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The structure of the Canadian government: federal, provincial, and municipal

Interior of the House of Commons in Ottawa.
Stock photo of the House of Commons in Ottawa from iStock/Getty Images.

The Canadian government is comprised of three levels: federal, provincial, and municipal. The Canadian Constitution divides powers between the federal and provincial governments. Some areas of law are strictly within the jurisdiction of the federal branch, and some strictly fall under the provincial branches. The provinces have passed municipal acts giving some powers to municipalities, which forms the third level of government.

Federal level

Law making at the federal level falls upon Parliament. The Canadian Parliament has three components:  Her Majesty the Queen (the head of the state), the House of Commons and the Senate.

Members of the House of Commons are elected from ridings around the country. They represent the public in the House and vote on bills that become law. The federal government (executive branch of the government) is the party that holds the biggest number of seats in the House of Commons. The party that has the second biggest number of seats in the House is the opposition party that challenges the federal government on bills. Other parties may also have seats in the House, often representing different views. Together the House members (MPs) debate bills and vote on them.

If a bill is passed in the House, it goes up to the Senate for further debate. The Senate is a secondary set of eyes. Senate members are elected by the Governor General (Her Majesty the Queen’s representative in Canada) on the advice of the prime minister.

Once the Senate approves a bill, it goes to the Governor General for royal assent and becomes law as of a determined effective date.

The areas of law that Parliament has jurisdiction to pass laws for include:

  • Criminal law
  • Income tax
  • Federal funding (e.g. Old Age Security)
  • International and interprovincial trade

To better familiarize yourself with the role and many functions of the federal level of the Canadian government, consult the Canadian government website.

Provincial level

The Canadian Constitution has given provincial legislatures the powers to pass laws in matters concerning civil affairs and property. As such, every province has its own legislature with its own elected members. These members debate provincial bills and vote on them to become provincial laws.

The provincial government is the party that has the biggest number of seats in the provincial legislature. The provincial opposition is the party with the second biggest number of seats in the provincial legislature.

Provincial legislatures pass laws in many areas including:

  • Labour law
  • Family law
  • Health law
  • Social services

To better familiarize yourself with your province or territory’s legislature, consult your province/territory’s government website.

Municipal Level

Municipal governments get their powers from provincial governments. Their powers include areas such as: property tax, zoning, business licenses, and an array of municipal bylaws.

Municipal governments also have their own websites. This is where they list what services they provide and what areas fall under their jurisdiction.

Read more:

Canadian System of Government

The Canadian System of Government