Canada’s Parliament consists of three parts: the Queen, the Senate and the House of Commons. As the legislative branch of the federal government, they work together to make the laws for our country.
The Senate is the Upper Chamber of Parliament, and is composed of 105 members. Senators are appointed by the Governor General for each province and territory on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and hold office until age 75. They examine and revise legislation, investigate national issues, and represent regional, provincial and minority interests. Senators can also introduce their own bills, subject to certain constitutional limitations. No bill can become law until it has been passed by the Senate. Senators also study major social, legal and economic issues through their committee work.
The House of Commons
The House of Commons is the popularly elected component of Parliament, consisting of 308 members. Members of the government sit in, and are answerable to the House of Commons. Most major government legislation is introduced in the House. The House of Commons alone is constitutionally authorized to introduce legislation concerned with the raising or spending of funds. The House is also a place where MPs hold the government to account, discuss national issues, and represent constituents’ views.
The Governor General of Canada
Parliament is the legislative branch of Government, composed of the Sovereign (represented by the Governor General), the Senate and the House of Commons. The three components of Parliament may meet from time to time for ceremonial occasions and for events related to the business of Parliament such as: the installation of the Governor General; the Opening of Parliament; the Speech from the Throne (at the beginning of each new session of Parliament); and Royal Assent ceremonies.
As the representative of the Sovereign in Canada, the Governor General exercises virtually all of the Crown’s powers. The Governor General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. Tenure is “at pleasure” and usually lasts five years, but this term may be extended.
The Federal Government
The Canadian federal government consists of government departments, organizations and agencies. The Cabinet is the centre of the federal government. Led by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet directs the federal government by determining priorities and policies, and ensuring their implementation.
The Canadian Constitution is composed of written and unwritten statutes, customs, judicial decisions, and tradition. The written part of the Constitution consists of the Constitution Act, 1867, which created a federation and the division of legislative powers between the federal and provincial governments, and the Constitution Act, 1982, which transferred formal control over amendments to the Constitution from Britain to Canada, and added a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A bill must go through three readings in each of the House of Commons and the Senate, and must be passed in the same form, before it receives Royal Assent and becomes law. From its initial presentation through to Royal Assent, a bill will be debated, studied and amendments may be adopted.
Elections and Ridings
An election is the process of choosing a representative by vote. In a federal general election, the voters in each riding or constituency elect a representative to the House of Commons. Canada uses a plurality or first past the post voting system. The person who gets the most votes is elected, even if this is not a majority. Generally, the party which has the most members elected forms the Government.
Its leader becomes the Prime Minister and chooses people (usually members of the House of Commons of his or her party) to head the various government departments under the designation of ministers. The Prime Minister can also appoint ministers without portfolio – known as ministers of State – or members of the Senate to Cabinet.
The leader of the party with the second-largest number of elected representatives acts as the Leader of the Official Opposition.
If the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons does not have a simple majority of seats, its leader, the Prime Minister, may attempt to maintain a minority government by seeking strategic support from members who are in the opposition.
The Constitution sets the maximum duration of a Parliament at five years.
Governments, however, may at any time call an election, and often do so after three or four years. Governments can also be defeated on a question of confidence, thereby precipitating an earlier election. Federal elections in Canada are administrated by Election Canada, an arm-length agency established by Parliament.
Provinces and Territories
Canada is a federation, which means that the work of governing the country is shared by the federal and provincial/territorial governments. The objective of federalism is to allow the governments of a country as large and diverse as Canada to meet the common needs of all citizens, while also being able to serve the special interests and characteristics of the country’s various regions and cultural/linguistic communities.
Canada’s political and electoral system is organized on the basis of political groups, each of which presents its policies and candidates to the electorate. The party system emerged in Canada during the nineteenth century. Political 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.
What are Government Bills?
Government Bills are bills introduced in the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown. These bills are drafted by the Department of Justice on the instructions of Cabinet. In the House of Commons, these bills are numbered C-2 through to C-200.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate normally introduces all Government Bills originating in the Senate, though the sponsorship is usually assumed by another Senator as the Bill moves through the legislative process.
What are Private Members’ Bills?
Private Members’ Bills are bills introduced in the House of Commons by individual Members who are not cabinet ministers and in the Senate by individual Senators who are not members of the Ministry. These bills are referred to as Private Members’ Bills and Private Senators’ Bills.
Private Members’ Bills and Private Senators’ Bills follow the same legislative process as Government Bills, although their consideration and the time allocated to them is more restrictive.
In addition to Private Members’ Bills, there are private bills. Private Members’ Bills (public bills) are concerned with matters of public policy while private bills are those that are for the benefit of named individuals or companies. Even though both public and private bills can be introduced in the Senate and the House of Commons, private bills are now almost always introduced in the Senate.
What is a Session?
A session is the term used to describe the periods of time or groupings of sittings into which a Parliament can be divided. The first session of a Parliament begins with a Speech from the Throne and ends with prorogation or dissolution of the Parliament. There are usually several different sessions in a Parliament, but there can be as few as one. Sessions usually consist of a number of separate sittings, but can be as short as one sitting day.
What is Hansard?
Hansard, also titled the Official Report of Debates, is essentially a verbatim transcript of the proceedings in the Senate and the House of Commons. Hansard is published after each sitting day and can be found on the Internet at http://www.parl.gc.ca.
Hansard follows the actual order of the proceedings of each chamber and reports the full deliberations. It records the speeches of Senators and Members in debate in the Chamber. In addition, Hansard contains lists of recorded votes, written answers to certain questions, and the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a session of Parliament. Hansard is printed separately in each official language; the original language used by the speaker is indicated, and the time is noted in five-minute segments.
What are the Debates?
The Debates (also titled the Official Report of Debates) are essentially a verbatim transcript of the proceedings of each chamber of Parliament. The Debates are also referred to as Hansard.
What are the Journals?
The Journals are the official record of the decisions of the Senate and the House of Commons.
What does Coming into Force mean?
Laws can come into force, or become enforceable laws, in several ways:
What is Royal Assent?
When the Senate and the House of Commons have both passed a bill in the same form, the Governor General gives the bill Royal Assent on behalf of the Crown and it becomes an Act of Parliament and a Statute of Canada. Royal Assent is signified in writing by the Governor General, or one of the Deputies of the Governor General, or it can be carried out in a ceremony held in the Senate chamber in the presence of members of the Senate and House of Commons.