Canada’s Political System

What Are Your Representatives Responsible For?

In Canada, there are three levels of government. Each level of government has different responsibilities for issues that affect Canadians.

  1. The Federal government is responsible for national issues including, but not limited to, citizenship and immigration, national security, and foreign affairs.
  2. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for things that more closely impact our day-to-day lives, including healthcare, education, and other essential infrastructure such as broadband, public transportation. and highways.
  3. Municipal (city) and other “local” governments are responsible for local matters, such as firefighting, police, street lighting, noise and nuisance control, local planning, and sometimes city-level transportation systems.

All Federal Members of Parliament (MPs) also work collaboratively with provincial and municipal governments in their area, and may be part of finding your way to an appropriate provincial or municipal representative for an issue that affects you.

Where Do Federal Representatives Fit in Canada’s Government?

Canada's national (Federal) government comprises: the Queen, the Senate and the House of Commons. The Queen has a largely symbolic role and is represented by the Governor-General. Members of the Senate are appointed by the Prime Minister and while important, their work is confined to reviewing the work of the House of Commons.

What Do Federal Representatives Do?

Federal representatives become Members of Parliament (MPs) and “sit” in the House of Commons.

MPs devote most of their time to debating and voting on “bills” which are draft laws. MPs participate in the drafting and debating of new laws and amendments to existing ones. MPs are also expected to represent their constituents' views, discuss national issues and call on the government to explain its actions (also known as Question Period).

To meet their constituents’ needs, MPs have an office in Ottawa and one or more in their riding or constituency. Their offices are often the first stop for people who need help. Members can help constituents with questions about immigration visas, pension benefits, income tax —or anything that is the business of the Federal government. Members and their staff are good resources because they understand how Federal departments are organized and where to find answers

How Does the Voting System Work for Federal MPs?

To become an MP you must first run in a Federal election, which is held about every four years. In each of the country's 338 constituencies, or ridings, the candidate who gets the most votes is elected to the House of Commons.

This means that in the upcoming election, a political party must win 170 seats in the House of Commons to form a majority government. MPs who are not members of the majority party sit and work in the House of Commons in just the same way as MPs who are.

Seats in the House of Commons are distributed by the population of each province and territory. In general, the more people in a province or territory, the more Members it has in the House of Commons.

What is the Role of the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister is the head of government in Canada.  The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party with the most elected seats in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister appoints an “inner-circle” called the Cabinet who will lead and manage the various government departments (e.g., Defence, Immigration, Foreign Affairs).

Which Political Parties are Represented in the House of Commons?

There are currently six political parties represented in the House of Commons (see the chart below).

A political party must have 12 elected members in order to have official party status.  This recognition makes a political party eligible for certain funding privileges and able to ask questions during Question Period. The three political parties with official party status are:

  • The Liberal Party of Canada  (the current governing or majority party)
  • The Conservative Party of Canada (the official opposition)
  • The New Democratic Party

Members of Parliament can also sit as “independents” without affiliation to any political party.  

The political parties without “official” party status at present include the Green Party, and Bloc Quebecois.  Each of these parties have MPs in the House of Commons, but lack the funding privileges and ability to participate in Question Period of the “official” parties.

Breakdown of Seats in Parliament

Political Party

MPs

Liberal Party of Canada

179

Conservative Party of Canada

97

New Democratic Party

41

Bloc Quebecois

10

Green Party

1

Total

338

Please refer to the following interactive videos below to learn more about the electoral process and how government works.  The videos have been produced by an NGO, Springtide, whose mandate is to help people learn how to lead change through politics.