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What is Canada's political system?

In Canada, there are 3 levels of government. Each level of government has different responsibilities.

  • Federal government (the Government of Canada) - Responsible for things that affect the whole country, such as citizenship and immigration, national defence and trade with other countries.
  • Provincial and territorial governments (for example, the Province of Ontario) - Responsible for such things as education, health care and highways.
  • Municipal (local) governments (cities, towns, and villages in Ontario) - Responsible for firefighting, city streets and other local matters. If there is no local government, the province provides services.

Federal Government

At the federal level, there are 3 parts of government:

  • Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, is Canada's formal head of state. The Governor General represents the Queen in Canada and carries out the duties of head of state.
  • The House of Commons makes Canada's laws. Canadians elect representatives to the House of Commons. These representatives are called Members of Parliament (MPs) and usually belong to a political party. The political party that has the largest number of MPs forms the government, and its leader becomes prime minister.
  • The prime minister is the head of government in Canada. The Prime Minister chooses MPs to serve as ministers in the cabinet. There are ministers for citizenship and immigration, justice and other subjects. The cabinet makes important decisions about government policy.
  • The Senate reviews laws that are proposed by the House of Commons. Senators come from across Canada. The prime minister chooses the senators.

You can read the Guide to the Canadian House of Commons for more information.

Provincial Government

At the provincial level:

  • The Lieutenant Governor represents the Queen.
  • The Legislative Assembly makes law. In Ontario, elected representatives are called Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs).

The political party that has the largest number of MPPs forms the government, and its leader becomes premier. The premier is the head of government in Ontario.

The premier leads the government and chooses MPPs to serve as ministers in the cabinet. The cabinet sets government policy and introduces laws for the Legislative Assembly to consider.

Visit Civics 101 for more information about how the provincial government works. Watch videos and interviews with politicians, ask an MPP your questions, use a budget simulator and more.

Municipal (Local) Government

At the municipal level:

  • The Province of Ontario defines the structure, finances, and management of the local governments of cities, towns and villages.
  • Residents of the municipality elect the mayor and council members to lead the local government. Committees of councillors discuss budget, service and administrative issues that are then passed on to the council for debate. Citizens, business owners and community groups can present their concerns to councillors at committee meetings.
  • Municipalities may also be part of a larger county or regional government (for example, York Region).

For More Information

  • Service Ontario Centres - Provides a wide range of general government information and application forms about all provincial ministries at one location. The website contains an alphabetical contact list of all Service Ontario Centres in the province.
  • Statutes and Regulations of Ontario - This site provides a basic level of public access to Ontario legislation.
  • Municipalities of Ontario - A list of links to official Web sites of Ontario municipalities.
  • Service Canada – Provides a wide range of Government of Canada programs and services through their service locations, by telephone and online.
Last Updated: December 22, 2011
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