Archive for February, 2011

What is a government?

A government is a group of people that run or “govern” a nation. The structure of the government varies from nation to nation. The people involved in the government are in charge of political decisions, as well as to enforce laws, pass new ones, and settle disputes amongst the people in their nation.

The type of government a nation is ruled by can be categorized into into a left-right hand political spectrum. At the left end of the spectrum:

  • Tendency towards social justice
  • Social & economic intervention by the state
  • Individualism

An example of a government found at the very left hand side would be liberalism. In this government, people’s rights are valued highly and liberals have a secular view  on the world. Plus, they believe change should occur through law and reform.

At the right end of the spectrum:

  • Defense of private property & capitalism
  • Belief in established political and religion order

An example of a government found at the very right hand side would be conservatism. In this government, maintenance of traditional institutions is critical, and they don’t believe in a sudden change; a gradual change. Conservatives, in some cases, believe in returning to “simpler times.” Essentially, this government believes in “conserving” history.

The three main aspects that determines where a government falls along the political spectrum are:

  1. Culture
  2. Economics
  3. Individual vs. Community

There are various types of government, such as:

  • Aristocracy- A state rules by a privileged class (determined by wealth or birth). Based on belief that elite know better than common man how to rule.
  • Bureaucracy- Any form of government with power concentrated in administrative bureaus; often equated with formalism, red tape, and overorganization.
  • Communism- A totalitarian government based on a social system where good are held in common.
  • Dictatorship- Any form of government in which one person or group has absolute power, without effective constitutional limitations.
  • Dynasty- A long sequence of rulers from the same family.

    In democracy, people elect their leaders.

  • Monarchy- A government in which power is vested in a king or emperor who can pass power on to his heirs.
  • Nationalism- A feeling of devotion to national interests national unity, and national independence
  • Representative- A system of government in which appointed or elected agents act for a group of people.
  • Democracy- A government with supreme power vested in the people and exercised by them or their elected agents.
  • Republic- A state in which the people are represented by elected agents.

You will soon find out where Canada fits in the political spectrum and the type of government we truly are.


Like in many nations, Canada’s government started in 1876 and is composed of multiple types of government The four different governments we have are:

  1. A constitutional monarchy
  2. Representative democracy
  3. A federal system
  4. A party system

A constitutional monarchy is a governmental system that follows the British political traditions, in that it recognizes a monarch as head of state within the parameters of the Canadian Constitution. The monarch has a large symbolic role in Canada. A constitutional government differs from an absolute monarch, in that an absolute monarch has complete power over a nation and isn’t bounded by a constitution. The monarch of Canada has some power over the government, in accordance to the Constitution. However, the prime minister is, of course, the head of the government and has the true political power.

The governor general is the monarch’s representative in Canada. He/she is appointed on advice of the Canadian government. The governor general has the following duties:

  • Opens parliament
  • Gives royal assent to bills
  • Appoints officials
  • Greets foreign leaders and dignitaries
  • Formally acknowledges contributions of Canadians with awards and medals

The governor general’s main duty is to perform constitutional duties for the Monarch within the parameters of parliamentary democracy and responsible government as a patron of proper governance.

The second type of government present in Canada is representative democracy. In representative democracy, people govern the nations by vesting their power in elected officials, which contrast direct democracy. In direct democracy, the citizens influence the decisions made by the government, whereas in Canada, representative democracy, we elect members and give them the power to govern the nation. Elected officials in representative democracy are accountable to the public.

The third type of government currently found in Canada is the federal system. This essentially means power is distributed across three levels of government: federal, provincial, and municipal.

At the federal level, decisions are made on behalf of “all” citizens. The people in the federal government deal with:

  • Defense
  • Postal Service
  • Pensions

    The Federal Government deals with the RCMP.

  • CSBs
  • RCMP
  • Taxes, loans, fees, and tariffs
  • Inspectors



The federal government essentially deals with all the “big” and “heavy” duties of Canada. The current leader of our federal government is the prime minister, which is currently Stephen Harper.

One below the federal government, in terms of power, is the provincial government. The decisions made by the federal government are best handled locally. The leader of the provincial government is the premier, which is currently Gordon Campbell. The people in the provincials government deal with:

  • Education
  • Hospitals
  • Medical care
  • Highways
  • Licenses
  • Provincials police
  • Taxes, loans, and fees

Last, but not least, the remaining power is vested upon the municipal government, which has the closest contact with individual citizens. The leader of the municipal government is the major, which is currently Gregor Robertson. The municipal government deals with:

  • Firefighters
  • Snow removal
  • Water supply
  • Garbage & sanitation
  • Public transit
  • Local police
  • Taxes, loans, and fees

As can be seen, all three levels of government collect taxes, loans and fees. The federal government collects income tax, provincial government collects sales tax, and municipal government collects property tax.

