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Government of Canada

Government of Canada
French: Gouvernement du Canada
Government of Canada wordmark
EstablishedJuly 1, 1867 (1867-07-01)
Country Canada
LeaderPrime Minister
Justin Trudeau
Appointed byGovernor General
Mary Simon
Main organPrivy Council (de jure)
Cabinet (de facto)
Responsible toHouse of Commons

The Government of Canada (French: Gouvernement du Canada) is the body responsible for the federal administration of Canada. The term Government of Canada refers specifically to the executive, which includes ministers of the Crown (together in the Cabinet) and the federal civil service (whom the Cabinet direct); it is alternatively known as His Majesty's Government (French: Gouvernement de Sa Majesté) and is corporately branded as the Government of Canada.[1][2] There are over 100 departments and agencies, as well as over 300,000 persons employed in the Government of Canada. These institutions carry out the programs and enforce the laws established by the Parliament of Canada.

The federal government's organization and structure was established at Confederation, through the Constitution Act, 1867, wherein the Canadian Crown acts as the core, or "the most basic building block",[3] of its Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.[4] The monarch, King Charles III is head of state and is personally represented by a governor general (currently Mary Simon). A prime minister (currently Justin Trudeau) is the head of government, who is invited by the Crown to form a government after securing the confidence of the House of Commons, which is typically determined through the election of enough members of a single political party in a federal election to provide a majority of seats in Parliament, forming a governing party. Further elements of governance are outlined in the rest of the Canadian constitution, which includes written statutes in addition to court rulings and unwritten conventions developed over centuries.[5]

Constitutionally, the King's Privy Council for Canada is the body that advises the sovereign or their representative on the exercise of executive power. This task is carried out nearly exclusively by the Cabinet, which functions as the executive committee of the Privy Council that sets the government's policies and priorities for the country[6] and is chaired by the prime minister. The sovereign appoints the members of Cabinet on the advice of the prime minister who, by convention, are generally selected primarily from the House of Commons (although often include a limited number of members from the Senate). During its term, the government must retain the confidence of the House of Commons and certain important motions, such as money bills and the speech from the throne, are considered as confidence motions. Laws are formed by the passage of bills through Parliament, which are either sponsored by the government or individual members of Parliament. Once a bill has been approved by both the House of Commons and the Senate, royal assent is required to make the bill become law. The laws are then the responsibility of the government to oversee and enforce.


Under Canada's Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, the terms government and Government of Canada refer specifically to the prime minister, Cabinet, and other members of the governing party inside the House of Commons, but typically includes the federal public service and federal departments and agencies when used elsewhere.[7] This differs from the United States, where the executive branch is referred to as an administration and the federal government encompasses executive, legislative, and judicial powers, similar to the Canadian Crown.

In press releases issued by federal departments, the government has sometimes been referred to as the current prime minister's government (e.g. the Trudeau Government). This terminology has been commonly employed in the media.[8] In late 2010, an informal instruction from the Office of the Prime Minister urged government departments to consistently use, in all department communications, such phrasing (i.e., Harper Government, at the time), in place of Government of Canada.[9] The same Cabinet earlier directed its press department to use the phrase Canada's New Government.[8]

Role of the Crown

Charles III, King of Canada, the country's head of state
Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, the monarch's representative

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, wherein the role of the reigning sovereign is both legal and practical, but not political.[10] The monarch is vested with all powers of state[11] and sits at the centre of a construct in which the power of the whole is shared by multiple institutions of government acting under the sovereign's authority.[12][13][14][15] The executive is thus formally referred to as the King-in-Council.[16]

On the advice of the Canadian prime minister, the sovereign appoints a federal viceregal representative—the governor general (currently Mary Simon)—who, since 1947, is permitted to exercise almost all of the monarch's royal prerogative; though, there are some duties which must be specifically performed by the monarch themselves (such as assent of certain bills). In case of the governor general's absence or incapacitation, the administrator of Canada performs the Crown's most basic functions.

As part of the royal prerogative, the royal sign-manual gives authority to letters patent and orders-in-Council. Much of the royal prerogative is only exercised in-council, meaning on the advice of the King's Privy Council for Canada (ministers of the Crown formed in Cabinet in conventional practice);[17][18] within the conventional stipulations of a constitutional monarchy, the sovereign's direct participation in any of these areas of governance is limited.[19][20]

Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Government of Canada signature (above) and wordmark (below); used to corporately identify the government under the Federal Identity Program

The term Government of Canada, or more formally, His Majesty's Government refers to the activities of the King-in-Council. The day-to-day operation and activities of the Government of Canada are performed by the federal departments and agencies, staffed by the Public Service of Canada, and the Canadian Armed Forces.

