House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …

1. Parliamentary Institutions

Separated from the British Isles by a three thousand mile ocean, situated next to the United States, living in a country which covers half of the North American continent, with our heterogeneous population, our two cultures and our two languages, we have developed a parliamentary practice of our own based on British principles and yet clearly Canadian.

Arthur Beauchesne
(Beauchesne, 4th ed., p. 8)


he Parliament of Canada consists of the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons. Canada’s Parliament was created by the Constitution Act, 1867[1]  a statute of the British Parliament [2]  uniting the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada (Ontario and Quebec). [3]  The legislation which gave birth to this new political confederation, to be known as the Dominion of Canada, was passed by Westminster [4]  on March 29, 1867, and came into force on July 1 of that year. The Dominion’s first general elections were held later that summer and the House of Commons assembled at Ottawa for the first time on November 6, 1867. Members proceeded to elect James Cockburn, M.P., as their Speaker [5]  and the next day, November 7, the Dominion Parliament met to hear the Governor General, Lord Monck, read Canada’s inaugural Speech from the Throne. [6] 

While the law enacting Canada’s Parliament came into force on July 1, 1867, it would be misleading to conclude that Canadian parliamentary institutions were created at Confederation; they were then neither new nor untried. The provinces of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each possessed sophisticated systems of governance, including legislative assemblies and upper houses, functioning according to historic, well-understood principles of parliamentary law and practice. While these parliamentary traditions were largely British in origin, they had been adapted over the years as the local political situation required. This body of domestic practices, traditions, customs and conventions grew with the result that, at Confederation, Canada’s parliamentary system was well adapted to meet the needs of governing a young, diverse and growing nation. [7] 

The oldest of Canada’s institutional structures, those found in the Maritime Provinces, evolved out of the myriad instructions and commissions issued by the imperial government to successive governors over the years of British colonial rule. [8]  By contrast, the institutional structure which emerged in the territory comprising present-day Ontario and Quebec was from the beginning laid out in statutes, a practice continued at Confederation with the enactment of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The Canadian System of Government

Canada is a parliamentary democracy: its system of government holds that the law is the supreme authority. The Constitution Act, 1867, which forms the basis of Canada’s written constitution, provides that there shall be one Parliament for Canada, consisting of three distinct elements: the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons. However, as a federal state, responsibility for lawmaking in Canada is shared among one federal, ten provincial and three territorial governments.

The power to enact laws is vested in a legislature composed of individuals selected to represent the Canadian people. Hence, it is a “representative” system of government. The federal legislature is bicameral: it has two deliberative “houses” or “chambers” — an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the House of Commons. [9]  The Senate is composed of individuals appointed by the Governor General to represent Canada’s provinces and territories. Members of the House of Commons are elected by Canadians who are eligible to vote. [10] The successful candidates are those who receive the highest number of votes cast among the candidates in their electoral district in this single-member, simple-plurality system.

Canada is also a constitutional monarchy, in that its executive authority is vested formally in the Queen through the Constitution. [11]  Every act of government is carried out in the name of the Crown, but the authority for those acts flows from the Canadian people. [12]  The executive function belongs to the Governor in Council, which is, practically speaking, the Governor General acting with, and on the advice of, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. [13]

Political parties play a critical role in the Canadian parliamentary system. [14] Parties are organizations, bound together by a common ideology, or other ties, which seek political power in order to implement their policies. In a democratic system, the competition for power takes place in the context of an election.

Finally, by virtue of the Preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867, which states that Canada is to have “Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom”, Canada’s parliamentary system derives from the British, or “Westminster”, tradition. The Canadian system of parliamentary government has the following essential features:

  • Parliament consists of the Crown and an upper and lower legislative Chamber;
  • Legislative power is vested in “Parliament”; to become law, legislation must be assented to by each of Parliament’s three constituent parts (i.e., the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons);
  • Members of the House of Commons are individually elected to represent their constituents within a single electoral district; elections are based on a single-member constituency, first-past-the-post or simple-plurality system (i.e., the candidate receiving more votes than any other candidate in that district is elected);
  • Most Members of Parliament belong to and support a particular political party; [15] 
  • The leader of the party having the support of the majority of the Members of the House of Commons is asked by the Governor General to form a government and becomes the Prime Minister;
  • The party, or parties, opposed to the government is called the opposition (the largest of these parties is referred to as the “official” opposition);
  • The executive powers of government (the powers to execute or implement government policies and programs) are formally vested in the Crown, but effectively exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, whose membership is drawn principally from Members of the House belonging to the governing party;
  • The Prime Minister and Cabinet are responsible to, or must answer to, the House of Commons as a body for their actions; and
  • The Prime Minister and Cabinet must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons to remain in office. Confidence, in effect, means the support of a majority of the House.

Canadian Parliamentary Institutions

Historical Perspective

The Years Preceding Confederation

The history of Canadian parliamentary institutions begins in Nova Scotia. In 1758, the colony was granted an elected assembly, [16]  becoming the first Canadian colony to enjoy a representative political institution. [17]  No limit was set for the duration of a legislature; in fact, the Assembly elected in 1770 sat until 1785. In 1792, legislation was passed limiting the duration to seven years and subsequently to four years in 1840. Following the example of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island was granted a popular assembly in 1773 [18]  and the newly designated province of New Brunswick in 1784. [19]  Each of the three maritime colonies continued to be administered by a British governor and an appointed executive council. Upper chambers (called “Legislative Councils”) were introduced as distinct legislative bodies in New Brunswick in 1832 and in Nova Scotia in 1838. [20] 

The situation was considerably different in New France, where there was no legislature and virtually no popular participation in political affairs. For a short period, residents of the settlements now known as Quebec City, Montreal and Trois-Rivières elected representatives or “syndics” to sit as members of the colonial council. The Council, however, remained responsible to the King of France or the governor of New France, not to the people. The office of syndic was disbanded in 1674 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, then secretary of state for colonial affairs. [21] 

In 1760, as a result of the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France, New France was ceded to England under the terms of the Treaty of Paris[22]  In 1763, King George III of England issued a proclamation establishing governments for each of Britain’s recently acquired territories in the New World, including the territory known as Quebec. [23] 

Chronological Development of Canadian Parliamentary Institutions
Date Development
1758 Nova Scotia was granted an elected assembly, becoming the first colony in what was to become Canada to enjoy a representative political institution. The assembly met on October 2 in Halifax.
1773 Prince Edward Island (known as Saint John’s Island until 1799) was granted a popular assembly.
1774 The Quebec Act defined a new constitutional form for Quebec but made no provision for an elected assembly; government was entrusted to a governor and a legislative council, both appointed by the Crown.
1784 New Brunswick was granted a popular assembly which first met in Saint John.
1791 The original province of Quebec was divided by the Constitutional Act, 1791, into two provinces — Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Upper Canada (now Ontario). Each was provided with a legislative council (upper house) and an elected assembly.
1792 Upper Canada’s elected assembly met for the first time on September 17 at Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake.
1792 Lower Canada’s elected assembly met for the first time on December 17 at Quebec.
1824 Newfoundland officially received colonial status and was administered by a governor.
1826 Newfoundland’s governor was granted the power to appoint the Board of Council to advise him. This Council would eventually evolve into the upper house and was known as the Legislative Council from 1833 to 1855.
1832 New Brunswick was given a legislative council (upper house).
1832 Newfoundland held its first election of Members to a Representative Assembly.
1833 Newfoundland’s House of Assembly (lower house) met for the first time on January 1.
1838 Nova Scotia was given a legislative council (upper house).
1840 Upper and Lower Canada were united through the Union Act, 1840, which provided for a single appointed legislative council, and a single elected legislative assembly for the newly constituted Province of Canada.
1841 The Province of Canada’s Legislative Assembly met for the first time on June 14 at Kingston.
1849 Vancouver Island obtained the authority to elect an assembly upon its creation.
1855 Newfoundland was granted responsible government with a parliament consisting of the elected House of Assembly and the appointed Legislative Council (upper house).
1856 The Province of Canada’s Legislative Assembly passed an act providing for an elected upper house; the first election of Members to the upper house took place later that year.
1856 Vancouver Island held its first election for an Assembly. The first Assembly met on August 12.
1858 Mainland British Columbia was constituted as a colony and a governor was empowered to make laws for the colony.
1866 The colonies of mainland British Columbia and of Vancouver Island were united and administered by a Governor and a legislative council; there was no provision for an elected assembly.
1867 The British North America Act, 1867, was passed by the British Parliament on March 29 and came into force on July 1 The Confederation of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec created the Dominion of Canada; appointed upper and elected lower houses were created for the federal parliament and the provincial legislatures (except for Ontario, which only had an elected lower house).
1867 The House of Commons assembled at Ottawa for the first time on November 6.
1868 The Rupert’s Land Act was passed by the British Parliament permitting the Crown to purchase all lands from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
1869 The Temporary Government of Rupert’s Land Act was passed by the Canadian Parliament authorizing the creation of a temporary government for Rupert’s Land (later known as the Northwest Territories).
1870 The province of Manitoba was created and given upper and lower houses; the legislative assembly first met on March 15, 1871, in Fort Garry, now Winnipeg.
1870 The Rupert’s Land and North-Western Territory Order declared that Rupert’s Land became part of Canada on July 15.
1871 British Columbia joined Confederation on July 20.
1872 British Columbia’s legislative assembly met for the first time on February 15 in Victoria.
1873 Prince Edward Island joined Confederation.
1876 Manitoba’s upper house was abolished.
1881 The Northwest Territories’ legislative assembly was fully elected.
1892 New Brunswick’s upper house was abolished.
1893 Prince Edward Island’s upper house was abolished.
1898 The Yukon Territory was created out of the Northwest Territories.
1905 Saskatchewan became a province of Canada on September 1.
1905 Alberta became a province of Canada on September 1.
1905 The Northwest Territories’ elected legislative assembly was replaced by an appointed council.
1906 Alberta’s legislative assembly met for the first time on March 15.
1906 Saskatchewan’s legislative assembly met for the first time on March 29.
1909 The Yukon Territory’s legislative assembly met for the first time on July 15.
1928 Nova Scotia’s upper house was abolished.
1931 The Statute of Westminster removed the legislative authority of the British Parliament over Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland.
1934 Newfoundland’s responsible government was suspended on February 16 with the Parliament (House of Assembly and Legislative Council) and Executive Council temporarily abolished. From 1934 to 1949, Newfoundland was ruled by a Commission of Government consisting of three Newfoundland and three British Members with the Governor as Chair.
1949 Newfoundland joined Confederation on March 31; general elections were held and Members elected to the House of Assembly; the Legislative Council was not re-established.
1968 Quebec’s upper house was abolished.
1975 The Northwest Territories’ legislative council (known as the Legislative Assembly after 1976) was fully elected.
1999 Nunavut was created out of the Northwest Territories and given its own legislature effective April 1.