The 4th and last type of government present in Canada is the party system. The party system is representative at all three levels belonging to political parties. Political parties are groups of people with similar beliefs, ideas, and plans about how to best govern (also known as ideologies). These political parties promote their ideologies to gain support from the public. Political parties have may function at all levels of government or have the option of choosing to participate in only one or two levels of government. The three major political parties in Canada are:

  • Liberals
  • Conservatives
  • New Democrats (NDP)

Bloc Quebecois, for instance, only operates at the federal level.

Essentially, these four types of government are found in Canada and is what currently running our nation.

Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's monarch

As mentioned in the Canada’s Government post, Canada has three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal. Each level of government is responsible for certain duties and collecting certain type of taxes. However, each level of government is then broken down into three branches: executive, legislative, and judiciary.

The executive peoples of each level of government have the power to administer country, province, or city, and to carry out (execute) laws. At the federal level, the executives are as follows:

  • Monarch
  • Governor General
  • Prime Minister
  • Cabinet Members (body of ministers of the Crown)

At the provincials and municipal level, they have corresponding positions.

The legislate peoples of each level of government make, change, or repel law. At the federal level, the legislative people are as follows:

  • Monarch
  • Governor General
  • House of Commons
  • Senate

At the provincial and municipal level, they have corresponding positions.

The judiciary people of each level of government interpret the meaning and intent of laws and constitution. The judiciary people include:

  • Supreme Court of Canada & Federal Judges
  • Provincials level has corresponding positions
  • No judiciary at the Municipal level

The basis for this division of power laws is in the constitution, which itself is composed of four parts:

  1. The Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly known as the British North America Act) is the first of the four parts. This constitution describes the authority, parts, and function of Parliament and the provincial legislatures.
  2. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom is the second part. This document encloses the rights and freedoms all Canadians and landed immigrants (permanent residents) are entitled to have.
  3. The amending formula, which sets out the ways the constitution can be changed, is the 3rd part of the constitution. The following must be met for the constitution to be changed:

– 7/50 formula

– Approval of Senate, House of Commons, and at least 2/3 of legislature assemblies (approximately 7).

– Seven provincial assemblies must make up at least 50% of total population of Canada. Quebec is always the   deciding vote  because of its large population.

Some amendments (changes) require unanimous support from the Senate, House of Commons, and all legislative assemblies. Some of these amendments include:

  • Office of Queen, Governor General, Lieutenant Governor
  • Changes to number of members in the House of Commons
  • Changes to use of French/English languages
  • Compositions of Supreme Court
  • This amendment formula

4.  The  last, but not least part of the constitution are traditions (unwritten) stretching back to the Magna Carta 1215 and beyond, which includes:

  • Monarch
  • Office of Prime Minister
  • Political parties
  • Election Acts

All these four components is the basis for the division of power for the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of each level of government.

Sir John A. MacDonald, first Prime Minsiter of Canada

The Senate of Canada, also known as the Upper House of Canada, was founded by the Fathers of Federation over 135 years ago when they wanted a Parliament to make laws in Canada. They wanted the laws created in Canada to be thoroughly thought out so they established two houses, the Upper House (Senate) and the Lower House (the House of Commons). The Governor General, representative of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Commons make up the Parliament of Canada. Sir John A. MacDonald, first prime minister of Canada, described the Senate as “sober second thought,” so that legislation would receive a proper consideration becoming a law in Canada.

The Senate’s duty is to essentially regulate the power of the House of Commons. They review bills proposed by the House of Commons to ensure its effectiveness and reliability, and how it may affect the day to day lives of Canadian citizens. If the bill seems unreasonable or needs improvement, they send them back to House of Commons with suggestions for improvement. It’s extremely rare that the Senate ever utterly rejects a bill suggested by the House of Commons. Occasionally, the Senate can propose of a bill, but most of the laws in Canada are generally suggested by the House of Commons. No bill can be passed without the approval of the Senate. Senators are responsible for protecting the rights and interests of Canadians, especially those who do not have much say in the Parliament.

There are three stages in which a bill must go through to become a law, called “readings.” These readings occur in both the Upper House and the Lower house, and they are as follows:

  1. The bill is discussed and improved by each House.
  2. The each of the House votes on the bill.
  3. Lastly, the bill is given to the Governor General for royal assent, and if all three stages are passed, the bill becomes a law.

