What type of government does Canada have?

“What type of government does Canada have?” is one of the most frequently asked questions about Canada.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary type of government wherein the Crown is the foundation of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. Canada is also a federation in the sense that the provincial governments and the federal government have separate jurisdictions of political authority. There are three territorial governments, but the territories are not sovereign divisions and are part of the federal realm.

The role of the monarch is practical and legal but not political. Thus, political authority is shared by multiple institutions which act under the authority of the sovereign. Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, is the sovereign and head of state of Canada. The Queen-in-Parliament, the Queen-in-Council, and the Queen on the Bench are the legislature, the executive, and the courts, respectively.

The enactment of orders in council, letters patent, and laws requires royal assent, but the sovereign has a more limited role in political decision making and any of the areas of government. The Constitution defines the government as the sovereign acting on the advice of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada. The latter consists of elder statesmen, Supreme Court chief justices, and former members of parliament. The Privy Council rarely meets in full and is accountable to the House of Commons. A group of Privy Council members holds seat in parliament and forms the Cabinet. The prime minister is appointed by the Governor General of Canada (on behalf of the sovereign) and holds office until he is removed by the latter or resigns.

The bicameral legislature of Canada consists of the Senate, the House of Commons, and the sovereign. The main law-making body, the House of Commons debates critical issues and votes on proposed laws. The senators are appointed by the governor general upon the prime minister’s recommendation. The Senate debates and votes on legislation once the House of Commons has voted on it. Bills become law only after they have been passed by the House of Commons and the Senate. It is the task of Senatorial Committees to investigate issues of public concern such as social and economic issues, national defence and security, and healthcare. There are special and standing committees, such as Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Social Affairs, Science, and Technology, Transport and Communications, and others. There are two joint committees – Scrutiny of Regulations and Library of Parliament.

Key roles in the Senate include: leader of the government and leader of the opposition, deputy leaders, party whips, speaker, and speaker pro tempore. Senators belonging to the political party in power form a caucus, and its leader is the leader of the government. Similarly, senators from the opposition party form a caucus, the leader of which is the leader of the opposition.

Finally, Canadian judges are given the power to resolve disputes, interpret laws, and use accepted judicial policy and common law to render judgements. Judges are tasked with the impartial interpretation and application of law as it is written. Canada’s court of last resort is the Supreme Court of Canada and below it is the Federal Court. The court works in conjunction with the Tax Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal.