Canada’s Political System

Canada’s political system is based on that of the United Kingdom. It is a constitutional monarchy, which means that we recognize the Queen or King as the Head of State, while the Prime Minister is the Head of Government.

Canada’s Parliament is composed of the monarch of Canada (that is, the Queen or King, who is officially represented by the Governor General), the Senate and the House of Commons. The Senate has 105 seats and its members are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The House of Commons consists of 338 members who are elected by Canadian citizens in general elections and by-elections.

According to Canada’s Constitution, elections are held at least once every five years. In 2007, Parliament passed Bill C-16, which established fixed election dates every four years on the third Monday in October. However, an election may be called earlier

  • if the Governor General accepts the Prime Minister’s advice to dissolve Parliament, or
  • if the Governor General accepts the resignation of the Prime Minister after the Government has been defeated on a motion of confidence in the House and the Governor General does not ask the leader of another party to become Prime Minister and form a government.

Representation in the House of Commons is based on geographical divisions known as “electoral districts,” commonly referred to as “ridings.” The number of electoral districts is established by a formula set out in the Constitution Act, 1867, and one member of Parliament (MP) is elected in each electoral district. Canada currently has 338 ridings.

Canada’s electoral system is referred to as a “single-member plurality” or “first-past-the-post” system. In every electoral district, the candidate with the highest number of votes wins a seat in the House of Commons and represents that electoral district as an MP. An absolute majority (more than 50 percent of the votes in the electoral district) is not required for a candidate to be elected.

Voting in Canada is by secret ballot. The security of the ballot is paramount, and the system makes it impossible to discover whom any voter has voted for.

Did you know?

Parliament and the Government are not the same.

  • Parliament is made up of the monarch (represented by the Governor General), appointed senators and elected members of the House of Commons.
  • The Government is responsible for managing the business of the country. It is usually formed by the political party that has the most elected representatives, and it is led by the Prime Minister.