Canadian Federal Government Structure Infographic Canadian Federal Government Structure Infographic

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government

Canadian Parliament is derived from the Westminster model of parliamentary government, a system of governance that originated in England. Canada has a constitutional monarchy; therefore, the Head of State is a King or Queen in a ceremonial, non-executive capacity federally represented by a viceregal.

The Canadian federal government is the administrative body of Canada and is formally called His Majesty’s Government. Specifically, it refers to the executive body composed of the ministers of the Crown, including the Cabinet and the federal civil service. 

The Head of the State is different from the Head of Government, who leads the executive body of the government. Additionally, the Westminster model has an executive branch formed from the legislative branch’s members and has Parliamentary opposition parties. 

1. Structure of the Canadian Federal Government

Canada is described as a “full democracy” with egalitarian, liberal, and moderate political underpinnings based on peace, order and good governance, and with traditional “brokerage politics” to steer away from extremist ideologies.

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Pixabay

The structure of the Canadian government was initially laid out in the Constitution Act of 1867, as its former name, the British North America Act of 1867, by the British Parliament. The act divided legislative powers between the federal and provincial governments and federal legislature from the legislative assembly.

1.1. The Crown and the Governor General

The King of Canada (French: Roi du Canada) exercises sovereign power through the regal offices and the King’s Privy Council (KPC).

1.1.1. Regal and Vice-Regal Offices

Being a constitutional monarchy, the monarch’s role has legal powers but cannot act directly in political matters. The King is vested with all the powers of the state.

On the advice of the Prime Minister, the King appointed the federal viceregal representative, called the Governor General. The Governor General is given the power to exercise almost all the royal prerogatives of the monarch and is responsible for maintaining Canada’s relationship with the royal household.

1.1.2. The King’s Privy Council

It is a group of personal consultants to the monarch for state and constitutional business. The Privy Council members consist of the Cabinet of Canada and the Privy Council Office, and hence, the monarch is called the King-in-Council or the Governor-in-Council. 

Additionally, the Office is the Cabinet of Canada’s secretariat and the Canadian government’s central agency.

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Unsplash

1.2. The Executive Branch

1.2.1. The Cabinet

The body of ministers to the Crown forms the Government of Canada and is the key decision-making forum in Canada.

The Cabinet is a committee within the larger KPC chaired by the Prime Minister. Upon recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Governor General appoints the Cabinet ministers. 

The Cabinet leads the executive branch of the government. It is responsible for developing policies to govern the country and introducing bills to transform these policies into actionable laws, including a few bizarre laws, some of which are still enforced today.

The Confidence Convention must favour the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, thereby enjoying the confidence of the majority in the House and retaining the government.

1.2.2. The Departments

Each Cabinet minister heads a government portfolio and the corresponding ministry, known as “departments” or “agencies.”

A few critical departments are finance, foreign affairs, industry, justice, and health. Parliamentary Secretaries and Deputy Ministers assist the Cabinet ministers. 

The Public Services, including the central agencies, ministerial departments, and other independent agencies and offices; and the Canadian Armed Forces, including the Canadian Army, Navy, Air Force, Intelligence Command and Military Police, constitute the executive.

Trivia: Cabinet meetings are held in secrecy, and minutes have not been accessible to the public for 30 years. Most Cabinet decisions are unanimous, but a minister may resign if there are serious disagreements. 

1.3. The Legislative Branch

Within the Canadian government, the Parliament of Canada is the legislative body seated at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, in the province of Ontario.

According to the Westminster model, the Canadian Parliament is headed by the sovereign monarch, represented by the Governor General (GG). It is bicameral, having two chambers: the Senate (the upper house) and the House of Commons (the lower house). 

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Unsplash

1.3.1. Role of the Parliament

The Parliament can make laws, raise taxes, and create financial budgets. Most of the critical legislation originates in the House, which is also the more dominant of the two chambers because it is the only elected body in the Parliament.

1.3.2. The Senate

Currently, there is a provision for 105 Senators, representing the four divisions equally: the Maritime Provinces, the Western Provinces, Ontario, and Quebec. Additionally, six senators represent Newfoundland and Labrador, each from the three territories.

The Governor General appoints the Senators based on the recommendations of the Prime Minister. 

Except for the right to commence financial legislation, the Senate exercises all the powers of the House of Commons. The Senate primarily views the bills from a less partisan point of view.

