The state of Canada is one of many colonies of the Great Britain. These days is the Britain´s function as a “colonizer” and a ruler, of course, only a formality. As well as all provinces of the Commonwealth, Canada is also a parliamentary democracy which offers and secures equal rights for every member of the state, and is ruled by a government which is controlled by a parliament elected by the people. Canada is also a constitutional monarchy – this means that the country is governed by a king or queen who accepts the advice of a parliament.
The head of Canada is Elisabeth II., the Queen of Canada, who is also Queen of England and all its provinces. Britain had had after all a huge impact on its provinces and influenced mostly the government system and system of civil services. That’s why Canadian system of governing the country is very similar to Britain´s, in fact it had been created on the British pattern. As I have mentioned, Canada is a democratic country and the functions of the Queen are formal so the monarch (although s/he is the head of the state) has little real power. The main power is in hands of the government and the people of Canada.
The system of government as we know it today had to pass a long development. Representative government had been establishing since 1758 gradually and separately in every part of Canada. The first part was Nova Scotia (1758), than followed Prince Edward Island (1773), Brunswick (1784) etc. ( E. A. Forsey, 2003). Finally this process was framed by the confederation in 1867 by which one federal state with one federal government was created. The men who realized this creation are called “Fathers of Confederation”. This group of people didn’t have to “invent” new kind of the system of government, they just followed the tradition of the previous system of the particular states which was mostly the same: there was a Parliament, Upper and Lower house, with their fixed powers and duties (E. A. Forsey, 2003).
Before explaining how the Canadian government operates, we should know something about its basic structure and functions of the elements of this structure.
The basic difference between Canadian system of government and its British pattern is that Canada has a written constitution, while Britain doesn’t. The basic element of Canadian constitution is the Constitution Act from 1867 which was signed by the Fathers of Confederation. This written constitution together with its latest addition, the Constitution Act, 1982, is only part of the whole Canadian working constitution. It is only a “core”, while the rest of the “apple” is made by responsible government, the national Cabinet, the bureaucracy, political parties, legislation, customs, judgements of the courts, agreements between the national and provincial governments. The Canadian constitution is not a single document. It consists of 25 primary documents outlined in the Constitution Act, 1982: 14 acts of the British Parliament, seven of the Canadian and four British orders-in-council. The skeleton of this collection is still the Act of 1867. This, with the amendments added to it until the end of 1981, did 12 things (E. A. Forsey, 2003).
The Constitution Act, 1982 made several big changes in the Canadian constitution. One of them, probably the most important, was the setting out of the Canadian “Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. This can’t change neither parliament nor any provincial legislature acting alone. These rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter are:
- democratic rights (for example right to vote for every citizen),
- fundamental freedoms (conscience, religion, association…),
- mobility rights (to enter, remain in, or leave Canada or any province),
- legal rights (public trial by an impartial court, right to a fair, reasonably prompt),
- equality rights (no discrimination on grounds of race, national or ethnic origin,religion, sex…)
- official language rights
- minority language education rights in certain circumstances (E. A. Forsey, 2003).
The Canadian constitution is flexible; it reacts on actual needs of the country. For example under the constitution, every province except Quebec, Now Brunswick and Manitoba is free to have as many official languages as it pleases, and they don’t have to include either English of French. Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba also are free to have as many official languages as they please, but they must include English and French.
Finally, there is both English and French version of the written constitution from the Act of 1867 to the Act of 1982 and both versions are equally authoritative.
The Canadian government in general consists of three levels. The first one is the Federal or National government represented by the Members of Parliament (MPs). Federal government governs over the whole confederation and has the most important responsibilities. It has power to make laws and is responsible for matters that affect the whole country such as immigration, employment, international trade, criminal law, taxation, citizenship, health-care, defence, communications, transportations (V. Sauvé, M. Sauvé, 1996).
The other levels are the Provincial and Municipal governments. They manage particular parts of the country – provinces, towns and cities. Representatives of the Provincial governments are called Members of Legislative assembly (MLAs) or Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs). People who represent the government on a Municipal level are Councillors or Aldermen. The provincial governments deal with, for example, education, social services, labour laws, land titles, corporate registrations, tourism, worker’s health and safety, highways, the sale of alcoholic beverages etc. Municipal governments are responsible for such matters as schools, property, care of roadways, urban transportation, business licences, libraries, police and fire services (V. Sauvé, M. Sauvé, 1996).
The provinces can amend their own constitutions by an ordinary Act of the Legislature. Of course provincial legislatures are limited to the power explicitly given to them by written constitution, so no provincial legislature can take over powers which belong to the Parliament of Canada, and other way round, Parliament can’t take over any power of a provincial legislature. According to the Constitution Act, 1867, everything not mentioned as belonging to the provincial legislatures comes under the national Parliament (E. A. Forsey, 2003).