Relations (Ottawa), 18 – 867, retrieved 18 May 2009 
  26. ^ Victoria 1867, III.9 & 11
  27. ^ a b Marleau & Montpetit 2000, The Executive
  28. ^ Boyce, Peter (2008), written at Sydney, Jackson, Michael D., ed., "The Senior Realms of the Queen; The Queen's Other Realms: The Crown and its Legacy in Australia, Canada and New Zealand (ISBN 9-781-86287-700-9)" (PDF), Canadian Monarchist News (Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada, published October 2009), Autumn 2009 (30): 9, retrieved 22 October 2009 [dead link]
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ Neitsch, Alfred Thomas (2008). "A Tradition of Vigilance: The Role of Lieutenant Governor in Alberta" (PDF). Canadian Parliamentary Review (Ottawa: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) 30 (4): 23. Retrieved 22 May 2009. 
  31. ^ MacLeod 2008, p. 8
  32. ^ Nathan Tidridge (2011). Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government. Dundurn. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-4597-0084-0. 
  33. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.17
  34. ^ Victoria 1867, IV.24
  35. ^ Elizabeth II (31 May 2000), Canada Elections Act, 56.1.2, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved 20 November 2009 
  36. ^ "Debates of the Senate (Hansard), 2nd Session, 36th Parliament, Volume 138, Issue 29". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Senate. 17 February 2000. col. 1500–1510. 
  37. ^ Federal Court. "About the Court > Jurisdiction". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  38. ^ Elizabeth II (27 March 2002), Courts Administration Service Act, 2.a, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved 18 November 2009 
  39. ^ Victoria 1867, VI.92
  40. ^ Victoria 1867, VI.91
  41. ^ Jackson, Michael D. (2013), The Crown and Canadian Federalism, Dundurn Press, p. 11, ISBN 9781459709898, retrieved 6 June 2014 
  42. ^ Tidridge, Nathan (2011), Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government, Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 19, ISBN 9781459700840 
  43. ^ "In the Wake of Constitutional Crisis: New Survey Demonstrates that Canadians Lack Basic Understanding of Our Country's Parliamentary System" (PDF). Toronto: Ipsos Reid. 15 December 2008. p. 1. Retrieved 18 May 2010. 
  44. ^ Murray, Lowell (2003), Joyal, Serge Joyal, ed., 'Which Criticisms are Founded?' Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, p. 136 
  45. ^ Robson, John (2 November 2015). "Trudeau's menacing promise of electoral reform". National Post. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  46. ^ Akin, David; de Souza, Mike; Mayeda, Andrew; O'Neill, Juliet (2 December 2008). "Duceppe, Dion, Layton form coalition Gov. Gen. told NDP, BQ, Grits ready to form new government". CanWest. Retrieved 3 July 2009. 
  47. ^ Urquhart, Ian (9 August 2015). "A Conservative minority government? Not possible". Toronto Star. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]