Prime minister

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister and head of government

One of the main duties of the Crown is to ensure that a democratic government is always in place,[21] which includes the appointment of a prime minister, who heads the Cabinet and directs the activities of the government.[22] Not outlined in any constitutional document, the office exists in long-established convention, which stipulates the Crown must select as prime minister the person most likely to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons, who, in practice, is typically the leader of the political party that holds more seats than any other party in that chamber (currently the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau). Should no particular party hold a majority in the House of Commons, the leader of one party—either the party with the most seats or one supported by other parties—will be called by the governor general to form a minority government. Once sworn in, the prime minister holds office until their resignation or removal by the governor general, after either a motion of no confidence or defeat in a general election.[23]

Privy Council

The executive is defined in the Constitution Act, 1867 as the Crown acting on the advice of the King's Privy Council for Canada, referred to as the King-in-Council.[2][24][25][26] However, the Privy Council—consisting mostly of former ministers, chief justices, and other elder statesmen—rarely meets in full. In the construct of constitutional monarchy and responsible government, the advice tendered is typically binding,[27] meaning the monarch reigns but does not rule, with the Cabinet ruling "in trust" for the monarch.[28] However, the royal prerogative belongs to the Crown and not to any of the ministers,[29][30][31] and there are rare exceptions where the monarch may be obliged to act unilaterally to prevent manifestly unconstitutional acts.[32][33]


The stipulations of responsible government require that those who directly advise the Crown on the exercise the royal prerogative be accountable to the elected House of Commons and the day-to-day operation of government is guided only by a sub-group of the Privy Council made up of individuals who hold seats in Parliament, known as the Cabinet.[26]

The monarch and governor general typically follow the near-binding advice of their ministers. The royal prerogative, however, belongs to the Crown and not to any of the ministers,[15][31] who only rule "in trust" for the monarch and who must relinquish the Crown's power back to it upon losing the confidence of the commons,[28][34] whereupon a new government, which can hold the lower chamber's confidence, is installed by the governor general. The royal and vice-royal figures may unilaterally use these powers in exceptional constitutional crisis situations (an exercise of the reserve powers),[n 1] thereby allowing the monarch to make sure "that the government conducts itself in compliance with the constitution."[35] Politicians can sometimes try to use to their favour to obscure the complexity of the relationship between the monarch, viceroy, ministers, and Parliament, as well as the public's general unfamiliarity with such.[n 2]

See also



  1. ^ See 'Responsibilities' and Note 1 at Cabinet of Canada.
  2. ^ It was said by Helen Forsey: "The inherent complexity and subtlety of this type of constitutional situation can make it hard for the general public to fully grasp the implications. That confusion gives an unscrupulous government plenty of opportunity to oversimplify and misrepresent, making much of the alleged conflict between popular democracy—supposedly embodied in the Prime Minister—and the constitutional mechanisms at the heart of responsible government, notably the 'reserve powers' of the Crown, which gets portrayed as illegitimate." As examples, she cited the campaign of William Lyon Mackenzie King following the King–Byng Affair of 1926 and Stephen Harper's comments during the 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute.[10]