A governor was commissioned and authorized to appoint a local executive council and summon a popular (elected) assembly, modelled on the one in Nova Scotia. [24]  Together, they were empowered to make laws for the peace, welfare and good government of the colony. [25]  However, before they could sit in the assembly, elected representatives were required to swear allegiance to the British Crown and to make a declaration against transubstantiation, [26] a fundamental tenet of the Roman Catholic faith. [27]  Few of the original inhabitants were willing to make the declaration, with the result that no assembly ever met. The Royal Proclamation also imposed British civil and criminal law, which upset many of the original inhabitants who had believed their traditional civil and property rights were secured under the terms of the Treaty of Paris[28]  For the next 11 years, the “Province of Quebec”, as it was then known, was ruled by the Governor General with the assistance of his executive council.

In 1774, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which defined a new constitutional form for Quebec. [29]  The Act enlarged the boundaries of the province [30]  and no longer required Roman Catholics to take the oath of abjuration, should they wish to assume public office. The new Act, however, made no provision for an elected assembly; government was entrusted to a governor and a legislative council, both appointed by the Crown. [31]  The council, with the assent of the governor, had the right to make laws but had no authority to impose taxes or duties except those authorized by local inhabitants for roads and other ordinary services. The costs of the civil administration were covered by revenues from duties on spirits and molasses, with any deficiencies made up out of the Imperial treasury. [32] 

The passage of the Quebec Act represented the first time that the British Parliament had intervened directly in Canadian affairs; previous constitutional arrangements had been imposed by royal prerogative (i.e., the King acting unilaterally). [33] 

In 1776, the United States declared its independence from Britain and over the next 20 years, thousands of British loyalists emigrated to Canada, many settling in what are now Ontario and Quebec. The dramatic rise in settlers of British descent increased the demand for political representation. However, it was not until 1791, when the Quebec Act was replaced by theConstitutional Act, that representative institutions were finally acquired. [34] 

The Constitutional Act, 1791, divided the original Province of Quebec into two provinces — Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Upper Canada (now Ontario). Each was provided with both an upper house, or legislative council, and an elected assembly. Members of the legislative council were to be appointed by the Sovereign for life; [35]  those of the assembly were to be elected. To sit either in the council or in the assembly, Members had to be at least 21 years of age and subjects of the British Crown. Provision was made for the Governor to appoint a Speaker for the legislative council; none was made for selecting Speakers for the assemblies. Each question coming before the legislatures would be decided by a majority of votes cast; in the event of a tie, the Speaker would have the deciding voice. [36]  As well, provision was made for the Crown to appoint, in each province, an executive council to advise and assist the Governor in the administration of the province. [37]  The legislature of Upper Canada met for the first time on September 17, 1792, at Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake; that of Lower Canada on December 17, 1792, at Quebec. The Governor was authorized to fix the time and place of meetings of the legislature and to prorogue or dissolve it when deemed expedient, provided the legislature met at least once in every year and that each legislative assembly continued for a period of no longer than four years. [38]  The Governor was empowered to give, as well as withhold, the Royal Assent [39] for bills and to “reserve” [40]  bills for the further consideration and approval of the Crown. [41] 

Legislation was enacted by way of bills which were first considered and passed by both houses of the legislature — the assembly and the legislative council — then assented to by the Governor on behalf of the Crown. This reflected the structure of the British Parliament at Westminster, with the Governor representing the Sovereign, and the assembly and legislative council assuming the roles and functions of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, respectively.

There was, however, endless conflict between the appointed Governors and the elected representatives over who should control public spending (Supply) [42] and who should appoint public officials (the civil list). [43]  “For years, colonial reformers had argued that the only way to ensure harmony between the executive and the legislature was for the Governor to appoint to his Executive Council those who had the confidence of, and were responsible to, the Assembly”. [44]  This, in effect, suggested the implementation of responsible government.

Ultimately, discontent led to rebellions in both Upper and Lower Canada during the period 1837-38. [45]  The Lower Canadian Assembly formulated its grievances in the form of ninety-two resolutions, including a demand for an elected legislative council. [46]  In 1838, Lord Durham arrived in Canada as High Commissioner and Governor General of British North America. [47]  He produced an elaborate report for the British Parliament outlining the difficulties, as he saw them. Among his recommendations, Durham proposed that Upper and Lower Canada be reunited under one legislature and called for the institution of responsible government. [48]  Under a system of responsible government, the governor could act only on the advice of ministers who were supported by members of the elected assembly, in other words, by those who represented the interests of the local citizenry most directly.

In July 1840, An Act to re-unite the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada and for the Government of Canada, known as the Union Act, 1840[49]  was adopted by the British Parliament and came into effect on February 10, 1841. The Act provided for a single Legislative Council, composed of no less than 20 members appointed by the Crown, [50]  and a single Legislative Assembly, with equal representation from each part of the newly constituted “Province of Canada”. [51]  Passage of the Act also signalled acceptance of the principle of responsible government by the colonial administration. Lord Sydenham, the first Governor General of Canada following the Union Act, 1840, introduced two practices which were essential prerequisites for responsible government. First, he reorganized the executive, creating departments and placing each under the direction of a single political head, transforming his council into a genuine policy-making body. Secondly, he created a government party, using his powers and patronage to ensure his ministers had support in the legislature. Although his system broke down, it paved the way for the introduction of responsible or cabinet government of the type which still exists. In 1847, the new Colonial Secretary in the British Government, Lord Grey, instructed Governors Sir John Harvey (Nova Scotia) and Lord Elgin (Canada) that, in future, they should choose their Councils from the leaders of the majority party in the Assembly. Shortly thereafter, in 1848, the principle was tested in Nova Scotia where the ministry resigned following its defeat on a motion of confidence in the Assembly and the Governor called upon the leader of the majority party to form a new government. Within a few weeks, similar changes of government had taken place in Canada and in New Brunswick, and the principle of responsible government was firmly established in British North America. [52] 

In 1854, the British Parliament had passed, in response to an address (a formal request) from the Legislative Assembly of Canada, an act empowering the legislature to alter the constitution of the Legislative Council. Two years later, the legislature passed an act providing for an elected upper house, [53]  and the first election of Members to the upper house took place later that year. Until 1862, the Speaker of the Legislative Council continued to be appointed by the Crown, after which time the Councillors elected their own. [54] 

The development of Newfoundland’s parliamentary institutions followed a different path. Until 1824, the territory was not even recognized as a colony. From 1729 until 1829, the commander of the British naval convoy served as governor during the months the convoy was stationed in Newfoundland to protect the English fishing boats. In 1824, it was recognized as a true colony administered by a governor assisted by an appointed council. An election for a legislative assembly was called by the governor in 1832. [55]  As had been done previously in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, an upper chamber was created in 1855 [56]  and, at the same time, the province was granted responsible government.

The only other part of the country having pre-Confederation experience with British representative institutions was British Columbia, [57]  which was created in 1866 out of an amalgamation of two English colonies: Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. While Vancouver Island had authority to elect an assembly when it was created in 1849, [58]  in mainland British Columbia, only the Governor was empowered to make laws for the colony when it was constituted in 1858. With the union of the two colonies in 1866, government was exercised by the Governor and legislative council; there was no provision for an elected assembly. When British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, the terms of union [59]  provided for an elected provincial assembly although responsible government was not realized until the following year. [60] 


Beginning in the late 1850s and continuing into the early 1860s, there was increasing pressure on the provinces of British North America to unite. [61]  The movement was prompted by political difficulties in the Province of Canada [62]  and fuelled by collective prospects for economic advantage and improved military security.

Such a federal union had been recommended by Lord Durham in his report and discussed more than once in the legislatures of British North America. [63]  On September 1, 1864, delegates from the Maritime Provinces met in Charlottetown to discuss the union of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. They were joined by representatives from both parts of the Province of Canada with the result that a decision was made to consider a larger union of all the provinces. [64]  A second meeting was held in Quebec City beginning on October 10, 1864, attended by 33 delegates representing the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. After 18 days of deliberation, the delegates unanimously approved 72 resolutions embodying the terms of a federal union. [65] 

The resolutions were debated in the legislature of the Province of Canada from February 3 to March 14, 1865, culminating in the agreement of both houses to proceed with the union. Maritime opposition, however, delayed the process for over a year. [66]  In the fall of 1866, delegates from Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick travelled to London, England, to meet with the Colonial Secretary and make their case to legislators in the British Parliament. Sixty-nine resolutions were drafted and introduced in the form of the British North America Act on February 12, 1867. [67]  The legislation received Royal Assent a little over a month later, on March 29, and came into force on July 1 of the same year.

The preamble of the Act expressed the desire of the founding provinces to be federally united, with a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom. [68]  The Act entrenched the three principal elements of British parliamentary tradition — monarchy, representation and responsibility — in a new federal form of government. A central government was created for national purposes, and provincial governments for matters of regional or local concern. The provincial governments were not to be subordinate to the national government; rather, within its own jurisdiction, each was to be largely autonomous.

