Country Overview: Canada

Photo Courtesy of Scazon

By: Hayden Cunningham

The Structure of Government in Canada


The country of Canada became a self-governing nation in 1867, making June 1, 1867 their official day of Independence. The nation, however, kept ties with the British crown. By 1982, Canada had removed the United Kingdom’s constitution. The nation is divided into 10 provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edwards Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan) and 3 territories (Northwest territories, Nunavut, and Yukon). Canada borders only the United States, making it the largest country that borders only one country. The name ‘Canada’ comes from the Iroquoian word ‘Kanata,’ meaning village or settlement.

Type of Government:

Canada’s government type can be classified as a democracy, more specifically a parliamentary democracy. Canada has democratic elections in which citizens are allowed to vote on members of the House of Commons. The country can also be classified as a constitutional monarchy, due to it being a part of the British Commonwealth and the Head of State being Queen Elizabeth II of England. (The World Factbook – Canada).

Branches of Government:

The executive branch contains chief of State Queen Elizabeth II. In Canada, the queen is represented by the Governor General, who is currently Julie Payette. This position holds less authority as it is mostly ceremonial. The Governor General is appointed by the monarch, with the advice of the prime minister, and hold the position for a 5-year term.  Because of Canada’s parliamentary system of government, the head of government is the Prime minister and is elected by the majority party in the House of Commons.  The current prime minister of Canada is Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party). The Prime Minister chooses advisors to form a cabinet, and typically chooses member of his or her own party.

 The legislative branch is home to a bicameral Parliament consisting of a senate and a house of commons. The senate contains 105 seats. Members of the senate are allowed to serve until they are 75 years old. The House of Commons contains 338 seats, with each member representing an electoral district. The House of Commons has a term of 4 years.

The judicial branch enforces a common law system that is practiced in every providence other than Quebec, where civil law is practiced based on the French civil code. Canada has two levels of courts, the first being subordinate courts. These courts are on the federal level. The second level, or the highest courts, is the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court consists of 8 justices and a chief justice. Since 1949, there are no appeals beyond the Supreme Court allowed (The World Factbook – Canada).

The Electoral System:

The senate’s 105 seats are appointed by the governor general with the advice of the prime minister. Seats are assigned based on four regions: Ontario, Quebec, Maritime provinces, and the Western Provinces. Each region receives 24 seats. The remaining seats are given to Newfoundland and Labrador as well as one seat assigned to each of the three northern territories. Senators were last appointed in December of 2018. Currently, there are 58 seats belonging to the Independent Senators Group, 31 seats to the Conservative party, 9 seats to the Liberal party, and 7 seats of members who are Non-affiliated (Canada Electoral System).

The House of Commons’ 338 seats are directly elected. Each member is a representative of an electoral district and is elected by a simple majority vote. The last election was held in October of 2018. Currently, 177 seats belong to the Liberal Party, 97 seats to the Conservative Party, 41 seats to the New Democratic Party, 10 seats to the Bloc Quebecois, 1 seat to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, 1 seat to the Green Party, 1 seat to the People’s Party, 7 seats with members classified as independent, and 3 seats that are vacant. Because there are 338 seats, a party that holds at least 170 seats qualifies as the majority party. Therefore, the Liberal Party currently has a majority in the House of Commons (Canada Electoral System).

Canada’s electoral system is a first-past-the-post system. This means that the candidate receiving the most votes in a race wins the seat in the House of Commons. Voters in districts vote for their representative into the House. Following the election, the party with the most elected members becomes the governing party. The leader of the party is appointed the Prime Minister of Canada by the governor general. The party with the second largest elected members is referred to as the “Official Opposition.”

 In 2015, the two major parties in Canada are the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Because the Liberal Party won a majority of seats, leader Justin Trudeau was appointed as the Prime Minister of Canada, beating the Conservative Party’s Leader Stephen Harper who was the incumbent Prime Minister. Although he lost the election, Harper’s Conservative Party won the second greatest number of seats, making them the Office Opposition.

