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Canada Political System

Political system

Canada is a federal state where power is shared between the federal government and the ten provincial governments. The three northern territories - Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut - do not have the same independent status as the provinces but have their own governments with significant powers. The Liberal Party and various Conservative parties have long dominated the political scene.

Until 1982, all constitutional issues were regulated by the British North America Act of 1867. This meant that all constitutional amendments must be approved by the British Parliament. In 1982 this was changed when the new Constitutional Law (Constitution Act) came into force. Two constitutional supplements were also adopted by all provinces except Quebec. One regulates future constitutional changes and the other, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guarantees citizens democratic freedoms and rights. These are applied by all provinces except Quebec, which has its own Charter of Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and more (Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms) adopted in 1975 (see also Democracy and Rights).

  • Countryaah: Total population and chart of Canada for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.

Criticism has been directed at the Constitutional Law, which some believe gives the courts too much power over how the Constitution should be interpreted. In order for a constitutional change to go through, approval from both chambers of parliament and two thirds of the provinces is required (but only if these together comprise at least half of the country's total population). On certain issues, such as the Senate's being or not being or the composition of the Supreme Court, a decision must be approved by both Parliament and all provincial parliaments.

Political System of CanadaOver the years, several attempts have been made to create a constitution that all provinces support, but without much success. It is mainly the question of Quebec's position that has created problems. In Quebec, there are strong forces that want the province to break away from the rest of the country. A 2000 law, the Clarity Act, states that a clear majority of the people of the province must have voted for an exit from the federation to start negotiations on this. However, nothing is said about how large a majority would be required. In 2006, a supplement was made in which Québec is recognized as a "nation within a united Canada". However, it did not give Québec any new formal rights.

The Head of State is the British Monarch, represented by a Governor General, who is appointed on a proposal by the Prime Minister and has a term of office of no more than five years. The Governor-General has formal duties in the first place.

The government is responsible to the federal parliament, which consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Commons. Since the 2015 election, the lower house has 338 elected members. In the elections, a majority voting system is applied, that is, each constituency is represented by the candidate who receives the most votes. In the elections, a majority voting system is applied, that is, each constituency is represented by the candidate who receives the most votes.

Elections to the lower house must be held every four years and fixed election days were introduced from 2009 (the third Monday in October). New elections may only be called if the government falls in a vote of no confidence. However, the Governor-General still has the right to dissolve Parliament. Almost all provinces and two territories have also introduced fixed election days.

The Senate has 105 members appointed by the government. Through a quota system, each province has a fixed number of members in the Senate. Formally, the Senate has as much power as the lower house, but in practice it plays a minor role. Its most important function is to review legislative proposals. Plans to reform or completely abolish the Senate were put on ice after a ruling in the Supreme Court in April 2014 (see Calendar). However, the Liberal government has introduced a new process in which the Prime Minister appoints senators on the recommendation of a special committee consisting of both national and provincial politicians, officials, academics and others. It is also possible for ordinary Canadians to apply for a seat in the Senate. The purpose is to create a more politically independent Senate, where the senators are appointed on merit. The 21 new senators appointed in 2016 would sit there as independent. Since 2014, Senators from the Liberal Party have a freer role than before. Nowadays, no party has a majority in the higher chamber.

The voting age is 18 years.

When the Liberals were in opposition, Justin Trudeau advocated a more proportionate electoral system, but plans to introduce one were abandoned in 2017. The following year, several other changes were made to the Harper government's electoral law introduced in 2014 (see Calendar).

Each province has a government and a parliament. The term of office in the provincial parliaments is a maximum of five years. The provincial parliaments are responsible for education, healthcare and to a large extent the social welfare system, certain justice, roads and, to a greater extent, the environment. They have the right to levy certain taxes. The provinces have control over large land areas and the natural resources that are there.

The federal government is responsible for defense, foreign policy, economic policy and communications between the provinces and has unlimited taxation rights. Since the 1990s, the responsibilities of the provincial parliaments have been gradually expanded. The federal government and the provinces share responsibility for agriculture, immigration and transportation. The territories also have extensive self-government, but there the federal government has retained control over natural resources and land.

Political parties

Political parties exist at both federal and provincial levels. The parties have different organizations at the different levels, which means that party organizations with the same name do not agree with each other on important issues. Ahead of the 2019 federal election, there were 20 registered parties. Great power lies with the party leaders, which is reinforced by the fact that MPs rarely deviate from the party line when voting in the lower house. All major parties have changed party leaders since 2013.