  1. ^ "Overview of the Canadian Parliamentary System | Our Country, Our Parliament". Archived from the original on 21 February 2022. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b MacLeod 2015, p. 18
  3. ^ Department of Canadian Heritage (February 2009), Canadian Heritage Portfolio (PDF) (2 ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, p. 3, ISBN 978-1-100-11529-0, archived from the original (PDF) on 11 June 2011, retrieved 5 July 2009
  4. ^ Coyne, Andrew (13 November 2009). "Defending the royals". Maclean's. ISSN 0024-9262. Archived from the original on 11 October 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  5. ^ Brooks, Stephen Farper (2007). Canadian Democracy: An Introduction (5 ed.). Don Mills: Oxford University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-19-543103-2.
  6. ^ Office, Privy Council (21 February 2018). "About Cabinet". aem. Archived from the original on 30 March 2023. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  7. ^ "The Branches of Government". Archived from the original on 21 April 2023. Retrieved 20 April 2023.
  8. ^ a b Cheadle, Bruce (3 March 2011), "Tories re-brand government in Stephen Harper's name", The Globe and Mail, archived from the original on 9 July 2018, retrieved 26 April 2011
  9. ^ CTV News (7 March 2011). "Tories defend use of 'Harper Government'". Bell Media. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
  10. ^ a b Forsey, Helen (1 October 2010). "As David Johnson Enters Rideau Hall ..." The Monitor. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  11. ^ Privy Council Office (2008). Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State – 2008. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-100-11096-7. Archived from the original on 18 March 2010. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  12. ^ Smith, David E. (10 June 2010), "Conference on the Crown" (PDF), The Crown and the Constitution: Sustaining Democracy?, Ottawa: Queen's University, p. 6, retrieved 22 May 2020 Archived from the original on 17 June 2010.
  13. ^ Bosc, Marc; Gagnon, André (2017), "1: House of Commons Procedure and Practice", Parliamentary Institutions (3 ed.), Ottawa: House of Commons Table Research Branch, archived from the original on 7 May 2017, retrieved 22 May 2020
  14. ^ Table Research Branch of the House of Commons, "Our Procedure", The Canadian Parliamentary System, Ottawa, archived from the original on 30 May 2022, retrieved 22 May 2020
  15. ^ a b Cox, Noel (September 2002). "Black v Chrétien: Suing a Minister of the Crown for Abuse of Power, Misfeasance in Public Office and Negligence". Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law. 9 (3): 12. Archived from the original on 26 June 2020. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  16. ^ MacLeod 2015, p. 17
  17. ^ Forsey, Eugene (2005). How Canadians Govern Themselves (PDF) (6 ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-662-39689-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2008.
  18. ^ Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille (2000). "House of Commons > 1. Parliamentary Institutions". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 28 August 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2009.
  19. ^ MacLeod 2015, p. 16
  20. ^ Russell, Peter (1983), "Bold Statecraft, Questionable Jurisprudence", in Banting, Keith G.; Simeon, Richard (eds.), And no one cheered: federalism, democracy, and the Constitution Act, Toronto: Taylor & Francis, p. 217, ISBN 978-0-458-95950-1
  21. ^ Jackson, Michael D. October 2009. "The Senior Realms of the Queen" (book review & commentary). Canadian Monarchist News 39(30):9–12. Archived from the original on 29 December 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2020. p. 9. Reviewed work: Boyce, Peter. 2008. The Queen's Other Realms: The Crown and its Legacy in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. ISBN 9781862877009. Sydney, AU: Federation Press.
  22. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Media > Fact Sheets > The Swearing-In of a New Ministry". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 9 October 2006. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
  23. ^ Brooks 2007, p. 235
  24. ^ Wrong, Humphrey Hume. 10 November 1952. "Relations With the United States [Telegram 219]." Documents on Canadian External Relations 18(867): Ch. 8. Ottawa: Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Archived from the original on 23 November 2011. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  25. ^ Victoria (1867), Constitution Act, 1867, III.15, Westminster: Queen's Printer (published 29 March 1867), III.9 & 11, archived from the original on 3 February 2010, retrieved 15 January 2009
  26. ^ a b Marleau & Montpetit 2000, The Executive
  27. ^ Russell, Peter (1983). "Bold Statecraft, Questionable Jurisprudence". In Banting, Keith G.; Simeon, Richard (eds.). And no one cheered: federalism, democracy, and the Constitution Act. Toronto: Taylor & Francis. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-458-95950-1. Retrieved 12 June 2010.
  28. ^ a b MacLeod 2015, p. 8
  29. ^ MacLeod 2015, p. 16
  30. ^ Cox, Noel (September 2002). "Black v Chrétien: Suing a Minister of the Crown for Abuse of Power, Misfeasance in Public Office and Negligence". Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law. 9 (3). Perth: Murdoch University: 12. Archived from the original on 26 June 2020. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  31. ^ a b Neitsch, Alfred Thomas. 2007. "A Tradition of Vigilance: The Role of Lieutenant Governor in Alberta Archived 25 October 2020 at the Wayback Machine." Canadian Parliamentary Review 30(4):19–28. Retrieved 22 May 2020. p. 23.
  32. ^ Twomey, Anne (2018). The veiled sceptre : reserve powers of heads of state in Westminster systems. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-1-108-57332-0. OCLC 1030593191.
  33. ^ Lagassé, Philippe (4 September 2019). "The Crown and Government Formation: Conventions, Practices, Customs, and Norms". Constitutional Forum. 28 (3): 14. doi:10.21991/cf29384. ISSN 1927-4165.
  34. ^ Tidridge, Nathan (2011). Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government. Dundurn. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-4597-0084-0.
  35. ^ Boyce, Peter (2008b), The Crown and its Legacy in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Sydney: Federation Press, p. 29, ISBN 978-1-86287-700-9

Further reading

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