Election Trend and Integrity:

In the 2015 election, the Liberal party surged by a 20.6% increase in voting. The opposition conservative party received a 7.7% decrease in voting. Overall, Canada saw a 7.6% increase in voter turnout. The increase in voter turnout was largely due to a significant increase of voter turnout of younger voters between the age of 18 to 24 years. (Canada’s 2015 Federal Election Result). Canada is rated a score of 99/100 as being a free country, with a perfect score on the fairness of the electoral process (Freedom in the World – Canada.). They determine that the head of government was elected in a free and fair election, as well as the legislative representatives. They also determined that electoral laws are fair and implemented in an impartial manner.


Political Parties:

Canada is a multiparty system. The three most significant parties in Canada are the Liberal Party, The Conservative Party, and the New Democratic Party.

The Conservative Party is the current Opposition Party of Canada. The Party was founded in 2003 after the merging of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Party. The two parties frequently formed coalitions together in the House of Commons and the purpose of combing the two was to unite two Conservative parties into one, more powerful party. The party favors lower taxes, less government interference in the economy, a stronger military, and an importance on maintaining the conservative ideology of traditional values. The current leader of the Conservative Party is Andrew Scheer.

The Liberal Party is the current party in power. Throughout history, the Liberal Party in Canada has been the most successful. Canadian liberals tend to be more fiscally responsible, but progressive on social issues. They favor unrestricted abortion, LGBT rights, and higher rates of immigration. They also argue against government restrictions that the right tries to impose, and they believe climate change is a priority. The current leader of the party is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) is the largest outside of the two major parties of Canada. The party was originally a socialist party but over time they have moved to become more moderate. They believe that the government should impose tight economic regulations, but not find itself running the economy. They also favor taxing the wealthy more aggressively as well as large corporations. THE NDP has never held a majority, therefore there has never been an NDP prime minister. However in 2011, they did become the Opposition Party by obtaining the second greatest number of seats in the House of Commons. The current leader of the party is Jagmeet Singh.

The Economy:

Canada’s economy and living standards largely resembles the United States. The nation exports 76.4% of their products to the U.S. and imports 51.5%, making the U.S. their largest trading partner. The North American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and Mexico was the main reason for these significant amounts. In 2017, Canada was ranked the 10th highest economy with their GDP at Purchasing Power Parity being $1.77 trillion dollars (The World Factbook – Canada). Canada has maintained growth in their manufacturing and mining sectors as well. Their large amounts of oil and natural gas makes them ranked third in the world in proved oil reserves. Canada is currently the seventh-largest oil producer in the world.

Current Policy Challenges:

The most controversial policy changes occurring in Canada are laws and proposals regarding ‘hate speech.’ The most popular example of this was a recent law requiring that professors and students at College Universities call students by their preferred pronouns and failing to do so could result in firing or expulsion. The most popular critic was psychology professor Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto. Peterson clarifies that if a student asked him to use a different pronoun he would, but his problem with the law is that it is a violation of free speech and is a restriction of expression (Murphy, Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson Takes on Gender-Neutral Pronouns).

Another policy challenge in Canada is their universal healthcare program. Canada’s health care system is the second most expensive in the world, and there have been numerous medical issues in the country. On average, Canadians encountered a four and a half month waiting period for medically necessary treatment (Is Canada’s Healthcare System as Bad as Donald Trump Says?). Long wait times have been a constant issue to citizens in Canada, causing them to seek policy changes in the healthcare system.

Works Cited:

“Canada Electoral System.” INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION,

“Canada’s 2015 Federal Election Result.” The Economist, 20 Oct. 2015.

“Freedom in the World – Canada.” Freedom House, 2018,


 “Is Canada’s Healthcare System as Bad as Donald Trump Says?” BBC News, 12 Oct. 2016,

“The World Factbook – Canada.” Central Intelligence Agency, 2018,

Murphy, Jessica. “Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson Takes on Gender-Neutral Pronouns.” BBC

News, 4 Nov. 2016.

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