Although only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (subsequently named Ontario and Quebec) initially chose to be included in the new Dominion of Canada, the Constitution Act, 1867 made provision for the admission of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and “Rupert’s Land and the North-western Territory” (subsequently designated the Northwest Territories) at a later date. [69]  The Northwest Territories became part of Canada in 1868, [70]  the province of Manitoba was established in 1870, [71]  British Columbia joined the federation in 1871 [72]  and Prince Edward Island in 1873. [73]  The provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were formed in 1905. [74]  Following provincial boundary changes, only the Northwest Territories and the Yukon (created out of the Northwest Territories in 1898) were left as “territories” within Canada. [75]  Newfoundland joined Confederation, becoming the tenth Canadian province in 1949. [76]  In 1999, Nunavut was created out of the Northwest Territories and given its own legislature. [77] 

Institutional Framework

The Constitution

In Canada, the Constitution is not found in one single document. [78]  The Constitution Act, 1867, did not codify all of the new Dominion’s constitutional rules, stating simply that Canada was to have a “constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom”. [79]  Apart from changes needed to establish the new federation, the old rules governing the exercise of public authority continued in form and substance virtually unchanged from those operating in the colonies at the time of Confederation. For this reason, much of Canadian constitutional law is found outside the Constitution Acts. In fact, some of Canada’s most important rules are not matters of law at all, but conventions. [80] 

The Constitution prescribes which powers — legislative, executive and judicial — may be exercised by which organs of the state, and sets limits on those powers. Canada being a federal state, the Constitution also describes how powers will be distributed among the national and provincial governments. [81]  Finally, constitutional amendments enacted in 1982 included a Charter of Rights and Freedoms with which all subsequent legislation would have to conform. [82] 

The Crown

In Canada, the state is commonly referred to as “the Crown”, [83]  the country’s supreme executive authority. [84]  On the other hand, the Crown is constitutionally conferred in the person of the Sovereign. In order to distinguish the notion of the Canadian “Crown” from the Crown in other countries that recognize the British Monarch as their formal head of state, it is usual to speak of “the Crown in right of Canada”. [85] 

Much of Britain’s constitutional development revolved around Parliament’s efforts to limit or appropriate royal prerogative power. Today, with very few exceptions, no act of the monarch (or Governor General as the monarch’s representative) is carried out without the formal advice and consent of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Crown does retain the right to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. [86] 

Because Canada is a federal state, the Crown is represented in each of the provinces by a Lieutenant Governor.

The Governor General

Although the Sovereign is the formal head of state, almost all of the Sovereign’s powers over Canada have been assigned to the Governor General, [87]  with the notable exception of the power to appoint or dismiss Governors General. The Queen appoints the Governor General by Commission under the Great Seal of Canada [88]  on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The term of office begins with the Governor General’s installation in the Senate Chamber by the Chief Justice of Canada or any other of the Puisne Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. Tenure is “at pleasure” usually lasting five years, although terms have been extended to as long as seven years. [89]  The incumbent bears the title “Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada”. [90] 

The Governor General may name one or more deputies, usually justices of the Supreme Court, to exercise on his or her behalf, any of the lawful powers, functions and authorities in respect of Canada that he or she deems necessary or expedient to assign. [91]  A common example is the power to grant Royal Assent. [92] In the case of a Governor General’s death, incapacity, removal or absence from the country, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (or, in the case of death, incapacity, removal or extended absence of the Chief Justice, the senior judge of the Court) becomes “Administrator of the Government” and assumes the powers of the Governor General. [93]  If the Governor General is to be absent for less than 30 days, he or she designates the Deputy Governor General to act on his or her behalf. [94] Deputy Administrators are named as a matter of course each time an Administrator assumes office. [95]

Until the 1950s, the office of Governor General of Canada had always been held by a citizen of the United Kingdom — in the early years of Confederation, by members of the British royal family or nobility, and later by retired senior military officers. In 1952, Vincent Massey became the first Canadian to assume the office; since that time all Governors General have been Canadian citizens.


The Office of the Governor General is one of Canada’s oldest institutions. The Governor General was the chief dignitary in New France and was appointed by the King. [96]  In the eighteenth century, the highest ranking official in the British North American colonies was given the title of “Captain General and Governor in Chief”. [97]  At that time, wars and other hostilities were frequent occurrences and the Governor General truly exercised a military function in addition to his executive responsibilities. Over time, the powers of the office have declined or have been undertaken by the Prime Minister and Cabinet. [98] 

At the time of Confederation, the Governor General was both the Sovereign’s personal representative and an agent of the British government. [99]  This meant that, in matters deemed to be of “imperial” concern, the Governor General acted on the instructions of the British Colonial Office. [100]  Between 1887 and 1937, the principal means of high-level consultation between representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada, and other self-governing parts of the British Empire/Commonwealth were the colonial and imperial conferences. The report on the conclusions of the 1926 conference (the Balfour Report) led directly to the recognition of dominion autonomy. [101]  The Governor General ceased to be a representative of the British government and ceased to be appointed on the advice of the British Cabinet. [102] 

In addition to the powers and jurisdiction of successive Governors General cited in the Constitution Act, 1867, others have been enumerated in a series of commissions, instructions and letters patent, [103] issued initially by the Sovereign, and later by the British Colonial Office. Of these, the letters patent issued in 1947 and still effective today were the most crucial. The Letters Patent Constituting the Governor General of Canada, 1947 [104]  replaced all prior commissions, instructions and letters patent and established the right of the Governor General to exercise, with the advice of the duly elected government, all the powers and authorities of the Sovereign in right of Canada. However, not all the powers conferred by the 1947 instrument were exercised immediately. Canadian diplomatic appointments, for example, have been made by the Governor General, rather than by the Sovereign, only since 1977. [105] 

Legislative and Executive Powers

The Constitution Act, 1867, accords the Governor General certain basic powers of government. In administering the executive authority of the government, the Governor General exercises his or her powers, almost without exception, upon the advice of the federal Cabinet. [106]  A recommendation from the Governor General must accompany all spending measures [107]  and it is the Governor General who gives Royal Assent to legislation adopted by both the Senate and the House. Under the Constitution, the Governor General (or Lieutenant Governor, in the case of a province) may also withhold Royal Assent. [108] 

The Canadian Constitution stipulates that only Parliament can authorize the expenditure of public funds. However, under exceptional circumstances, the Governor General may be asked to issue a Special Warrant permitting the government to make expenditures which are not otherwise authorized. [109]  This provision, for example, makes it possible for the government to meet its expenditures when Parliament is dissolved for a general election. Governor General’s “Special” Warrants are to be distinguished from Governor General’s Warrants which are issued and signed by the Governor General each time funds are withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The Governor General appoints Senators to the Upper House, [110]  as well as the Speaker of the Senate, [111]  summons Parliament into session [112]  and prorogues and dissolves Parliament. [113]  At the start of every new session of Parliament, the Governor General reads the Speech from the Throne which sets out the government’s agenda. All Privy Councillors, [114]  which include Ministers, are appointed and may be removed by the Governor General, who also appoints court judges. [115]  The Governor General is also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, [116]  performs a number of ceremonial functions, and represents Canada in state visits abroad and in other international events.

The Governor General appoints provincial Lieutenant Governors. [117]  As well, various officers, including commissioners, justices of the peace, and diplomats, may be appointed and likewise removed from office by the Governor General. [118]  By the same authority, the Governor General presides over the administration of oaths of allegiance and oaths of office, issues exequaturs (i.e., instruments for the recognition of foreign diplomatic representatives) and grants pardons. [119] 

The Governor General also enjoys certain prerogative or discretionary powers. [120]  One of the duties of the Governor General is to choose the Prime Minister. The individual selected must be someone who is willing to form a government and seek the confidence of the House of Commons. By convention, this is the leader of the political party that has won a majority of seats in the House of Commons in a general election. Where no party is given a majority, the defeated Ministry may choose to stay in office until defeated in the House, or it may resign. If it resigns, the Governor General will ask the leader of the opposition party most likely to enjoy the confidence of the House to form a government. [121]  However, it is still correct to refer to the Governor General’s prerogative or discretionary powers in appointing a Prime Minister, subject of course to the selection being sustained in the House of Commons, as this remains one of the few decisions the Governor General makes without ministerial advice. [122] 

Among the other discretionary prerogatives is the power to dissolve Parliament for a general election, which is done normally at the request of the Prime Minister. Conventionally, where the government is in a majority position, the Governor General grants the Prime Minister’s request. However, when the Prime Minister leads a minority government (i.e., one that does not hold an absolute majority of the seats in the House of Commons), the Governor General may exercise personal discretion in whether or not to accede to the Prime Minister’s request. [123] 

The discretionary prerogatives are invoked rarely and only in the most exceptional circumstances. The overwhelming majority of the Governor General’s powers are invariably exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Legislature

Section 17 of the Constitution Act, 1867, states that “there shall be one Parliament for Canada consisting of the Queen, an Upper House styled the Senate and the House of Commons”. Thus, the legislative arm of Canada’s Parliament is bicameral. Each house has equal status as regards to its immunities, privileges and powers, [124]  but each is far from being a duplicate of the other. Confidence in the government is tested in the lower house (called the confidence chamber) where by custom members of the Ministry sit. Furthermore, although the same legislation must be adopted by both houses before being given Royal Assent, bills for the appropriation of public revenues or for imposing any tax must originate in the House of Commons. [125]  Another marked difference between the two houses is that the Speaker in the Senate is appointed by the Governor General, [126]  while the House of Commons elects its own Speaker. [127]  Each Chamber functions in accordance with its own traditions, powers and practices.

The Senate

The Senate is the appointed upper house of the Parliament of Canada. It exercises all the powers of the House of Commons with the exception of the right to initiate financial legislation. [128]  Senators are “summoned” or appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. They must be at least 30 years of age, reside in the province for which they have been summoned and have real and personal property worth $4,000, in excess of any debts and liabilities. [129]  Quebec Senators must both reside in and hold their property in the electoral division of appointment. [130]  A Senator may resign by advising the Governor General in writing to this effect. [131]  A Senator’s place becomes vacant if the Senator is absent for two consecutive sessions; becomes bankrupt or insolvent or a public defaulter; becomes a citizen or subject of any foreign power; is attainted of treason or convicted “of any infamous crime”; or ceases to be qualified in respect of property or residence. [132]  Unless they die, resign, are disqualified or their seat is declared vacant, Senators hold office until they retire at age 75. [133] 

At Confederation, provision was made for 72 Senators. [134]  This number has been adjusted several times, mainly to accommodate the addition of new provinces and territories. For the purposes of Senate representation, Canada is deemed to be divided into four divisions: the Western Provinces, the Maritime Provinces, Ontario and Quebec. To these four divisions have been added Newfoundland, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. [135]  The Constitution Act, 1867, now provides for 105 members [136]  of the Senate with the membership distributed as follows:

Distribution of Senate members
Province Number of Members
Western Provinces 24
British Columbia (6)  
Alberta (6)  
Saskatchewan (6)  
Manitoba (6)  
Ontario 24
Quebec 24
Maritime Provinces 24
New Brunswick (10)  
Nova Scotia (10)  
Prince Edward Island (4)  
Newfoundland 6
Yukon Territory 1
Northwest Territories 1
Nunavut 1

The Constitution also allows for the appointment of four or eight additional Senators, equally representing the four divisions. [137]  When additional Senators have been so appointed, there may be no further appointments in a division until Senate representation for that division falls below 24. [138]  At no time may the maximum number of Senators exceed 113. [139] 

The House of Commons

The House of Commons, or lower house, is the elected assembly of the Parliament of Canada. The Constitution Act provides for the size and distribution of representation in the Commons, as well as for future readjustments, or “redistributions”. [140]  With the 1997 redistribution and the creation of Nunavut in 1999, the House consists of 301 members distributed as follows:

Provincial redistribution of House members as of 1999
Province Number of Members
Alberta 26
British Columbia 34
Manitoba 14
New Brunswick 10
Newfoundland 7
Northwest Territories 1
Nova Scotia 11
Nunavut 1
Ontario 103
Prince Edward Island 4
Quebec 75
Saskatchewan 14
Yukon Territory 1

Further information on the composition of the House can be found in Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.

