The Canadian constitutional system

Canada is a parliamentary democracy influenced by the British form of government. There is a federal level of government responsible for matters of national interest and international affairs. There are 10 provincial governments whose legislative powers are discussed below. In addition, the federal government has established three northern territories – the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut – each with a government that has substantial control over local matters within their respective territories. Although these territories operate similarly to provinces, they are creatures of federal delegation of powers. Finally, there are municipal corporations established by provincial statutes, which govern matters such as land use planning and other matters of strictly local concern, as delegated by the provinces. In addition to these levels of government, Canada’s Indigenous populations may have the right to be consulted with respect to matters that affect their asserted or proven Indigenous or treaty rights and, as a result of treaties or other types of agreements or treaties, may exercise self-government in certain areas.

A substantial part of Canada’s history is that of French colonization. The French civil law system continues to inform Canada’s legal system today. The civil law system continues to govern matters of private law in the Province of Québec. Federally, Canada is a bijural nation, which means that both the common law and civil law coexist as authoritative sources when interpreting and applying federal legislation.

There are three branches of federal and provincial/territorial government in Canada: the Executive, the Legislature and the Courts. At the federal level, the Executive is composed of the Crown, represented in Canada by the Governor General, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Members chosen from the elected members of the federal Parliament. There are two legislative bodies forming the Canadian Parliament – the House of Commons and the Senate. Members of the House of Commons are elected by a majority of the electorate in their ridings. Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. A similar political structure exists at the provincial/territorial levels, though the legislative component is comprised only of a legislature (or parliament); provinces and territories do not have a senate. Courts are independent of the Executive and Legislature in Canada. Judicial appointments to provincial superior courts of justice, to the Federal Court and to the Supreme Court of Canada are made by the Governor General on the advice of both Cabinet and advisory committees who assess the qualifications of lawyers for appointment. Appointments to provincial courts that are not superior courts of justice are made by the governments of the provinces. Most civil litigation is within the jurisdiction of the superior courts of justice. Certain provincial offences and criminal matters may be adjudicated in the provincial courts.

All levels of government are active in the procurement of products and services from the private sector, including through public-private partnerships. Furthermore, all levels of government frequently consult with the private sector on policy issues.

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