The people in the Senate come from all sorts of background. They can be business people, lawyers, teachers, journalists, artists, doctors, hockey players, police officers, scientists, writer, nurses, Aboriginal leader, and politicians.  By having such diverse backgrounds, it gives Senators a better understanding of the people they represent and which issues should be brought up in Parliament to be solved. The Prime Minister provides the Governor General with names, who then appoints Senators. To become a Senate, there are certain qualifications, such as:

  • must be a Canadian citizen
  • have to be at least 30 years of age
  • have ownership of property in your territory or province
  • reside in the territory or province that, as a senator, you will represent

There are generally 105 members of the Senate.

A senator is a busy person. They  have multiple tasks they complete daily, such as:

  • talking about vital issues in the Senate Chamber
  • discussing and talking with the people they represent
  • collaborating with office staff who assist with research
  • attending committee meetings;
  • proposing bills to establish laws
  • presenting petitions from minorities who want to have some voice in the Parliament
  • answering questions from reporters
  • assisting people in solving problems regarding the government
  • reading and reviewing books, reports and studies
  • providing speeches and lectures
  • going to conferences
  • gingo and come back from their home province or territory to Ottawa

    The Senate Chamber is sometimes referred to as the Red Chamber due to its red decoration

  • representing Canada globally

Children’s rights, poverty, literacy, and terrorism are some of the issues discussed in the Senate. They talk for those whose rights are overlooked and mistreated, such as children, veterans, elderly, and the poor. Annually, the Senate is contacted by 1000 people (also called “witnesses”), organizes and holds approximately 400 meetings, and makes over 100 reports.

In the Senate Chamber, they debate about committee reports, talk about important issues, and pass bills. Senators have the choice to ask The Leader of the Government in the Senate  how the country is doing during Question Period. Important ceremonies, such as the Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne, take place in the Senate Chamber. The Senate Chamber is occasionally referred to as the Red Chamber because most of the Senate Chamber is decorated in red in the honour of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

The Canadian House of Commons

The House of Commons is one of the compositions of the Parliament, along with the Senate and the Sovereign (represented by the Governor General). The House of Commons is a group of people elected, who are known as the Members of Parliament (MPs). There are 308 MPs in the House of Commons. Members have a maximum of five years to serve in the House of Commons. The MPs are elected by the country’s federal electoral districts. These districts are generally referred to as ridings.

The House of Commons was created in 1867, when the British North America Act of 1867 created the Dominion of Canada. Even though the House of Commons is referred to as the “Lower House,” it has greater power than the “Upper House” (Senate). For a bill to be passed, both houses must agree, but it is extremely rare that a bill proposed by the House of Commons is rejected by the Senate. Occasionally, the Senate proposes bills and the House of Commons review its validity and how it will affect Canadians. The Prime Minister of Canada can stay in power as long as he/she receives support from the Lower House.  The Canadian House of Commons is in the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Ontario. 

David Johnston, Governor General of Canada

The Governor General of Canada  is currently David Lloyd Johnston. He presents Canada’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. He is responsible for opening parliament, and meeting with foreign dignitaries. Essentially, most of the Queen’s power is vested upon the governor general. The prime minister is dependent on the governor general to pass any laws, for the royal assent must be given to pass any bills.  To become an ideal governor general, there should be certain qualities that must be met, such as:

  • Constitutional knowledge
  • Bi-lingualism (multilingualism)
  • Legal expertise
  • Leadership skills
  • Accomplished
  • Ability to relate to the Public

The Cabinet of Canada is a part of the Canadian government. Its chairman is the Prime Minister himself/herself. The Cabinet ministers discuss and debate national issues and voice their opinion about them. Each minister is in charge of a specific portfolio. For instance, the Finance Minister is in charge of national finance and the national debt, and the Immigration Minister is in charge of immigration policies. These Cabinet Ministers should have certain qualities for them to be a responsible minister, such as:

  • Honesty
  • Good communication skills
  • Open-mindedness
  • Ethical
  • Unbiased
  • Act on National Interest

Last, but not least, the Prime Minister of Canada is a very important person- he is the head of the country. Currently, our Prime Minister is Stephen Harper. He has a variety of duties, such as:

  • Interacting with foreign diplomats and traveling extensively

    Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

  • Making economic decisions affecting and impacting Canada
  • Supervising the Canadian military and maintaining the needs of the troops
  • Interacting and relating to the community, as well participating in honoury events
  • Making speeches of all sorts; honouring Canada heroes and attending international events

To be able to carry out all these duties, it requires someone with many skills, such as:

  • Good public speaking skills- ability to persuade and the ability to satisfy civilians
  • Good at handling money
  • Willing to take intelligent risks
  • Familiar with the law
  • Excellent sense of leadership and being fair with all his/her citizens
  • Create a sense of unity among citizens
  • Charismatic- sympathetic and emphatic, as well as generous