The Executive

In Canada, executive authority is vested in the Sovereign and carried out by the Governor in Council. [141]  Formally, this is the Governor General acting by and with the advice and consent of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada; in practice, it is the Governor General acting with the advice and consent of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. [142]  As provided for under the Constitution Act, 1867, the Privy Council is composed of individuals chosen by the Governor General to advise the Crown; [143]  in practice, Privy Council nominations are made on the advice of the Prime Minister. Privy Councillors are given the title “Honourable”, which they retain for life. [144] They serve “at pleasure” [145] but their term is effectively for life. Prime Ministers are designated “Right Honourable” for life from the moment they assume office. [146] 

Once appointed, the Prime Minister selects a number of confidential advisors (usually from among the Members of the government party) who are first made members of the Privy Council. The selected confidential advisors are then sworn in as Ministers. Collectively, they are known as the “Ministry” or Cabinet. [147]  Privy Councillors are active in their capacity as advisors to the Crown only as part of a Ministry. [148]  However, not all Privy Councillors are part of a Ministry and some may never have been Ministers. [149] 

A Prime Minister’s choice of Ministers is influenced by political considerations respecting, for example, geography, gender and ethnicity. However, the Prime Minister alone decides on the size of the Ministry and what constitutes an appropriate balance of representation.

By custom, members of the Ministry have seats in Parliament and, apart from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, normally sit in the House of Commons. [150]  Persons appointed to the Ministry from outside Parliament are expected to stand for election at the earliest possible opportunity. If they are unsuccessful at the polls, custom requires they resign from the Ministry. [151] 

Although the terms “Ministry” and “Cabinet” are commonly used interchangeably, in fact a Ministry is composed of both Cabinet Ministers and Secretaries of State. Most Cabinet appointees are designated Ministers in charge of government departments (or ministries) although some may be given responsibility for an important policy portfolio. [152]  Secretaries of State are assigned to assist Cabinet Ministers in specific areas within their portfolios. [153]  They are members of the Ministry (sworn to the Privy Council) but not of Cabinet. [154]  In addition, the Parliament of Canada Act provides for the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries (Members who assist Cabinet Ministers but who are not members of the Ministry). [155]  Finally, provision may be made for the appointment of an Acting Minister in the event a Minister is absent or incapacitated, or the office is vacant.

A Minister’s tenure in office depends solely on the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister may replace or ask for a Minister’s resignation at any time. The Governor General will not accept a Minister’s resignation without the approval of the Prime Minister. After the Prime Minister, members of Cabinet and Secretaries of State are accorded precedence [156] or seniority according to the date they were sworn in as Privy Councillors, regardless of portfolio.

The duration of a Ministry is measured by the tenure of its Prime Minister, which is calculated from the day the Prime Minister takes the oath of office to the day he or she resigns. The resignation of a Prime Minister brings about the resignation of the Ministry as a whole. [157] A Prime Minister who resigns but is subsequently restored to office is said to form a new Ministry. [158]

Responsible Government and Ministerial Responsibility

Responsible government has long been considered an essential element of government based on the Westminster model. [159] Despite its wide acceptance as a cornerstone of the Canadian system of government, there are different meanings attached to the term “responsible government”. In a general sense, responsible government means that a government must be responsive to its citizens, that it must operate responsibly (i.e., be well organized in developing and implementing policy) and that its Ministers must be accountable or responsible to Parliament. Whereas the first two meanings may be regarded as the ends of responsible government, the latter meaning — the accountability of Ministers — may be regarded as the device for achieving it. [160] 

In terms of ministerial responsibility, Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament. The individual or personal responsibility of the Minister derives from a time when in practice and not just in theory the Crown governed; Ministers merely advised the Sovereign and were responsible to the Sovereign for their advice. The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts. Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it. [161] 

The principle of collective ministerial responsibility, [162] which is of a much more recent vintage, evolved when Ministers replaced the Sovereign as the decision-makers of government. Ministers are expected to take responsibility for, and defend, all Cabinet decisions. [163]  The principle provides stability within the framework of ministerial government by uniting the responsibilities of the individual Ministers under the collective responsibility of the Crown. [164] 

Political Parties

Political parties [165]  have been variously described as groups which seek to elect governmental office holders under a given label; [166]  “as an organization of people who share a common political ideology and who together establish a constitution, elect a leader and other officers and act toward a common goal”; [167]  as bodies which compete “to obtain political power in legislative and executive institutions and the subsequent political debate and enactment of public policy in those institutions”; [168]  and as organizations designed to gain control of the levers of government in order to realize their policies or programs. [169] 

Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution Act. However, they are defined in other selected statutes for certain administrative purposes. For example, political parties may seek registration under the Canada Elections Act [170]  which, among other things allows them to issue official receipts entitling contributors to a tax credit under the federal income tax system; [171]  to have their candidates’ affiliation reflected on the ballot in an election; to incur election expenses; and to claim their share of free air time from network broadcasters during a general election campaign. [172]  Certain other provisions of the Act require a party to have representation in the House of Commons as one of the criteria used when deciding whether or not a party retains its official registered status at the time of a general election. [173] 

The Parliament of Canada Act and the By-laws of the Board of Internal Economy (the administrative governing body of the House of Commons) make a distinction between political parties which are “recognized” in the House of Commons and those with less than 12 sitting Members. With regard to financial benefits, theParliament of Canada Act provides additional allowances to the Leader, the Whip and the House Leader of a party that has a recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House of Commons. [174]  The Board of Internal Economy also provides financial support to the caucus research units of “recognized parties”, again defined as parties with a membership of at least 12 Members. [175]  With regard to procedure, recognized parties are also extended certain considerations, [176]  though the definition of what constitutes a “recognized party” is not as clear in this case as it is with financial benefits. Since the Standing Orders have never provided a definition for recognized parties, Speakers have relied on practice or a decision by the House. [177]  However, in recent practice, a procedural interpretation of the definition “recognized party” has come to mean any party with 12 or more Members in the House. The number 12 has assumed an authenticity of its own.

Parliamentary Caucuses

Throughout Canada’s history, most parliamentarians have been members of political parties. In fact, Canada’s system of responsible government is predicated on the ability of the governing party (usually the party with the most seats in the House of Commons) to win votes in the legislature. Members of the House of Commons belonging to the same party, together with their counterparts in the Senate, are collectively referred to as that party’s parliamentary caucus. The government retains the confidence of the House mainly through the support of its caucus.

Parliamentary caucuses meet regularly, typically on Wednesday morning when Parliament is in session, and at other times when the party’s parliamentary leadership deems it necessary. [178] Although each caucus operates differently, most limit attendance to parliamentarians.

Because they are held in camera, caucus meetings allow Members to express their views and opinions freely on any matter which concerns them. [179]  Policy positions are elaborated, along with, in the case of the government party, the government’s legislative proposals. Caucus provides a forum in which Members can debate their policy differences among themselves without compromising party unity.

The Whip enforces “party discipline”. This party official ensures that Members discharge their caucus responsibilities (e.g., attendance at committee meetings and in the Chamber, and voting with the party). [180]  Whips manage committee membership, allocate office space and choose who will represent the party at various special activities or functions. They are the critical communication link between the party leadership and the backbenchers. [181]

In addition to a Whip, each party has a House Leader [182]  who is responsible, in conjunction with the other House Leaders, for co-ordinating the day-to-day business of the House. The House Leaders of all the recognized parties meet regularly to consult one another on the sequence and transaction of parliamentary business. This practice has evolved over time to ensure that the business of the House is conducted in an organized manner. Should the House Leaders not agree on a schedule, the government retains the right, subject to the rules of the House, to decide unilaterally the order of its business. [183]

The Opposition

Functionally, the House is divided into three groups: the Ministry and its Parliamentary Secretaries, Members who support the government, and Members who oppose the government. [184]  The role of the opposition is key to our system of parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier put it succinctly when he said: “ … it is indeed essential for the country that the shades of opinion which are represented on both sides of this House should be placed as far as possible on a footing of equality and that we should have a strong opposition to voice the views of those who do not think with the majority.” [185]  Members in opposition may belong to registered parties or they may be independent of any party affiliation. [186] 

By convention, the opposition party with the largest number of seats in the House is designated as the Official Opposition (and referred to as “Her Majesty’s Opposition” [187] ), although nowhere is this set down in any Canadian rule or statute. [188] The Official Opposition is pre-eminent among the other recognized parties in opposition. On all government bills and motions, a representative of the Official Opposition is usually the first to be recognized in debate following the lead speaker from the government. Debating time in the Chamber is typically allocated among the remaining recognized parties roughly in proportion to the number of seats each holds in the House. [189] When parliamentary committees present reports in the House which are accompanied by supplementary or dissenting opinions or recommendations, a committee member from the Official Opposition, representing those who supported the opinions or recommendations, may rise and offer a succinct explanation. [190] 

Should an equality of seats among the largest opposition parties occur, the Speaker may be called upon to decide which party should be designated as the Official Opposition. In 1996, when a tie occurred between the two largest opposition parties during the course of a Parliament, the Speaker ruled that incumbency was the determining factor and that the status quo should be maintained. [191] 

