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Executive Branch of Government in Canada

In Canada, the executive branch of government comprises of the Crown (the Head of State, represented in Canada by the Governor General), the Prime Minister (the Head of Government) and the Cabinet. The executive is the branch of government that makes and implements the decisions required to maintain the rule of law and the well-being of Canadians.

The Prime Minister and the Ministers he or she chooses form the Cabinet. The Prime Minister also appoints Ministers of State to assist individual Cabinet Ministers. Persons appointed to the Cabinet are generally elected Members of Parliament, although it is customary for the Prime Minister to appoint at least one Senator to the Cabinet. Ministers serve “at the pleasure” of the Prime Minister, who may replace them or request their resignation at any time. The Prime Minister may also redefine ministerial portfolios and determine the size of the Cabinet as he or she sees fit.

The Cabinet is the key decision-making forum in the Canadian government. It leads and directs the executive branch of government. It is the effective and functioning part of the Privy Council, the council of advisers to the Crown, which also includes former Prime Ministers, former Ministers, and other persons appointed for special reasons. Privy Councillors are active in their capacity as advisers to the Crown once they are appointed to be Members of Cabinet. Cabinet acts as an executive council that develops policies to govern the country. It introduces bills to transform these policies into law.

The Prime Minister assigns a specific portfolio (area of responsibility) to each Minister. Each Minister oversees the operations of the government department(s) corresponding to that portfolio. Ministers are responsible for ensuring that the policies developed by the Cabinet are implemented in the departments.

A Cabinet (the Cabinet Ministers serving under a particular Prime Minister) lasts as long as the mandate of the Prime Minister who appoints it. It exists from the day the Prime Minister takes the oath of office until the day he or she resigns. As soon as a Prime Minister resigns, his or her Cabinet Ministers cease to hold office. If and when a Prime Minister is returned to office, he or she will form a new Cabinet, which may or may not include the same Ministers who formed the previous one.

Resignation may occur following a defeat in a general election, following a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons, or for other reasons, including the Prime Minister’s desire to simply leave office.

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