Canada’s founding document, the Constitution Act, 1867, established the country as a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. Executive authority resides with the Sovereign or that person’s representative (i.e., the Governor General of Canada). The Constitution assigns the Governor General a wide range of powers. However, as a constitutional monarchy, these powers are generally only exercised on the advice of Canada’s prime minister and the federal Cabinet.
Taken together, the Sovereign, the Senate and the House of Commons form Canada’s legislative branch. In order for this branch to function, following a federal general election, the Governor General has a role to play in ensuring that there is a prime minister and federal Cabinet that can command the support of the majority of the membership of the House of Commons.
The country is divided into 338 federal ridings, each represented by one member of Canada’s lower chamber, the House Commons. Under the constitutional convention of responsible government that Canada adopted in 1867, the federal Cabinet is responsible to the elected House of Commons, and the House is responsible to Canadian citizens through regularly held elections.
The upper chamber, or Senate, has a membership of 105 senators who are appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of the prime minister, from five senatorial regions.
The operation of Canada’s system of government and the interaction between its various actors (e.g., the Governor General, the prime minister, the federal Cabinet, the Official Opposition and opposition parties, etc.) can be complex and intricate, at times. While Canada’s Constitution is composed of a body of written documents, it also consists of unwritten customs, traditions and precedents.
This paper provides questions and answers to matters related to forming government, types of government (majority or minority), the roles performed by various parliamentary actors and how these parliamentary actors relate to each other.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: Transition to the 44th Parliament: Questions and Answers
Authors: Andre Barnes and Laurence Brosseau, Library of Parliament