Canada’s Parliamentary System

The big talk of the past few days has been about the 2015 Canadian federal election. The election will be held on October 19, 2015 to elect members to the House of Commons of the 42nd Parliament of Canada.

Equal Voice uOttawa will be featuring each of Canada’s four major parties (Conservative Party of Canada, New Democratic Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, and Green Party of Canada), as well as other fringe parties before the elections.

Before the features, however, will first explain the Canadian parliamentary system. As a part of a legacy of Canada’s colonial past, the Canadian government is based on the British parliamentary system, which is a democratic government.

Canada’s national Parliament is housed in the capital city of Ottawa. It is a bicameral legislature, meaning that it is split into two chambers: the House of Commons and the Senate. The House of Commons consists of 308 elected politicians, while the Senate consists of 105 “qualified citizens” appointed by the Prime Minister (PM). Members of the House of Commons are known as Members of Parliament (MPs) and members of the Senate are known as Senators. The Prime Minister of Canada and his cabinet are all sitting MPs.

EVuo canadian parliament infographic for blog
A simple diagram of the Canadian Parliamentary System

The purposes of the Canadian parliament are to pass legislation and to choose the government.

Most Canadian laws start in the House of Commons, where they are proposed as bills be a member of the PM’s cabinet. After an initial vote to consider, House committees debate the details of a proposed bill before sending it back to the House for further votes of approval. After that, the bill moved to the Senate, where it is usually quickly approved, then to the Governor General, who ceremonially signs it into law (known as the royal assent).

In addition to being a legislative body, the House of Commons is also an electoral college. The Government refers to the political party in the House of Commons with the largest amount of seats. After a parliamentary election, the Governor General appoints the leader of the party with the most seats in the House as Prime Minister. The PM then forms a government. In practice, this means picking a cabinet, who are usually other high-profile MPs from the Prime Minister’s party to key positions in the executive branch, as well as various senior staffers and advisers in the federal bureaucracy.

Canada's current Prime Minister is Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
Canada’s current Prime Minister is Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

The second largest political party in the House is appointed as the Official Opposition. The leader of this is given the title of Leader of the Opposition. They appoint a shadow cabinet of politicians from their own party to offer criticism to the Government of the day.

Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition, New Democratic Party of Canada
Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition, New Democratic Party of Canada

Canada has eighteen registered political parties. Emerging during the nineteenth century, the party system is organized on the basis of political groups, each of which presents its policies and candidates to the electorate. The parties register with Elections Canada and play a role in the parliamentary process if they have more than a minimum number of members in the House of Commons or Senate. Canada’s four largest parties are listed above.

—-Danika Leminski, Official journalist/blogger of Equal Voice uOttawa Chapter

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