The Canadian Government

Canada is a democracy organized as constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government modeled after that of Great Britain. The official head of state in Canada is Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, who is also Queen of Canada. The governor-general is the queen’s personal representative in Canada and the official head of the Canadian parliament, although with very limited powers.

The federal parliament in Canada consists of the House of Commons and the Senate. The actual head of government is the prime minister, who is responsible for choosing a cabinet. The cabinet consists of a group of ministers of varied expertise who serve with the support of the House of Commons. They are responsible for most legislation, and have the sole power to prepare and introduce bills that provide for the expenditure of public funds or taxation. The system is referred to as responsible government, which means that cabinet members sit in the parliament and are directly responsible to it, holding power only as long as a majority of the House of Commons shows confidence by voting with them. If a cabinet is defeated in the House of Commons on a motion of censure or a vote of no confidence, the cabinet must either resign, in which case the governor-general will ask the leader of the opposition to form a new cabinet, or a new election may be called.

The Canadian Senate has 104 members, appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. Their actual function is advisory, although they may make minor changes in bills and no bill may become a law without being passed by the Senate. Senators hold office until age seventy-five unless they are absent from two consecutive sessions of parliament. The real power, however, resides in the House of Commons, the members of which are elected directly by the voters. The seats are allocated on the basis of population, and there are about 300 constituencies. By custom, almost all members of the cabinet must be members of the House of Commons or, if not already members, must win seats within a reasonable time.

General elections must be held at the end of every five years, but they may be conducted whenever issues require it, and most parliaments are dissolved before the end of the five-year term. When a government loses its majority support in a general election, a change of government occurs.

Although major and minor political parties were not created by law, they are recognized by law in Canada. The party that wins the largest number of seats in a general election forms of the government, and its leader becomes the prime minister. The second largest party becomes the official opposition. In this way, the people are assured of an effective alternative government should they become displeased with the one in power.

(taken from TOEFL, by BARON, p. 140)

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