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Political and legal organization

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, a federal state, and a parliamentary democracy. It comprises 10 provinces and 3 territories. It has two official languages: English and French.

Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Canada and thus the country's head of state. She delegates her powers to her representative, the Governor General of Canada. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet exercise the executive authority.

The legislative authority resides in Parliament, which consists of two chambers or houses: the Upper House (or Senate), consisting of appointed senators, and the House of Commons, consisting of members (one for each electoral district) elected by universal suffrage.

The House of Commons, the main legislative body, is usually elected every four years, with five years being the maximum term allowed. Voters elect a representative for their electoral district or constituency. The party which obtains the most representatives in the House of Commons forms the government.

The Canadian Constitution establishes a federal form of government and defines the functions and powers of the federal government.

The federal government looks after national affairs such as foreign policy and international trade, defence, fisheries, transportation and communications, taxation, the monetary system and banking, criminal law, immigration and human rights.

The provinces have jurisdiction in fields such as the administration of justice, civil rights, natural resources, provincial taxation, education, culture and municipal government.

The federal government and the provinces and territories share responsibility for the environment. Each provincial/territorial government has its own legislative assembly elected by universal suffrage.

The Constitution also contains the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sets forth the fundamental rights of everyone who lives in Canada. The Charter protects freedom of expression and religion, democratic rights, freedom of movement and language rights; it protects citizens from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnic origin and physical or mental disability, for example.

Canada has two legal systems: British common law, which is the basis for federal law, provincial law in 9 of the 10 provinces, and territorial law; and the civil code, which applies in the province of Quebec.

Find out more information about the structure of the Government of Canada.

(see also "Government")

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Date Modified:
2009-10-02