Canada Government and Politics

State and politics

Canada Country Flag


Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories. The legislative power is exercised by a two-chamber parliament: the senate, with 105 members appointed by the government on a regional basis, and the lower house, with 308 members elected in general elections in one-man constituencies.

The two chambers have formally the same status, but in practice all legislative power has come to lie in the lower house. Elections to the lower house must be held at least every four years (permanent mandates were introduced in 2007). The Senate’s main task is to review legislative proposals. The head of state is Elizabeth II, who is also Queen of Canada and there represented by a Governor General, who usually holds the post for five years.

The voting age is 18 years.

The provinces have their own governments and single-chamber parliaments, which are responsible for, among other things, education, care and the social welfare system. Territories have gradually gained greater autonomy, but the federal government still has control over, for example, issues related to natural resources.

Quebec has chosen as the only province not to sign the constitution, but still follows it in practice. Quebec stands out by having its own Charter of Human Rights.

Political parties

Political parties exist at both federal and provincial levels. Canadian politics was dominated in the 1990s by two major parties, the Liberal Party (LP) and the Progressive Conservative Party (PC), which alternately held power. From 1993 and a few years into the 2000s, no party could challenge the Liberals’ power holdings at the federal level. In 2006, however, the Liberals were defeated by the Conservative Party of Canada (CP), formed three years earlier. The Conservatives retained government power until 2015, when the Liberals regained control.

The Liberal Party, which is a broad middle party with strong support among academics and senior officials, ruled Canada 1968-84 (with the exception of a short period 1979-80) with the charismatic Pierre Trudeau as prime minister and party leader. The party returned to power in 1993 under the leadership of Jean Chrétien, who after over ten years as prime minister handed over to Paul Martin in 2003. After a decline in the 2004 election, Martin was allowed to lead a minority ministry. He resigned as party leader after the election defeat in 2006. Liberal Party continued to lose voters in the 2008 and 2011 elections to the lower house before the party won a landslide victory in elections in 2015, now under the leadership of Pierre Trudeaus son Justin Trudeau. The Liberal Party became the largest party even in the 2019 elections, but the party lost its majority and Justin Trudeau was to form a minority government. The Liberals have their strongest support in eastern Canada and to some extent in British Columbia.

The Conservative Party of Canada was formed in 2003 when the PC merged with the Canadian Alliance, a right-wing party based in western Canada. This had in turn been formed three years earlier by a merger of the right-wing populist Reform Party and several smaller right-wing parties. When the Conservative Party of Canada was formed, several leading PC members jumped from the new party, which was dominated by the Canadian Alliance, which had a more conservative appearance than the PC on social issues. The minority government, led by Stephen Harper, who ruled Canada during the period 2006-11, pursued a relatively moderate policy. That changed after the 2011 election, when Harper and his party gained their own majority in the lower house and were able to pursue a more pronounced right-wing policy. Harper resigned as party leader after the 2015 election. Party leader since 2017 is Andrew Scheer (born 1979). CP has its main support in the western part of the country.

The larger parties also include the New Democratic Party (NDP), a social democratic party with the support of the trade union movement and the universities. Until 2011, the NDP had limited success at the federal level, despite a strong position in several provinces. In the 2011 election, the party stepped forward and took over the Liberal Party’s role as the country’s second largest party, a position the party lost in the 2015 elections. The NDP backed even more in the 2019 elections. Quebec but which has no strong support outside that province. After several weak elections, BQ managed to achieve a great success in 2019, when almost every third voter in Quebec voted for the party. The Green Party of Canada, which emphasizes environmental and climate issues, is now also in the lower house.


In the 2011 election, Stephen Harper got his own majority in the House of Commons, which meant that the Conservative Party (CP) could decide its policy direction on its own and pass a series of laws.

CP’s political program included a more restrictive asylum policy that made it easier to reject asylum seekers. The punishment for a number of crimes was sharpened and environmental and climate issues were prioritized. A controversial electoral law was passed, which limited the election authority’s ability to conduct information campaigns to get more adult Canadians to vote.