If the leader of the party designated as the Official Opposition holds a seat as a Member of the House, he or she automatically becomes Leader of the Opposition. [192] If that party leader does not have a seat in the House, the caucus of the Official Opposition may designate another of its members to act as Opposition Leader. [193]

The office of Leader of the Opposition has been formally recognized since 1905, when Parliament voted to give the incumbent an additional salary allowance, equal to that provided to Cabinet Ministers. [194]  The Opposition Leader is accorded certain rights and privileges, including the right to a seat on the Board of Internal Economy, [195]  the right to a seat in the front row of the Chamber directly across the floor from the Prime Minister, and the right to unlimited time to participate in debates. [196]  Traditionally, the Speaker recognizes the Leader of the Opposition as the first to ask a question during the daily Question Period, should the latter rise to seek the floor. [197] The rules also empower the Opposition Leader to extend a committee’s consideration of the Main Estimates of a specific department or agency. [198] 

The leaders of the other recognized opposition parties usually also sit in the front row of the Chamber [199] and are the first member of their party to be given the floor should they rise to ask a question during Question Period. [200] Some statutes require that the government consult with the Leader of the Opposition, as well as other party leaders, when certain actions are contemplated or prior to making certain sensitive appointments. [201]  The Standing Orders of the House provide an opportunity for recognized opposition parties to respond to Ministers’ statements, [202]  to propose motions on allotted or opposition days [203]  and to participate in the leadership of the standing committees. [204] 

