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(Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, www.cic.gc.ca)

Canada is a federal state that is governed as a parliamentary democracy. As a member of the Commonwealth, Canada is also a constitutional monarchy. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and she is represented in Canada by the Governor General, Her Excellency the Right HonourableJulie Payette, who holds executive authority on her behalf.

Federal State

There are three levels of government in Canada: federal, provincial/territorial and municipal. The federal government oversees all national and international matters, including foreign policy, defense, citizenship, criminal law, interprovincial trade and communications, currency and navigation. The federal and provincial governments share jurisdiction over matters such as agriculture and immigration. The provincial governments are responsible for education, health, natural resources, property and civil rights, highways and municipal government. The legislative assemblies of the territories take on many of the same responsibilities as the provincial governments.

Parliamentary Democracy

Canada is governed by a parliamentary democracy, in which its citizens elect members to the federal House of Commons and to the provincial and territorial legislatures. The representatives at both levels are responsible for passing laws, approving and monitoring expenditures and keeping the government accountable.

Parliament has three parts: The Sovereign, the Senate and the House of Commons. The provincial legislatures are also made up of three parts: The Lieutenant Governor, the Premier and the elected Legislative assemblies.

At the federal level, the Prime Minister selects the cabinet ministers and oversees the operations and policy of the Canadian government. The Cabinet ministers sit on the executive council with the Prime Minister and are responsible to the elected representatives that make up the House of Commons. They must retain the “confidence of the House” and have to resign if they are defeated in a non-confidence vote. The House of Commons is the representative chamber. It is made up of elected representatives, who are called Members of Parliament. Traditionally, they are elected every four years. The House of Commons and the Senate form part of the legislative branch of the federal government. Senators are appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, and serve until the age of 75. Both the House of Commons and the Senate consider and review bills (proposals for new laws). A bill cannot become a law in Canada until it has been passed by both chambers and has received royal assent, which is granted by the Governor General on behalf of the Sovereign.

Constitutional Monarchy

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the official head of state is a hereditary Sovereign, a queen or king. The Sovereign reigns in accordance with the Constitution, Canada’s rule of law. Although all laws are passed under the name of the Sovereign, she also plays an important, non-partisan role as the focus of citizenship and allegiance. She also performs ceremonial duties during royal visits to Canada.

The Sovereign links Canada to the other 51 Commonwealth nations. In Canada, however, there is a clear difference between the head of state, the Sovereign, and the head of government, the Prime Minister. It is the Prime Minister who oversees the governance of the country.

The Governor General represents the Sovereign in Canada and usually serves for five years. The position is appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Governor General is responsible for appointing the representatives of the Sovereign in each of the ten provinces (Lieutenant Governor),again on the advice of the Prime Minister. These positions also typically have a five-year term.

The executive, legislative and judicial branches work together to form the basic structure of the Canadian government, whose main objective is to uphold the rights and freedoms of the Canadian people.

Each province and territory has an elected government (or legislature) that is responsible for passing provincial and territorial laws. The members of the different legislatures are called Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), members of the National Assembly (MNAs), Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPPs) or Members of the House of Assembly (MHAs), depending on the province or territory.

Each province has a Premier, whose role is like that of the Prime Minister in the federal government, just as the role of the Lieutenant Governor parallels that of the Governor General. In the three territories, on the other hand, the federal government is represented by the Commissioner, who plays a ceremonial role.