1.3.3. House of Commons

Currently, are 338 seats in the House of Commons of Canada, each elected from an electoral district (more in section 3). The Canadian citizens elect the Members through the general elections and the by-elections. 

Symbolic Unity vs. Daily Administration

Abid Salahi

In Canada, the King’s role as the Head of State, carried out by the Governor General, is similar to the figurehead of a tech company, offering symbolic unity and continuity.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, as the Head of Government, is much like the CEO of the company, handling daily administration and policy-making.

Much like how a CEO requires a balance of creative vision and operational efficiency, Canada’s governance also needs the ceremonial role of the Head of State and the pragmatic part of the Head of Government to work harmoniously.

Abid Salahi, Co-founder & CEO, FinlyWealth

1.3.4. Political Parties

Canada has a multi-party system, with two historically dominant political parties, namely the centre-left Liberal Party of Canada and the centre-right Conservative Party of Canada, including its predecessors under various names. Newer parties, such as the Green Party of Canada, are highlighting green politics and are gaining representative prominence, too. 

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Pexels

The first Canadian parliament was formed in 1867 with the Conservative Party as the governing party and Sir John A. Macdonald as the Prime Minister. The current 44th Canadian Parliament was formed in 2021 and led by the Liberal Party headed by PM Justin Trudeau, with 160 seats as a minority. There have been 29 Prime Ministers whom the Governor General has called to form federal governments.

Trivia: A political party must have at least 12 members to be considered a “recognized party” for Parliamentary proceedings. 

Balancing Ceremonial and Pragmatic Governance

Aseem Jha - Featured
Aseem Jha

In Canada’s parliamentary system, the Head of State and the Head of Government play distinct yet interconnected roles pivotal to governance. As a Canadian myself, I’ve come to appreciate this nuanced division firsthand.

The Head of State, represented by the monarch or the Governor General, embodies the nation’s unity and tradition, serving as a symbol of continuity. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, as the Head of Government, holds executive authority and is tasked with practical governance and policymaking.

This separation ensures a balance between ceremonial duties and the pragmatic needs of governance.

My personal experiences observing Canadian politics have highlighted how this division fosters stability and efficiency, contributing to the country’s overall governance while honoring its democratic principles.

Aseem Jha, Founder & Head of Customer Delivery, Legal Consulting Pro

2. Democratic Representation in the House of Commons

In the House, Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected from federal electoral districts, also known as “constituency” or “riding”.

The electoral districts are geographical areas with specific populations and distinct boundaries and are spread over Canada’s provinces and territories. Currently, there are 338 electoral districts in Canada. 

2.1. Reshuffling of Electoral District Boundaries

The boundaries of electoral districts are subject to change following every 10-year census. The current redistribution process occurred from February 9, 2022, to September 23, 2023. 

As a result, the electoral boundaries have changed, and the number of electoral districts has increased to 343 instead of the current 338 constituencies. The new will be applicable for federal elections held any time after April 22, 2024, and is valid until the next census.

2.1.1. Laws on Electoral Districts Boundaries

The Constitution Act of 1867, the foundational document of Canada’s Constitution, gives the formula for the distribution of electoral districts, called the Representation Formula, that determines the number of MPs assigned from each province. 

Further, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (1964; revised 1985) provides instructions on drawing the boundaries of electoral districts within each province under non-partisan, three-member commissions called Electoral Boundaries Commissions

Trivia: In June 2023, the Canadian Parliament revised the Representation Formula under the Constitution Act of 1867 to ensure the provinces and territories retain at least the same number of MP seats as assigned in the 43rd Parliament elected in 2019.

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Unsplash

2.2. The Redistribution Process

Right after every decennial census, the process of redrawing electoral boundaries occurs. The whole process can take about two years to finish.

The Chief Statistician notifies the new population figures, the Governor in Council, and the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). 

2.2.1. Appointment of Electoral Boundaries Commissions

The Governor in Council forms the Electoral Boundaries Commissions, one Commission for each province. No commission is set up for the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut territories because each has only one seat in the House of Commons. 

An Electoral Boundaries Commission is led by a Chairperson selected by the province’s Chief Justice. Additionally, the Speaker of the House appointed two other members to each Commission. 

2.2.2. The Initial Proposal

The Commissions present the initial proposal, along with an invitation to electors and members of the House of Commons for public meetings via leading newspapers like Globe and Mail or National Post.