Originally named the British North America Act, 1867, it was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867, in 1982 (Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5). For consistency, all references will be to its new title.
“From the earliest colonial times, the Parliament at Westminster had the power not only to make laws for the United Kingdom, but also to make laws for the overseas territories of the British Empire. In performing the latter function it was known as the imperial Parliament and its enactments were known as imperial statutes” (Hogg, p. 44).
The Preamble of the Constitution begins with “Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion…” and goes on to say, “And whereas such a Union would conduce to the Welfare of the Provinces…” (Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5).
“A reference to the British Parliament, which is built on the site of Westminster Palace in London. Thus, references to “Westminster” or “the Westminster model” are references to the British Parliament and its practices” (McMenemy, p. 320).
See Journals, November 6, 1867, p. 2. For further information on the election of the Speaker, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
See Journals, November 7, 1867, pp. 3-4. For further information on the Speech from the Throne, see Chapter 15, “Special Debates”.
The following are some of the sources consulted on the evolution and function of Canadian parliamentary institutions: John George Bourinot, Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, with a Review of the Origin, Growth and Operation of Parliamentary Institutions, in the Dominion of Canada, 2nd ed., Montreal: Dawson Brothers, 1892; John George Bourinot, Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 4th ed., edited by Thomas Barnard Flint, Toronto: Canada Law Book Co., 1916; Robert MacGregor Dawson, The Government of Canada, 6th ed., Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987; Eugene A. Forsey, How Canadians Govern Themselves, 4th ed., Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 1997; C.E.S. Franks, The Parliament of Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987; Peter W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, 4th ed., Toronto: The Carswell Company Limited, 1997; Robert J. and Doreen Jackson, Politics in Canada: Culture, Institutions, Behaviour and Public Policy, 4th ed., Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, Allyn and Bacon, Canada, 1998; J.R. Mallory, The Structure of Canadian Government, rev. ed., Toronto: Gage, 1984; John McMenemy, The Language of Canadian Politics: A Guide to Important Terms and Concepts, rev. ed., Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1995; John B. Stewart, The Canadian House of Commons: Procedure and Reform, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977; Richard Van Loon and Michael Whittington, The Canadian Political System: Environment, Structure and Process, 4th ed., Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1987; Richard Van Loon and Michael Whittington, Canadian Government and Politics: Institutions and Processes, Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1996; and Norman Wilding and Philip Laundy, An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell, 1972.
See, for example, B. Murdoch, A History of Nova-Scotia, or Acadie Volume II, Halifax: James Barnes Printer and Publisher, 1866, pp. 351-4.
Although this was not always so, all provincial legislatures are now unicameral. For more information, see G. William Kitchin, “The Abolition of Upper Chambers,” Provincial Government and Politics: Comparative Essays, 2nd ed., edited by Donald C. Rowat, Ottawa: Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Reprinted, 1974, pp. 61-82.
For more information, refer to the sections in this chapter on the “Governor General”, the “Senate” and the “House of Commons”. See also Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 9. In practical terms, however, the powers belonging to the Crown are exercised through an executive committee of ministers (Cabinet), chosen and led by a Prime Minister, and “responsible” to the House of Commons for their policies and for the activities of government (see section in this chapter on “Responsible Government and Ministerial Responsibility”).
Forsey, p.1.
For more information, refer to the section in this chapter on “The Executive”.
For more information, refer to the section in this chapter on “Political Parties”.
A political party may be defined as “… any group, however loosely organized, seeking to elect governmental office holders under a given label” (Leon Epstein, quoted in Van Loon and Whittington, The Canadian Political System, p. 305). Official party designation for the purposes of the electoral system is made by the Chief Electoral Officer, while official party status, for the purposes of parliamentary procedure, has been associated with having at least 12 Members in the House of Commons. (For more detailed information, refer to the section in this chapter on “Political Parties”.)
Twenty-two members were elected and met at Halifax in October of that year to take their seats in the House of Assembly. Journals, March 1, 1883, Sessional Paper No. 70 (Provincial Charters), Appendix, pp. 8, 14.
Representative government is a political system with an elected legislature (McMenemy, pp. 259-60).
Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 73-4.
Journals, March 1, 1883, Sessional Paper No. 70 (Provincial Charters), Appendix, pp. 46-52, and Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 72-3. Until 1784, New Brunswick was part of Nova Scotia (Forsey, p. 3).
See John George Bourinot, Constitutional History of Canada, Toronto: Copp Clark Co. Ltd., 1901, p. 69; The Nova Scotia Legislature, Nova Scotia Information Service, rev. 1990, p. 12.
For a short history of the “syndics”, see A History of the Vote in Canada, published by Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada for the Chief Electoral Officer, 1997, p. xiv.
The historic Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place on September 13, 1759; Quebec surrendered on September 18. Montreal fell nearly a year later and the capitulation was signed on September 8, 1760 (Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 5).
The Royal Proclamation, 1763 (R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 1) defined the boundaries of Quebec.
In the instructions to Governor Murray, dated December 7, 1763, there are specific references to the Nova Scotian constitutional documents (see Journals, 1907, Sessional Papers, Vol. 7, Third Session of the Tenth Parliament of the Dominion of Canada; 1906-7, Vol. XLI, No. 18, p. 137). In “The Early Provincial Constitutions”, J. E. Read states that the early constitutional documents of the Province of Quebec “provide a constitutional position substantially identical to that of Nova Scotia…” (Canadian Bar Review, 1948, p. 630).
Royal Proclamation, 1763, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 1, p. 3.
A belief that during the sacrament of Holy Communion, the consecrated bread and wine are wholly converted into the body and blood of Christ; only the appearance of the bread and wine remain.
The “oath of abjuration”, along with oaths of allegiance and supremacy, were then required of every member of the British House of Commons (Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 8, note 1).
Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 9.
R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 2.
Quebec Act, 1774, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 2, Preamble.
Section XII of the Quebec Act, 1774, states that “whereas it is inexpedient to call an Assembly”, and went on to provide for an appointed “Council for the Affairs of the Province of Quebec” of 17 to 23 members. As a rule, the Council sat behind closed doors, debates were conducted in both French and English, and ordinances were drawn up in both languages (quoted in Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 13).
Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 12, note 1.
Colonial legislation could be enacted by the British Parliament or, in the case of conquered colonies, by the British monarch acting alone. However, once a colony had been granted a legislature, new colonial laws or changes to colonial laws could no longer be made by the Sovereign unilaterally: they now required the consent of the Imperial Parliament or the colonial assembly (Hogg, p. 35).
Constitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3. Like the British North America Act almost a century later, the Constitutional Act, 1791, was framed with the intention of “assimilating the constitution of Canada to that of Great Britain, as nearly as the difference arising from the manners of the people, and from the present situation of the province, will admit” (quoted in Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 20).
The Consitutional Act, 1791, also provided that the Sovereign could make the right to sit in the legislative council hereditary although no titles were ever conferred under the authority of this Act (Constitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3, s. VI. See also Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 16).
Constitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3.
Constitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3, s. XXXIV. Section L further provided that the Governor and a majority of the Members of the Executive Council could make temporary laws when the legislature was prorogued and that such laws would remain in force for a period no longer than six months following the date on which the legislature subsequently assembled.
Constitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3, ss. XXVI and XXVII. See also Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 16-9. A dissolution ends a legislature, the period of time when a legislature is “sitting”, to make way for a general election. A legislature, in turn, may be divided into one or more sessions, each beginning with a new legislative agenda, presented as the Speech from the Throne. A session ends either with a dissolution, followed by a general election, or with a prorogation, which does not terminate the legislature but establishes that a new session will begin with a Speech from the Throne (see also Chapter 8, “The Parliamentary Cycle”).
To become law, bills required the consent of both houses and the Sovereign. The Royal Assent signifies the approval of the bill by the latter.
The power to delay giving Royal Assent so that the legislation could be approved or disallowed by the British government (McMenemy, p. 260).
Constitutional Act, 1791, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 3, ss. XXX-XXXII. See also the section in this chapter on the “Governor General”.
See also Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.
Technically, the Civil List referred to a list of the sums appropriated out of the public revenue to pay members of the civil government (Gage Canadian Dictionary, Toronto: Gage Educational Publishing Company, 1997, p. 284), i.e., those individuals occupying official positions in government administration, the precursors of the modern Public Service. At the time, they were patronage appointments made by the governor, often for life (see also O’Brien, pp. 48-9; Wilding and Laundy, pp. 131-3).
Mallory, p. 11.
For further information on the rebellions, see R. Douglas Francis, Richard Jones and Donald B. Smith, Origins: Canadian History to Confederation, 3rd ed., Harcourt Brace & Company, Canada, 1996, pp. 224-48, 264-76.
Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 8.
His responsibilities also included “the adjustment of certain important questions respecting the form and future government of the two provinces” (The Report of The Earl of Durham, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner and Governor General of British North America, London: Metheun and Co., 1902).
Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 25.
R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 4.
Union Act, 1840, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 4, ss. III and IV.
Union Act, 1840, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 4, ss. III and XII.
Mallory, pp. 12-3.
Statutes of the Province of Canada, 19-20 Victoria, c. 140. See also Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 38-9. An elected upper chamber had been a long-standing demand of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. (Resolution No. 27, Journals, House of Assembly of Lower Canada, February 21, 1834, pp. 310-38, and in particular p. 316.) A total of 48 councillors were to be elected, one quarter every two years, each to serve for a period of eight years. Existing members were allowed to retain their seats during their lifetimes (Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 38).
Bourinot,2nd ed., pp. 38-9.
Paul G. Cornell, Jean Hamelin, Fernand Ouellet, and Marcel Trudel, Canada: Unity in Diversity, Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967, pp. 109-17.
Consolidated Statutes of Newfoundland (Third Series), 1916, Appendix, p. 47.
All relevant constitutional documents relating to British Columbia may be found in the Royal Statutes of British Columbia, 1979, Vol. 7 (Appendices), Part B. See also the British Columbia Terms of Union, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 10.
The first election took place in 1856 (see A History of the Vote in Canada, published by Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada for the Chief Electoral Officer, 1997, pp. 34-5).
British Columbia Terms of Union, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 10.
For further information on the pre-Confederation history of British Columbia, see Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of British Columbia, 1792-1887, San Francisco: The History Company Publishers, 1887, pp. 582-604.
For historical accounts of the initiation of Confederation, see Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 39-45; 4th ed., pp. 15-6, and the Confederation Debates, 1865.
Under Section 12 of the Union Act, 1840, Upper and Lower Canada were equally represented in the legislature of the United Province. In the beginning, this arrangement favoured Upper Canada whose population was then smaller. However, the large number of immigrants flowing into Upper Canada following the union soon gave it the preponderance of the population. Demands for increased representation were resisted by Lower Canada on the grounds that this would contravene one of the conditions under which they had agreed to unite (R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 4).
To manage the ongoing political conflict, the legislature embraced the principle of a double majority: in short, no administration should continue in power unless it enjoyed the support of a majority of the Members from each part of the province, and no measure affecting the interests of a particular section should be passed without the consent of the majority of its representatives.  However attractive in theory, the principle was not terribly practicable and was abandoned in the early 1860s.
With the opposing interests in the legislature so evenly balanced, the vote of a a single members could decide the fate of a ministry.Between May 21, 1862 and June 30, 1864, there were no less than five different ministries and legislation was virtually deadlocked (Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 42).
See Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 42.
See Bourinot, 2nd ed., p. 43.
The Quebec Resolutions, 1864, may be found in the British North America Acts, 1867-1962, by M. Ollivier, Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1962, pp. 39-49.
See Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 44-5.
The London Resolutions, 1866, may be found in British North America Acts, 1867-1962, by M. Ollivier, pp. 50-60. In 1982, the British North America Act, 1867 was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867 (R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, Preamble.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 146 and 147.
Rupert’s Land Act, 1868, S.C. 1869, pp. iii-v; and An Act for the temporary Government of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory when united with Canada, S.C. 1869, c. 3.
Manitoba Act, 1870, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No.8.
British Columbia Terms of Union, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 10.
Prince Edward Island Terms of Union, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 12.
Alberta Act and Saskatchewan Act; R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, Nos. 20 and 21 respectively.
See Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 146.
Newfoundland Act, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 32.
See Nunavut Act, S.C. 1993, c. 28; An Act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, S.C. 1998, c. 15.
Hogg, p. 4. The Constitution of Canada is defined in section 52(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982, as including: (1) the Canada Act, 1982; (2) all acts and orders referred to in the schedule of the Constitution Act, 1982 (includes the Constitution Act, 1867, and its amendments and orders in council and statutes admitting or creating new provinces or altering boundaries; and the Statute of Westminster); and (3) any amendments to any act or order referred to in (1) and (2). The British North America Act was an act of the British Parliament which established Canada as a federal union. It was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867, in 1982. Until 1982, with some exceptions, the BNA Act could only be amended by the British Parliament at the request of the Canadian Parliament. In 1982, the Canadian Parliament asked Britain to amend the Act so that all subsequent amendments would be carried out, according to a variety of amending formulae, solely by Canadian legislatures (Canada Act, 1982, and its schedules, including the Constitution Act, 1982, ss. 38-49, which contains the amending formulae). The amendments to the Constitution Act, 1867, which were contained in the Constitution Act, 1982, included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (McMenemy, pp. 63-5).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, Preamble.
See Hogg, p. 19.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 91 and 92.
Constitution Act, 1982, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 44, Schedule B, ss. 1-34.
A usage which dates from the time “when all powers of government were vested in the monarch and were exercised by delegation from the monarch”(Hogg, p. 268).
Section 9 of the Constitution Act, 1867, provides that “Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada… be vested in the Queen”.
"This power is placed above and outside the governmental structure and political parties of the day; power is given to them temporarily and in trust by the Crown on behalf of the people."  D. Michael Jackson, The Canadian Monarchy in Saskatchewan, 2nd ed., Regina: Government of Saskatchewan, 1990, p. 12.
"…one institution (the government) does not possess power but exercises it; while the other institution  (the Crown) possesses power but does not exercise it."  Frank MacKinnon, The Crown in Canada, Cargary: Glenbow–Alberta Institute, McClelland and Stewart West, 1976.
 "The government rules.  It does not reign.  The Crown reigns… the power of the sate is held in a non-partisan office above the conflicts and divisions of the political process." Jacques Monet, The Canadian Crown, Toronto/Vancouver: Clarke, Irwin and Company, 1979.
Hogg, p. 269. In 1953, the Canadian Parliament adopted An Act respecting the Royal Style and Titles to reflect the fact that the Sovereign was the Sovereign not only of the United Kingdom but also of Canada (S.C. 1952-53, c. 9).
Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution,4th ed., London: Fontana, 1965, p. 111.
Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General of Canada, 1947, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31, Art. II, and Governor General’s Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. G-9 (see also Mallory, pp. 15-22, 33-75). See Appendix 1, “Governors General of Canada Since 1867”.
The Great Seal of Canada signifies the power and authority of the Crown. It has both a ceremonial and an administrative purpose. Although the Governor General has formal custody of the seal, its actual custodian is the Registrar General of Canada whose incumbent has been, since 1967, the Minister of Industry (formerly Consumer and Corporate Affairs). Prior to that time, it was the Secretary of State. The seal is affixed to official documents in accordance with the provisions of the Seals Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-6, and the Public Officers Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-30, and the Formal Documents Regulations, Consolidated Regulations of Canada, 1978, Vol. XIV, c. 1331. The Great Seal of Canada came into official use as of July 1, 1867 (Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada, The Great Seal of Canada, Supply and Services Canada, Ottawa, 1988).
Dawson’s The Government of Canada, p. 181. The appointment being made at the discretion of the Sovereign, the term or the extension of the term is not for a fixed period. Extensions were made for The Earl of Minto (1898-1904), Earl Grey (1904-11), The Viscount Alexander (1946-52), Vincent Massey (1952-59), Georges Vanier (1959-67), Roland Michener (1967-73), and Jeanne Sauvé (1984-89). See also Appendix 1, “Governors General of Canada Since 1867”.
Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General, 1947, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31, Art. I.
Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General of Canada, 1947, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31, Art. VII.
To become law, a bill must be agreed to in the same form by all three of Parliament’s constituent parts: the House of Commons, the Senate and the Crown. Royal Assent signifies the agreement of the Crown.
Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General of Canada, 1947, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31, Art. VIII.
Prior to 1947, the Sovereign appointed the Administrator as each occasion arose. The continuing designation of the Chief Justice or next senior judge of the Supreme Court in the 1947 Letters Patent makes that practice no longer necessary.
Usually these are the judges of the Supreme Court, along with the Secretary and Assistant Secretary to the Governor General, the latter two for the purpose of signing documents.
Cornell, Hamelin, Ouellet and Trudel, p. 60.
For example, the Commission of James Murray designated him "Captain General & Governor in Chief" of the Province of Quebec, dated November 28, 1763 (Journals, 1907, Sessional Paper No. 18, p. 126).
Van Loon and Whittington, The Canadian Political System, p. 183.
Mallory, pp. 15-22.
The Colonial Office was the department of the British Civil Service which managed the affairs of the colonies. The Colonial Secretary was responsible to Parliament for the government of British Colonies, Protectorates and Trust Territories, and was usually a member of the Cabinet (Wilding and Laundy, pp. 143-4).
M. Ollivier, The Colonial and Imperial Conferences from 1887 to 1939, Volume III, Ottawa: The Queen’s Printer, 1954, pp. 147-8, 249-50.
In 1931, the Statute of Westminster gave legal effect to the principle that Great Britain and the dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, and in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, although united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. See McMenemy, pp. 288-9, and Canadian Encyclopaedia, pp. 131, 375.
Letters patent are statutory instruments which give some power to act or to confer some right.
R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31.
Although the authority to appoint Canadian representatives abroad was transferred to the Governor General in the 1947 Letters Patent, that power was not exercised before 1977. Evidently, there was no particular reason why the change was made in 1977; it was merely part of an ongoing process of transference of practice from the Sovereign to the Governor General. The change was announced in a news release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on December 30, 1977, and a question about the change was asked subsequently in the House (Debates, January 23, 1978, p. 2088).
The Governor General is kept fully informed of Cabinet business and public affairs and receives minutes of all Cabinet meetings. It is very rare that a Governor General has gone against the advice of a Prime Minister. In 1896, Governor General Lord Aberdeen refused to agree to a number of senatorial and judicial appointments made by the defeated government of Sir Charles Tupper. Again, in 1926, Governor General Lord Byng refused to grant Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s request for a dissolution and asked the Conservative Leader Arthur Meighen to form a government (see McMenemy, p. 151).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 54. These are legislative initiatives (typically bills) that will require a disbursement from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Appropriations set aside, or “appropriate” from the fund, the amount that Parliament has authorized the government to spend. A proposal to spend public money may only be initiated by the Crown (see also Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 55, 56 and 57. Under the Act, Governors General were given the power to refuse or delay the Royal Assent until the British Parliament approved of or disallowed the bill. By the same token, provincial Lieutenant Governors were empowered to reserve a bill for the pleasure of the Governor in Council (i.e., the Governor General acting with the advice of the federal cabinet). Since 1926, it has been unconstitutional for the British government to interfere in Canadian legislation rendering the Governor General’s power to reserve effectively moot. However, the disallowance power in section 56 remains unchanged (see Hogg, pp. 48 and 120). Federal powers to disallow provincial legislation also remain, although proposals for constitutional amendments have included their abolition (McMenemy, pp. 260-1). The Governor General has never refused assent for a government bill (as opposed to reserving) and convention dictates a Governor General will always give assent to a bill which has passed both Houses of Parliament. Refusals clearly would be in competition with the principles of responsible government. It is less clear whether the powers of disallowance have been nullified by convention (see Hogg, p. 253, and Mallory, p. 23).
Financial Administration Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. F-11, s. 30; S.C. 1997, c. 5, s.1.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 24, 26.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 34.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 38.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 50. See also Chapter 8, “The Parliamentary Cycle”.
The Privy Council is the formal body, provided for under section 11 of the Constitution Act, 1867, to advise the Crown.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 96.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 15.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 58. Lieutenant Governors are not subordinate to the Governor General and the federal government but are as much the representative of Her Majesty for all purposes of the provincial government as the Governor General is for all purposes of the federal government (see Van Loon and Whittington, The Canadian Political System, pp. 180-1).
Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General of Canada, 1947, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31, Arts. IV and V.
Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General of Canada, 1947, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 31, Arts. XI, XII and XIII. Under the provisions of the Letters Patent, 1947, the right to exercise the prerogative of mercy was delegated to the Governor General. However, while this remains a personal decision on the Governor General’s part, the prerogative is exercised only upon the advice of the Solicitor General.
See Hogg, pp. 256-63.
See Forsey, pp. 4-5. See also Chapter 2, “Parliaments and Ministries”.
As Governor General, Lord Aberdeen was twice placed in the position of having to select a Prime Minister. The first occasion followed the sudden death of Sir John Thompson in 1894, when several cabinet ministers were considered qualified to be successors (Sir Mackenzie Bowell was invited and accepted to become Prime Minister). The second occurred when Bowell resigned in 1896; Lord Aberdeen chose Sir Charles Tupper as his successor (Dawson’s The Government of Canada, pp. 183-4).
Ostensibly, the Governor General also has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister.  However, no Canadian Governor General has ever done so.  When the Australian Governor General dismissed the Prime Minister in 1975, his power to do so under the Australian constitution was upheld (see House of Representatives Practice, 3rd ed.,  pp. 5-6).
This happened in 1926 when Governor General Lord Byng refused Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s request for a dissolution and asked Opposition Leader Arthur Meighen to form a government (see McMenemy, p. 151, and Mallory, pp. 52-7).
Constitution Act, 1867,R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 18.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 53. See also Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.
Constitution Act, 1867,R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 34.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 44.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 53. “Financial legislation” refers to any bill proposing government spending or imposing taxes. See also Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5,s. 23.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 23. Although Quebec now has more than 24 electoral districts or ridings, Quebec Senators are still appointed from the original 24 electoral divisions of Lower Canada as set out in the Constitution Act, 1867.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 30. In December 1997, the Senate suspended Senator Andrew Thompson’s use of Senate resources, including his telecommunication expense allowance and his travel allowance (except that required for travel between his Ontario residence and the Senate in Ottawa), and ordered him to appear in his place when the Senate resumed sitting after the Christmas recess (Seventh Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, Senate Journals, December 9, 1997, pp. 305-6; December 12, 1997, pp. 358-9; December 15, 1997, p. 369; and December 16, 1997, pp. 378-81). When the Senator did not obey the order, the Senate passed another motion requiring him to appear before the Standing Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders (Senate Journals, February 11, 1998, pp. 426-8). On February 19, 1998, the Senate concurred in the committee’s Second Report, which found the Senator in contempt, and suspended him for the remainder of the session (Senate Journals, February 19, 1998, pp. 457-8). On March 23, 1998, Senator Thompson resigned.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 31. The last time a Senator’s seat was declared vacant pursuant to section 31, occurred in 1915 (see Senate Journals, April 13, 1915, pp. 224-5).
Until 1965, the term of the appointment was for life (Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 29). The Constitution Act, 1965, provided that Senators would henceforth be required to retire at age 75. Senators appointed prior to the coming into force of the Act would retain the right to remain in office past age 75, should they so choose (Constitution Act, 1965, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 39, s. 1).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 21, 22.
An Act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, S.C. 1998, c. 15, ss. 43(3), 45.
An Act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, S.C. 1998, c. 15, s. 43(1).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 26. The only time this provision has been used was in 1990. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney invoked sections 26 through 28 of the Constitution Act, 1867, to recommend the appointment of eight additional Senators to ensure passage of government legislation implementing a Goods and Services Tax.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 27.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 28, and An Act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, S.C. 1998, c. 15, s. 43(2).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 37, 51; Representation Act, S.C. 1986, c. 8, s. 2; An Act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, S.C. 1998, c. 15, s. 30. For more information on representation, see Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.
Dawson’s The Government of Canada, pp. 198-9; Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 12, 13.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, ss. 9, 12, 13; McMenemy, pp. 124-5. Cabinet comprises the Prime Minister and Ministers and constitutes the government of the day. Ministers are individuals chosen by the Prime Minister to provide policy advice, as well as administrative leadership for the various government departments and agencies (McMenemy, pp. 17 and 178-9). At the time Britain acquired the Canadian colonies, the Monarch ruled at the head of an autonomous executive–a select group of Privy Councillors in whom the Crown placed its trust. In Parliament, the Lords represented the great landed interests and the Commons the interests of the propertied middle and commercial classes. Under this system, the Crown was presumed to operate as a check on the power of the legislature and Parliament on the power of the Crown. Over time, as more and more of the Sovereign’s executive powers shifted to the Ministers (now chosen increasingly from among the influential Members of Parliament), the contemporary model of Cabinet government began to emerge. In effect, the Crown’s business was carried out by Ministers who retained office by virtue of their ability to control and manage the House of Commons. From this emerged the modern notion of a Cabinet which fuses executive powers with those of the legislature to produce a government continuously responsive to the elected House (Mallory, pp. 8-11).
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 11. Originally, the Privy Council was a more or less permanent executive body of nobles chosen by the Sovereign as counsellors. The Council was separate from the legislative body, or Parliament, of which the Sovereign was a constituent part. When the Council became too large for the practical purpose of consultation, the Sovereign selected from among its members his or her most trusted and intimate counsellors. The practice of forming from the larger group of Privy Councillors a small, specialized committee to advise the Crown has continued to this day (Wilding and Laundy, pp. 66, 602-4).
The Table of Titles for Use in Canada, approved by Queen Victoria in 1868, conferred the title of “Honourable” on Privy Councillors for life.
The term “at pleasure” means at the will, desire or discretion. A Privy Councillor serves at the pleasure of, and may be removed at the discretion of, the Crown or Governor General.
Until 1968, Canadian Prime Ministers, with the exception of Alexander Mackenzie, John Abbott, Mackenzie Bowell and Charles Tupper, were made Members of the Privy Council of Great Britain, which carried with it the lifetime title of “Right Honourable”. In 1967, and again in 1968, the Table of Titles for Use in Canada was revised, with the result that Canadian Governors General, Prime Ministers and Supreme Court Chief Justices now all acquire the title of “Right Honourable” for life. Lester Pearson was the last Canadian Prime Minister to be a member of the British Privy Council (Library of Parliament, The Origin of the Title “The Right Honourable”, 1989).
Originally, Ministry was the term applied to Ministers holding office at the pleasure of the Crown while the Cabinet was a place, provided by the Prime Minister, in which the Ministry met (Privy Council Office, Responsibility in the Constitution, Supply and Services Canada, Ottawa, 1993, p. 26). The Ministry and the Cabinet are not always identical; not all Ministers are members of Cabinet. For a large part of Canadian history, the Cabinet and the Ministry have been the same (Dawson’s The Government of Canada, p. 196).
For more information on the Privy Council, see Dawson’s The Government of Canada, Chapters 10 and 11.
There are two main categories of Privy Councillor: one group includes current and former Cabinet Ministers; the other includes those appointed as an honour but who have never been Cabinet Ministers. Among those in the second group have been leaders of opposition parties, Chief Justices anddistinguished Canadians. Certain exceptions have been made: during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, New Democratic Party leader Audrey McLaughlin was sworn in as a Privy Councillor so that she could be given highly secret information; members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee must, by statute, be Privy Councillors, and several have been appointed solely for that reason (Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, R.S.C. 1985, C-23, s. 34(1)).
Forsey, pp. 35-6. In the past, there have been Senators who were appointed to the Cabinet as Ministers of departments (for example, Robert de Cotret was Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce in the Twenty-First Ministry) and ministers without portfolio (for example, Andrew Olson was Minister of State for Economic Development in the Twenty-Second Ministry). It is exceptional for a Minister who is head of a department to be in the Senate, and typically the only Senator in the Cabinet is the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
General Andrew George McNaughton was Minister of National Defence from November 2, 1944 until August 20, 1945, without a seat in either House. After failing to win a seat both in a by-election and, subsequently, a general election, he resigned. He appeared, with permission, three times on the floor of the House during the period he served as Minister (Forsey, p. 35). In 1975, Pierre Juneau was appointed as Minister of Communications. He subsequently contested and lost a by-election, following which he resigned from Cabinet (Privy Council Office, A Guide to Canadian Ministries Since Confederation: July 1, 1867 to February 1, 1982, Government of Canada, Ottawa, 1982).
For example, in the Twenty-Sixth Ministry, Ministers were assigned responsibility for “International Cooperation” and “Intergovernmental Affairs”. In the Twenty-Fifth Ministry, Ministers were assigned responsibility for “Small Business” and “Small Communities and Rural Areas”. During the Twentieth Ministry, a number of Ministers were appointed “Without Portfolio” (Privy Council Office, A Guide to Canadian Ministries Since Confederation: July 1, 1867 to February 1, 1982, Supply and Services Canada, Ottawa, 1982; and Supplement to Guide to Canadian Ministries, 1980 to Date, Library of Parliament, May 1998).
The position “Secretary of State” has been included in earlier Ministries, designated as Minister of State. Ministers and Secretaries of State are paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund in accordance with the provisions of the Salaries Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. S-3, ss. 2, 4, 5).
See Release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, November 4, 1993.
R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, ss. 46-7.
The order of precedence of Canadian dignitaries and Officials is set by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, in turn, is advised on this matter by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The Ministry of Canadian Heritage is custodian of the Table of Precedence of Canadian Dignitaries and Officials, as well as of the Table of Titles to Be Used in Canada.
See also Chapter 2, “Parliaments and Ministries”.
There have been 26 Ministries since 1867. See Appendix 8, “Government Ministries and Prime Ministers of Canada Since 1867”.
In Canada, responsible government had been well established by the time of Confederation. See the section in this chapter entitled “Historical Perspective — The Years Preceding Confederation”.
See comments of Anthony Birch in Responsible Government, Canadian Study of Parliament Group, Ottawa, October 1989, p. 5.
“Parliament used to bring Ministers to account by a semi-judicial process. The King could do no wrong in the eyes of the law … and it was more satisfactory and expedient to attack his advisers for their evil counsel by charging them with high crimes and misdemeanours. The Commons were the accusers; the Lords the judges; the process was impeachment… . During the 18th century votes of censure against Ministers and Governments gradually replaced the cumbersome machinery of impeachment… . The process has never been abolished but it is in practice obsolete.” It survives in the United States (de Smith, quoted in Responsibility in the Constitution, pp. 14-5).
Commonly referred to as “cabinet solidarity”.
A number of Ministers have resigned over disagreements with government policy. For example: Minister of Transport Paul Hellyer resigned because he disagreed with the government’s housing policy (Debates, April 24, 1969, p. 7893; Journals, April 24, 1969, p. 939); Eric Kierans, Minister of Communications and Postmaster General, resigned in disagreement over the government’s economic priorities (Debates, April 29, 1971, p. 5339; Journals, April 29, 1971, p. 515, Sessional Paper No. 283-1/190B); and Minister of the Environment Lucien Bouchard resigned in disagreement over matters concerning the Meech Lake Accord on the Constitution (Debates, May 22, 1990, pp. 11662-4).
Ministers and Secretaries of State are bound by their Privy Council oath of secrecy not to reveal the nature of Cabinet proceedings.
Originally, the Sovereign along with the prominent nobles selected to advise the Crown were effectively both the Government and the “party” permanently in power. It was generally the case that certain factions opposed the Crown; the strength of that opposition depended in large part on the personality of the Monarch and varied from reign to reign. The first recognizable political parties emerged as a result of the Civil Wars in England when, in 1679, the Cavaliers and the Roundheads became the Tories and the Whigs, respectively (see Wilding and Laundy, pp. 545-6).
Leon D. Epstein, quoted in Van Loon and Whittington, The Canadian Political System, p. 305.
Elections Canada Backgrounder, “Registration of Federal Political Parties”, p. 1.
McMenemy, pp. 214-5.
Jackson and Jackson, p. 434.
There is no limitation on the formation of political parties; however, parties must satisfy certain criteria in order to be registered under the Canada Elections Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. E-2, ss. 25-32).
Revenue Canada Information Circular No. 75-2R4.
Elections Canada Backgrounder, “Registration of Federal Political Parties”, pp. 4-5.
Canada Elections Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-2, s. 28. See also Elections Canada Backgrounder, “Registration of Federal Political Parties”.
R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 62(b), (d) and (f). This was first included in 1963 in the precursor to the Parliament of Canada Act, namely the Senate and House of Commons Act.
See Board of Internal Economy By-law 302, ss. 2 and 3(2). In 1990, a question of privilege was raised relating to a request refused by the Board for funding to a political party with fewer than 12 Members. In his reply, Speaker Fraser stated that the decision of the Board stood unless the House itself wished to overrule the decision (Debates, December 13, 1990, pp. 16703-7).
For example, the order of participation in debate and Question Period (see Chapter 13, “Rules of Order and Decorum” and Chapter 11, “Questions”); the allocation of opposition Supply days (see Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”); and the deferral of recorded divisions by Whips (see Standing Order 45(7) and Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”).
In 1963, Speaker Macnaughton cautioned that the recognition of parties in the Chamber must ultimately be resolved by the House itself (Journals, September 30, 1963, pp. 385-8). On February 18, 1966, Speaker Lamoureux was asked to pronounce on the right of a party with fewer than 12 Members to respond to a Statement by a Minister. In his ruling, he concluded that until the House defined more precisely who could respond, the Chair would be guided by practice (Journals, February 18, 1966, pp. 158-60). For further information on Minister’s Statements, see Chapter 10, “The Daily Program”. In 1979 and 1994, Speakers Jerome and Parent also made some remarks on the issue of the recognition of parties in the House (Debates, October 10, 1979, pp. 49-51; October 11, 1979, p. 69; June 16, 1994, pp. 5437-40).
On Wednesday, because of caucus meetings, the House does not sit until 2:00 p.m. (see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”).
In 1973, a question of privilege was raised in the House concerning the discovery of a bugging device in a caucus meeting room (Debates, October 17, 1973, pp. 6942-4).
See McMenemy, p. 214.
Backbenchers are Members of the House of Commons who are neither Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries or one of their party’s House officials.
The Government House Leader is a Minister, officially titled Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. From 1867 until 1944, Prime Ministers usually organized the business of the House by themselves, their contacts being the Whips of the other parties. In October 1944, Prime Minister Mackenzie King chose to delegate those duties and openly recognized the position of Government House Leader in July 1946. In 1968, it became a full-time position. Until 1997, all Government House Leaders had held at least one other portfolio concurrently; between 1963 and 1990, the Government House Leader typically was also President of the Privy Council (Library of Parliament, Leaders of the Government in the House of Commons, Compilation No. 78, November 21, 1997). The position of Opposition House Leader evolved gradually in the 1950s and has been remunerated since 1974 (An Act to amend the Senate and House of Commons Act, the Salaries Act and the Parliamentary Secretaries Act, S.C. 1974-75-76, c. 44, s. 3). The House Leaders of parties with 12 or more Members have been remunerated since 1981 (An Act to amend the Senate and House of Commons Act, the Salaries Act, the Parliamentary Secretaries Act and the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, S.C. 1980-81, c. 77, s. 3).
See also Chapter 10, “The Daily Program”.
Stewart, p. 17. There are often occasions where opposition Members or parties will vote the same way as the government on a particular issue.
Debates, July 17, 1905, col. 9729-30.
Members of registered parties with fewer than 12 sitting members are entitled to have their party affiliation noted, along with their name, on the television screen and in official House records. They are also permitted to be seated together in the Chamber (see Speakers’ rulings, Debates, December 13, 1990, pp. 16705-6; June 16, 1994, pp. 5437-40). There have been instances where parties which did not have 12 sitting members claimed the status of a recognized party. Speakers have been clear in rulings that it is up to the House itself to decide such matters (see Speakers’ rulings, Journals, September 30, 1963, pp. 385-8; February 18, 1966, pp. 158-60; and Debates, October 11, 1979, p. 69; November 6, 1979, p. 1009; June 16, 1994, p. 5439).
See Wilding and Laundy, pp. 509-10. Also referred to as “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” to emphasize the notion that an opposition is loyal to the Crown (see Gerald Schmitz, “The Opposition in a Parliamentary System”, Library of Parliament Backgrounder, December 1988).
The only exception to this in the history of the House of Commons came in 1922 when the Progressive party won the second highest number of seats but declined to assume the role of official opposition (see also Appendix 9, “Leaders of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons Since 1873”; Appendix 10, “Party Leaders in the House of Commons Since 1867”; and Appendix 11, “General Election Results Since 1867”).
See also Chapter 13, “Rules of Order and Decorum”.
Standing Order 35(2).
See ruling of Speaker Parent, Debates, February 27, 1996, pp. 16-20. In the United Kingdom, the Speaker has statutory authority to determine who shall be designated as Leader of the Opposition in the House. See the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act, 1975, U.K., s. 2(2). See also ruling of Speaker Amerongen, Alberta Hansard, March 11, 1983, pp. 9-11, and November 6, 1984, p. 1381; the ruling of Speaker Dysart, Journal of Debates, Legislative Assembly, Province of New Brunswick, December 16, 1994, pp. 3749-53; and the ruling of Speaker Bruce, Votes and Proceedings of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, December 9, 1996, pp. 15-9.
Party leaders who did not hold a seat and who did not automatically become Leader of the Opposition include, among others: Robert Stanfield in 1967, Brian Mulroney in 1983 and Jean Chrétien in 1990, all of whom sought and won a seat in a by-election before assuming that office (see also Appendix 9, “Leaders of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons Since 1873”).
See, for example, references to the Hon. Eric Nielsen and to the Hon. Herb Gray in Appendix 9, “Leaders of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons Since 1873”.
An Act to amend the Act respecting the Senate and House of Commons, S.C. 1905, c. 43, s. 2, now the Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 62(a). Canada was the first of the Commonwealth parliaments to fund the office of Leader of the Opposition.
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 50(2).
Standing Orders 43(1), 50(2), 74(1), 84(7), and 101(3).
See also Chapter 11, “Questions”.
Standing Order 81(4)(a). The Main Estimates are the government’s projected annual spending plan (see also Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”).
For some time during the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), the Leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning, chose not to sit in the front row.
See also Chapter 11, “Questions”.
See, for example, Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. 23, s. 34(1); International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act, S.C. 1988, c. 64, s. 7(2); Referendum Act, S.C. 1992, c. 30, s. 5(2).
Standing Order 33(1).
Standing Order 81(13).
Standing Order 106(2). Typically, a Member from the Official Opposition chairs the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations (see also Chapter 20, “Committees”).

Please note —

As the rules and practices of the House of Commons are subject to change, users should remember that this edition of Procedure and Practice was published in January 2000. Standing Order changes adopted since then, as well as other changes in practice, are not reflected in the text. The Appendices to the book, however, have been updated and now include information up to the end of the 38th Parliament in November 2005.

To confirm current rules and practice, please consult the latest version of the Standing Orders on the Parliament of Canada Web site.

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