issues for canadian textbook chapter 1 : How effectively does Canada’s federal political system govern Canada for all Canadians?
Next time you watch the national news, count how many stories cover decisions made by Canada’s government.
Government makes the news because, every day, its decisions affect the quality of life of Canadians. Canada has several levels of government, including local and provincial government, and the federal government. This chapter focuses on the federal government — the government of Canada.
So, how does Canada’s government make decisions, and who is involved? Canadians have different points of view and perspectives about quality of life. To build a society where all Canadians belong, it’s important for Canada’s government to acknowledge and respond to the different needs and priorities of its citizens.
issues for canadian textbook chapter 1
This chapter explores governance in Canada — the processes and structures that guide how Canada’s government goes about governing. As you read this chapter, look for challenges and opportunities that governance in Canada creates, as Canadians strive for a society that includes everyone — individuals and groups.
- What is the structure of Canada’s federal political system?
- How do laws become laws?
- How do the media connect Canadians to their government?
- What do lobbyists do?
Canada’s constitution is the law that describes governance in Canada. It sets out the role of the governor general, and the different roles of the three branches of government. It describes how the three branches of government work together to exercise the decision-making authority of government. The constitution also sets out other important institutions in Canada, such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What does the executive branch do?
- The executive branch includes the prime minister (PM) and the cabinet.
- The prime minister is the head of Canada’s government. To become prime minister, you must be elected as the leader of a political party. Then, you must be elected as a member of parliament, and the party you lead must win the most seats in the House of Commons. You can read more about the House of Commons on page 27.
- The cabinet includes the people with responsibility for different government departments and agencies — or portfolios — such as health, finance and environment. The members of cabinet belong to the leading political party in the House of Commons, and are members of parliament (MPs) or senators.
- The members of cabinet are called cabinet ministers.
- The PM decides what portfolios to include in the cabinet and chooses cabinet ministers.
- The cabinet proposes most of the ideas that become laws.
- The PM and the cabinet run the day-to-day business of government. For example, the Minister of Environment runs the department of the environment, which has staff and equipment to, among other things, keep track of air pollution.
What’s a political party?
A political party is a group of people who have similar ideas about how government should respond to issues facing society. Political parties are formally recognized as organizations. They put forward candidates in elections and seek to form the government. Each party develops policies, based on the shared values of its members, to respond to issues. Anyone, including Grade 9 students, can join a political party and have a voice. Canada has a variety of political parties because Canadians have different views and perspectives about what’s best for them and for Canada.
What does the legislative branch do?
The legislative branch includes the House of Commons, the Senate and the governor general. The legislative branch is also called Canada’s parliament.
- The House of Commons is the major law-making body in Canada’s federal political system.
- The members of the House of Commons debate, study and vote on laws proposed for Canada, called bills.
- Members of parliament, or MPs, are the members of the House of Commons. Voters elect them.
- Each MP represents the voters of one riding, or district.
- Most MPs belong to political parties. The party with the most MPs usually forms the government. The other parties form the opposition.
- Representation in the House of Commons is by population (see the chart on page 33).
All proceedings of the legislative branch are in Canada’s two official languages: French and English.
How do MPs see their role?
MPs have two key responsibilities: to represent their constituents and to create legislation for the peace, order and good government of all Canadians.
An MP has many roles — being a legislator, being a voice for your constituents. Working on behalf of my constituents takes up most of my time. As a First Nations MP, a key responsibility is to make sure legislation addresses the issues of the Aboriginal communities out there.
The first responsibility is to the constituents who elected the MP. The MP represents them in formulating policies and by assisting them with services provided by the Government of Canada. An MP’s second responsibility is to the work of parliament. Whether you are in government or opposition, you have an important role to perform.
What impact does the popular vote have on the results of an election?
Popular vote means the total support political parties win during an election, regardless of whether they win ridings. The chart and map on this page show the results of the 2006 federal election for Alberta. Compare the chart with the map. What if the votes in the 2006 election had been counted by popular vote instead of by riding? How would the way Albertans are represented in the House of Commons be different?
About the Senate
- The members of Canada’s Senate are called senators.
- Senators are not elected. The prime minister appoints them. They can remain in office until age 75. Prime ministers tend to appoint people who support the PM’s political party. Since only a few Senate seats become vacant at a time, however, the Senate includes people from a variety of political parties.
- Senators represent the interests and rights of Canada’s regions, and especially Canada’s minorities. Senators are appointed by “division,” or region. At Confederation in 1867, the constitution identified three regions: the Maritimes, Ontario and Quebec. The idea was to ensure that these regions had an equal voice in the Senate, and to ensure that Québec’s Francophone population — a minority within Canada — had a strong voice within Canada. As provinces and territories joined Canada, new regions were added to the divisions for appointing senators.
- All proceedings of the Senate are in French and English.
- The Senate can propose laws, but usually only considers bills passed first by the House of Commons. The Senate gives “sober second thought” — careful reconsideration — to all legislation proposed for Canada. This means senators provide a second round of study, debate and voting on laws proposed for Canada. Because
the Senate provides a voice for regions in Canada, it brings a different perspective to issues that concern everyone.
- The Senate cannot propose laws that create or spend taxes.
- A bill cannot become law until both the House of Commons and Senate pass it.
- The Senate has the power to reject bills from the House of Commons, but rarely uses this power.
What does the judicial branch do?
- The judicial branch includes Canada’s courts of law. All members of the judicial branch come from the legal profession.
- The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in Canada. It has the final word on all legal questions in the country, including questions about the rules for making and applying laws.
- The judicial branch is separate from the other branches and acts as a check on their powers. It interprets and applies all law in Canada, including the rights of Canadians. This means that the judicial branch has the main responsibility for making sure the rights of Canadians are respected.
The Federal Accountability Act
Canada’s government passed the Federal Accountability Act in December 2006 in response to issues raised by the “sponsorship scandal.” These issues included:
- Responsible and accountable spending by government.
- Protection for government employees who “blow the whistle” on wrongdoing within Canada’s civil service.
- More information about the activities of lobbyists. Lobbyists are people paid to represent the interests of particular groups in society. You can read more about them on pages 51 to 53.
What voice do First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples need?
Aboriginal peoples were not consulted when Canada was formed at Confederation in 1867, although they were among Canada’s founding peoples. The British North America Act (BNA Act) — which was Canada’s original constitution and established Canada’s system of government — did not acknowledge the rights of Aboriginal peoples. The BNA Act:
- Made First Nations “responsibilities” of the government, along with things like the postal service. It did not acknowledge First Nations as independent, sovereign peoples with their own forms of government.
- Did not mention the Inuit or Métis at all. Since Confederation, Aboriginal peoples have successfully campaigned for the inclusion of their rights in Canada’s constitution, but many continue to feel excluded from Canada’s political system.
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