The October 2015 parliamentary election was a defeat for the Conservative Party as the Liberal Party gained its own majority in the House of Commons. CP became the second largest party and the Social Democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) came in third place.

On November 4, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau took office as prime minister. His government consisted of as many women as men and had several ministries from ethnic minorities. Trudeau promised new investments in the climate, more money for families with children, better conditions for the indigenous peoples and a new foreign policy, where the UN would again play a central role.

The former Conservative government sent troops to Iraq in 2014 to participate in US-led air strikes against the Islamic State terror group. Under Trudeau, the bombers were withdrawn and the Liberal government emphasized humanitarian efforts and training the Iraqi army. In connection with the war in Syria, Canada received about 60,000 refugees from Syria until December 2018.

Initially, Trudeau had high opinion numbers, but they gradually fell. The Prime Minister was criticized for promising too much. This was particularly noticeable in environmental and climate policy, where Trudeau pledged to bring about climate change while trying to keep up with the oil industry and approve several controversial oil pipelines. In 2019, the government also introduced a new federal carbon tax in the four provinces that did not have their own.

Unsurprisingly, Trudeau’s Liberals lost votes in the 2019 parliamentary elections. His party still managed to become the largest party, despite the conservative CP getting a slightly higher share of the votes (34.4 percent compared to 33.1 percent for the Liberals). The big surprise of the election was Bloc Québécois (BQ) which pleads for an independent Quebec, which came in third place. The election also became a clear illustration of how divided Canada is again politically, where the Liberals were strong in the eastern part of the country, while remaining completely without a mandate in both Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Conservatives, on the other hand, had strong support in the Prairie provinces, where carbon dioxide tax and climate policy aroused strong opposition.

After the election, Trudeau formed a minority government.


In Canada, on the one hand, there is a distinction between federal and provincial laws and courts. Both the substantive legal rules and the judicial organization vary in many respects between the provinces. However, all provinces except Quebec have legal systems that originate from and are still inspired by English law, while the legal system in Quebec has its roots in pre-revolutionary French law. The judicial system of the provinces consists mainly of petty courts, general courts and a supreme court and appellate court respectively. At the federal level, there is a Federal Court of Canada whose courts of appeal and appellate jurisdiction primarily deal with federal or federal court cases, and a Supreme Court of common law for both criminal and litigation (Supreme Court of Canada). The death penalty was abolished in 1998; the last execution took place in 1962.

Human Rights

In the international community, Canada acts as a defender of human rights and usually takes on the role of peacemaker. Although the Canadian Charter of Freedoms and Rights provides a strong protection of civil and political rights, like the rest of the majority of the world’s countries, violence against women is a widespread problem. In Canada’s case, women from the various indigenous groups are over-represented when it comes to sexual and fatal violence. They are also more often subjected to police harassment.

Canada generally stands out negatively in terms of indigenous living conditions. These are under-represented in the labor market and over-represented among citizens in need of social assistance. Suicide, poverty and chronic diseases are also more frequent among the indigenous peoples compared to other groups.

Prime Ministers

1867-73 John A. Macdonald
1873-78 Alexander Mackenzie
1878-91 John A. Macdonald
1891-92 John Abbott
1892-94 John Thompson
1894-96 Mackenzie Bowell
1896 Charles Tupper
1896-1911 Wilfrid Laurier
1911-20 Robert Borden
1920-21 Arthur Meighen
1921-26 William Lyon Mackenzie King
1926 Arthur Meighen
1926-30 William Lyon Mackenzie King
1930-35 Richard Bedford Bennett
1935-48 William Lyon Mackenzie King
1948-57 Louis Saint Laurent
1957-63 John Diefenbaker
1963-68 Lester Pearson
1968-79 Pierre Trudeau
1979-80 Joseph (Joe) Clark
1980-84 Pierre Trudeau
1984 John Turner
1984-93 Brian Mulroney
1993 Kim Campbell
1993-2003 Jean Chrétien
2003-06 Paul Martin
2006-15 Stephen Harper
2015- Justin Trudeau

Canada Head of Government

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