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TEACH: Great Lakes Law & Policy

2 | Canadian Government: History and Organization

John A. MacDonald. Click for larger image. In 1867 the British Parliament passed the British North American Act (now called the Constitution Act), which created the Dominion of Canada, consisting of four provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Québec and Ontario. John A. Macdonald was Canada's first Prime Minister.

Some aspects of the Canadian government remained under control of the British government, but Canada acted as an independent country for the most part. The British North American Act provided Canada with its own constitution. The Act gave the federal government the power to create economic policy, such as trade, commerce and banking institutions. The provincial governments were given responsibility for areas of a local and private nature, such as education and health. The Act also gave the Canadian Parliament the power to create new provinces out of the territories. There are currently 10 provinces and three territories, with the most recent territory, Nunavut, being named in 1999. The Constitution Act, 1982, ended Canada's need for the British Parliament to pass constitutional amendments, and enacted the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms, which guaranteed certain civil rights and freedoms.

Canada's government is a constitutional monarchy. Under this type of government, the country is ruled by an hereditary monarch whose powers are restricted to those granted under the constitution and the laws of the land. The reigning monarch of the United Kingdom is also the King or Queen of Canada because of the Canada's origins as British colonies. Queen Elizabeth II is the current Queen of Canada. The government of Canada is composed of the prime minister and cabinet, the Parliament and the judiciary. Canada's capital is Ottawa, Ontario.

Peace Tower, Parliament. Click for larger image. The governing sector of Canada is composed of the King or Queen, the governor general, the prime minister, the cabinet and the Public Service. The queen appoints the governor general who represents the queen in Canada. The prime minister is the political head of the Canadian government, appointed by the governor general and representing the majority party in the Parliament. The prime minister selects members of the Senate and the cabinet ministers from his or her own party, and can also ask them to resign. The cabinet is made up of ministers responsible for different portfolios, such as industry, agriculture, health and environment. The permanent element of the executive branch is the Public Service, made up of anonymous civil servants who advise Cabinet on governance and policy issues.

The Senate and the House of Commons make up the Parliament. The Senate usually contains 104 members, who are appointed by the governor general on recommendation of the prime minister. The Senate has regional representation: 24 members from each of the four regions in Canada (Atlantic, Québec, Ontario and the west), and 8 members from the territories. The Senate can reject bills proposed by the House of Commons, and no bill can become a law unless passed by the Senate. With 301 seats, the House of Commons is the major lawmaking body in Canada. Members of the House are elected in a democratic election. The majority party in the House determines whether the current prime minister and cabinet will continue to stay in power.

Supreme Court of Canada. Click for larger image. The judiciary is independent of Parliament and acts as an impartial court. Provincial courts and the Supreme Court interpret the laws against the Constitution and the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court was created by Parliament in 1875, and became the final court of appeal for Canada in 1929. The court consists of nine judges who are not affiliated with any political party.

Graphics: John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister; Peace Tower, Parliament; Canada's Supreme Court Building.

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