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).
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.
Over 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
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
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
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
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 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
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
Corona gives Canada's Trudeau respite from tricky
dilemma (May 5, 2020)
Quebec is recognized as a "nation within a united Canada"
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
Terrorist suspects are arrested in Toronto
Seventeen men are arrested in Toronto, suspected of planning an attack,
following inspiration from the al-Qaeda terror network.
Conservative parties win the election
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.