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Learning Canadian Politics

Updated on January 19, 2011

Learning the basics of the Canadian Government

In Canada we have a system of government called a Representative Democracy in which we elect representatives to act on our behalf. Each representative belongs to a Political party, such as the Conservatives Party which is currently in power in Canada.

Our Government is also described as a Constitutional Monarchy because Queen Elizabeth II is our Head of State. Her representative in Canada is the Governor General. Neither figures is very involved in the workings of Canada's government.

The three branches of Canadian government are Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. In parliament, the group that carries out the executive functions of the government is called the Cabinet. It's leader, currently Stephen Harper, is called the Prime Minister. Cabinet Ministers are all members of the House of Commons. When Cabinet Ministers meet together they are expected to show cabinet solidarity. This means that they must all support the decisions of their party. Each Cabinet Ministers works with a deputy minister, as well as many public servants. These civil servants, also known as the bureaucracy, perform many of the administrative tasks of the government.

Members of the governing party who are not in the Cabinent are called back benchers. These members must support their party while also keeping in mind the wishes of the people. Opposite of the Cabinet sits the shadowing minister. This term refers to the MPs from the Official opposition who have been chosen to shadow a specific minister from the Cabinet.

In the House of Commons, the speaker of the House maintains order and applies the rules of Parliament to all. The primary function of the House of Commons is to introduce and debate legislation (bills). The Opposition plays a very important role in this process, during question periods. Another government in the organization, the senate, was designed to serve as a final check on the decisions made by the House of Commons. Sometimes the Senate is called the Upper House, and the House of commons is called the lower House.

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