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POLITICAL SYSTEM IN CANADA

System of government

Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a federal state with a democratic system of government. It consists of 10 provinces and 3 territories.

Provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador

Territories: Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Head of state, Monarch: Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II, having the official title ‘Queen of Canada’. Representative of the Queen in Canada is the Governor General. Advised by the Prime Minister of Canada, the Monarch appoints the Governor General.

Governor General: His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston. Although the Governor General's powers are in theory extensive, they are in practice very limited to ceremonial and non-partisan functions. It includes symbolic appointments of federal ministers, senators, judges and other officials. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, he appoints the Chief of Defense Staff at the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Canada. The Governor General is an active promoter of national identity and unity.

Canadian Parliament
1. Senate of Canada:
- Upper House of Parliament. The Senate typically consists of 105 members appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada. Although the Senate technically has the same powers as the House of Commons with regard to legislation, the influence of the Senate has been declining for decades and at present is largely a remnant of political history. The Canadian government is chiefly responsible to the House of Commons. The Senate serves to offer its expert revisions to Bills. It will rarely take option to oppose them. With such a minor role in the house, senate reform or abolition has been debated by politicians for years. Today, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois both call for the Senate’s abolition, while the Liberal Party and the Conservatives periodically suggest comprehensive reform. It has been suggested to establish an electoral process for senators rather than politically appointed. In fact, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has recently announced plans for this in addition to limiting the duration of a senator’s term.

Current composition:

Conservative Party 54
Liberal Party 46
Progressive Conservative Party 2 
Independent 3


2. House of Commons - Lower House of the Parliament. The House of Commons consists of 308 members.

Current composition of the House of Commons (40 th parliamentary term):

Conservative Party 143
Liberal Party 77
Bloc Quebecois 47
New Democratic Party 36
Independent 3

 

Members of the Parliament are elected for a 4-years term with maximum period of 5 years.


Government

Since January 7, 2006, Canada has had a Conservative minority government led by Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper. While the previous cabinet was composed of 37 ministers, currently it is made up of only 26.
The Prime Minister of Canada is the head of the Government of Canada, an elected member of the House of Commons and leader of the political party that has obtained the majority of parliamentary seats. The Prime Minister of Canada has full executive power: to appoint all members of the Cabinet, parliamentary secretaries, senators, judges of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Governor General and Lieutenant-Governors in addition to other senior federal and provincial officials. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has the power to dissolve the House of Commons, direct the work of governmental organizations and agencies.


Political Party in Canada (represented in the House of Commons)

Conservative Party of Canada; Parti conservateur du Canada;
The Conservative Party of Canada was founded in 2003 as an amalgamation of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. It has been lead by Stephen Harper since 2004. The Party is colloquially known as the “Tories” and is a right-of-centre political party. While a relatively new party, it continues to preserve the political ideas of Canadian conservative parties of the later half of the 19th century.

Liberal Party of Canada; Parti Libéral du Canada;
The Liberal Party of Canada is the only one Canadian political party that has existed prior to confederation. It was formed in 1861 as a united Liberal Party combining both English and French members. The Party was in power for most of the twentieth century, and has seen a 12 year run come to an end with its defeat in the parliamentary elections of January 2006. The party has been colloquially known as the Grits (originally “Clear Grits”) and is positioned in the centre of the political spectrum, combining a generally progressive social policy with moderate economics.

Bloc Québécois;
The Bloc Québécois is a left-wing federal political party from the province of Quebec. The Party contests federal elections in Quebec and is devoted to the promotion of sovereignty in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois was started in 1990 as an informal coalition of Progressive Conservative and Liberal members who left their parties around the time of the default of the Meech Lake Accord. The Bloc participated in their first Canadian Federal Election in 1993 and won 54 parliamentary seats.

New Democratic Party;
The New Democratic Party has a social democratic philosophy that contests elections at both the federal and provincial levels. The Party was created in 1961 as a result of a   merger of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Canadian Labour Congress and has been led by Jack Layton since 2003. In the Canadian House of Commons, it represents a liberal to left-wing position in the Canadian political spectrum. Provincial New Democratic Parties currently form the government in two provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


Canadian domestic policy

Canada has held a minority Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper since February 2006.
In the January 23, 2006 federal election, the Conservative Party won by a narrow margin with 124 of 308 seats in the House of Commons (36.3% of the popular vote).
Stephen Harper's government has identified five policy priorities in the area of federal accountability, tax reform, tackling crime, providing childcare and improving health care.
On May 5, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest (Liberal Party) signed an agreement establishing a formal role for Quebec in UNESCO. With this agreement, Mr. Harper fulfilled a promise he made in the run-up to the January 23 federal election. As a result of that promise, the Conservative Party won 10 seats in Quebec (10 more seats than the 2004 election). On November 27, 2006, the Conservatives sponsored a motion that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, which passed the House of Commons by a 265-16 vote.

Canadian Foreign Policy

Canadian foreign policy is focused on strengthening and defining Canada as an important player in the overall international relations.

Multilateralism is one of the significant characteristics of the Canadian foreign policy, therefore, Canada plays an active role in numerous international organizations: UN, NATO, G-8, APEC, International Francophone, Commonwealth and other organizations.  Canada is increasing its participation in peacekeeping operations throughout the world, and with its current commitment in Afghanistan where 2500 Canadian troops are deployed, it is expected that in February 2008, Canada will take over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan for a period of one year. Canada also plays an active role in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Haiti and Sudan.

In addition to the main focus of the Canadian foreign policy in North America, the Canadian government is increasingly active in the Arctic area taking over a leading role in the north circumpolar region. As part of the comprehensive strategy for the northern areas with the purpose of increasing security and prosperity for Canadians, the government intends to cooperate with the Arctic Council, circumpolar people and other involved states. Canada intends to strengthen sovereignty in its Arctic region and protect its people and the vulnerable environment of the Arctic.

The territorial issue with Denmark, over the sovereignty of the strategic island located in the strait separating Canada and Danish Greenland, was renewed during the summer 2005. Similar territorial issues exist in the Arctic regions between Canada, the USA and Russia. The settlement of the issues is very important for Canada with regard to confirming sovereignty in the Northwest Passage. 

Canada-USA relations

Relations between Canada and the USA are crucially predetermined by their neighbourly position. Canada and the USA share a land border of 8891 km in length, and almost 80% of the Canadian population lives within a distance of 160 km from this common border. The USA is by far Canada's most important economic and political partner with more than three-quarters of total Canadian foreign trade realized within the United States.

The new Canadian government, in power since February 2006, has put mutual relations on higher level. In the course of the year 2006, most of the unresolved issues and acknowledged agreements were ratified, and the two countries have since strengthened their partnership in both bilateral and multilateral domains.

The most important bilateral relation for Canada is with the USA, especially as economic partners.  


Canada-EU relations

Canada maintains very good political and economic relations with the EU. In the same manner, Canada continues good bilateral relations with each individual members of the EU, particularly in countries where a large number of Canadian immigrants arrived. With the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Canada shares the sovereign Queen Elisabeth II.

Canada and the EU maintain a well-formed mechanism of dialogue on issues of common interest. Various high-level and expert meetings were held within this communicative framework. However, Canada has cancelled the Canada-EU summit planned for the end of November 2006. The relations are of particular importance for both sides, especially in the matter of defense, security and economy.



 
top Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the RC, 2006