After the Second World War, the Liberal Party (Liberal Party, LP) has dominated federal politics for a long time, but the Progressive Conservative Party (PCP) remained in power 1957–1963, 1979–1980 and 1984–1993, and 2006–2015 Canada was ruled by the Conservative Party (Conservative Party of Canada, CPC).

The Liberals are a middle party with a left profile on social issues. The party attaches great importance to issues relating to care, education and high employment. It has often been seen as the "natural" government party in Canada. It has traditionally had its strongest support in eastern Canada. In the 2015 elections, the Liberals became the largest party in all provinces and territories except in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the 2019 elections, the party also lost that position in British Columbia and Manitoba. The Liberals have been led since 2013 by Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Trudeau who was Canada's Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984 (with the exception of a brief period 1979-1998).

The Conservative Party was formed in 2003 through a merger between the PCP and the Canadian Alliance (see below). The PCP suffered a severe defeat in the 1993 elections and from 1987 had been challenged by a new party, the right-wing Reformist Party. In 2000, the Reform Party and several small right-wing parties formed the Canadian Alliance, which, however, had few voters outside Western Canada. The PCP and the Alliance were weakened by the fact that they were competing for the same voters. In order to take up the fight with the Liberals, the parties merged into the Conservative Party. This still causes some friction within the party, as those who previously belonged to the PCP, which was a bourgeois middle party, must be aligned with socially conservative right-wing forces. However, the PCP remains as a party at the provincial level. Since May 2017, the Conservative Party has been led by Andrew Scheer.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) advocates a social democratic policy. The party has mainly had success at the provincial level, but in recent years has strengthened its position at the federal level, in connection with the charismatic Jack Layton, party leader 2003–2011, brought the party closer to the political center. 2011-2015 was the NDP's largest opposition party, thanks in large part to success in Québec. In the fall of 2017, Jagmeet Singh was appointed party leader. Singh is Sikh and this is the first time an ethnic minority person is leading a federal party in Canada.

The Quebec Block (Bloc Québécois, BQ) advocates independence for Québec. The party is only running for election in Québec in federal elections, saying it only represents that province's interests. BQ stands to the left of the political scale. The party has lost influence in recent years, but made a strong comeback in the 2019 election. It has been led by Yves-François Blanchet since the beginning of that year.

The Green Party (Green Party of Canada) entered the lower house for the first time in 2011. The party runs environmental issues.

A new right-wing party was formed Canada's People's Party (PPC), 2018 by Maxime Bernier, who held several ministerial posts in the Conservative government that ruled Canada in 2006-2015.

In 2017, the Liberals were strengthened by sitting in power in seven out of ten provinces, but since then the party has lost ground. However, it has retained government power in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Yukon. The PCP now controls Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. The Coalition for the Future of Québec (Coalition Avenir Québec, CAQ) triumphed in Québec in October 2018. The year before, the NDP came to power in British Columbia along with the Green Party after the Liberals lost a vote of no confidence. In April 2019, the United Conservative Party (UCP) took over power in Alberta, which for a few years was governed by the NDP. UCP was formed in 2017 through a merger between PCP and the Wild Rose Party. The right-wing populistThe Saskatchewan Party (SaskParty) had power in Saskatchewan (since 2007). Northwest Territories and Nunavut have legislative assemblies in which all members sit as independent and thus lack party affiliation.

FURTHER READING: learn more about Canada in the UI's publication Foreign Affairs magazine:

Corona gives Canada's Trudeau respite from tricky dilemma (May 5, 2020)



Quebec is recognized as a "nation within a united Canada"

November 27th

The House of Commons approves a proposal from Harper recognizing Québec as a "nation within a united Canada". It is assumed by the vote numbers 266 for and 16 against. The Prime Minister's proposal is a response to BQ's plans to submit a similar motion, which, however, should have contained no reference to the rest of the country. Harper describes his initiative as a way to seek reconciliation between Quebec and the rest of Canada, but it does not give Québec any new formal rights.


Terrorist suspects are arrested in Toronto

June 4th

Seventeen men are arrested in Toronto, suspected of planning an attack, following inspiration from the al-Qaeda terror network.


Conservative parties win the election

January 23

The parliamentary elections lead to a shift in power, with the Conservative party receiving the most votes (36 percent and 124 of the 308 seats). The Liberals receive 30 percent and 103 seats. The Quebec Bloc (BQ) loses 3 seats, while the New Democratic Party (NDP) goes from 19 seats to 29, mainly through successes in British Columbia. The Conservatives win because for the first time in many years they manage to win new places in both Ontario and Quebec. However, they are forced to form a new minority government.

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