On behalf of the Commission, the CEO presents this proposal to the Speaker of the House for discussion. 

2.2.3. Representation Order

The Chief Electoral Officer prepares a final draft with necessary revisions called the representation order that contains specifications of electoral districts for each province, including their names, boundaries, and total number of seats from each province.

The CEO then forwards the draft to the office of the Governor in Council. The Governor proclaims Council within five days of receipt of the draft. Both documents were published in the Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the Canadian government. 

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Unsplash

3. The Federal Electoral System

The electoral system in Canada is called the “single-member plurality” or the “first-past-the-post” system. This translates to the norm that the party candidate with the most votes in an electoral district wins the seat in the House of Commons and represents her or his electoral district as a Member of Parliament (MP).

However, there is no requirement for an absolute majority (candidate with more than 50 percent of the electoral votes).

3.1. Candidacy for the House of Commons

An electoral district can have any number of candidates running for the seat, independently or under a political party.

However, a candidate cannot run for more than one riding, nor can a political party endorse more than one candidate for a riding. Candidates need to meet specific criteria for candidacy laid out by the Canada Elections Act. 

Political parties that meet the definition laid by the Canada Elections Act can register with the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). The parties are then officially counted for the elections and are supported by Elections Canada, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, for political financing and other benefits. 

3.2. Launching Elections

The Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982 mandated that federal elections occur at least once every five years. Additionally, the Canada Elections Act sets the federal election date as the third Monday of October of the fourth calendar year from the year when the previous election was held. 

The elections may happen earlier than the five-year gap under critical circumstances like actual or apprehended war or insurrection.

Also, when the Governor General accepts the PM’s advice to dissolve the Parliament or accepts the PM’s resignation following the defeat of the Government after a motion of no confidence by the opposition party(ies), the GG does not ask their leader to form a government.

3.2.1. Voter Registration

Canadian citizens 18 or older are eligible to vote in the federal elections.

In preparation for the general elections, the Elections Canada office refers to the National Registry of Electors, a continually updating database containing information on registered voters.

This Registry is used to prepare the initial list of electors and mail voter information cards to electors registered in the National Registry of Electors. 

3.2.2. Casting Ballot

Canadian voting is protected by a secret ballot, which makes it impossible to discover the candidate for whom a voter casts their vote. The voters need to present any of the listed voter IDs as proof of address and can cast their vote through one of the voting options.

Structure of the Canadian Federal Government
Source: Pexels

The general election process ends with the Chief Electoral Officer’s office, Elections Canada, producing various reports and documents

3.3. By-elections

Under the Parliament of Canada Act, by-elections occur when a government is present, but a seat becomes vacant in the House of Commons.

The Speaker of the House informs the CEO with a warrant for issuing a writ to elect a new member for the vacant seat. Following receipt of the warrant and acting on the advice of the PM, the Governor General issues a by-election date. 

Trivia: As an exception to conducting by-elections, a seat will remain vacant if the general elections are nine months away. 

Geographical Boundaries Elect MPs

Keith Sant - Featured
Keith Sant

Electoral districts, also known as ridings or constituencies, play a crucial role in Canada’s federal electoral system. They are the geographical boundaries that divide the country into smaller regions to elect Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons.

These electoral districts serve as a link between individual voters and the federal government. They allow for fair representation of different regions, demographics, and interests within the country.

Furthermore, electoral districts help to ensure political accountability by holding MPs accountable to specific groups of constituents. This means that each MP is responsible for representing the needs and concerns of their respective electoral district.

Keith Sant, Founder & CEO, Sell My Mobile Home Park

4. Formation of the Government

A new Parliament begins after the House of Commons election is elected, and it is valid for a maximum of five years.

After the elections and counting of votes, the leader of the party with the most elected candidates will be asked by the GG to assume the role of PM and form the Government.

The PM may or may not be an elected Parliament member. The party with the second-highest elected representatives in the House is the official Opposition, and its leader is the Opposition Leader.  

4.1. The Ministry

The appointed PM of the governing party selects the members of the Cabinet from his/her party and recommends them to the Governor General for appointment. They are sworn in as ministers. Chaired by the Prime Minister, they are collectively called the “Ministry” or the cabinet.

The Cabinet is responsible for the administration and execution of the government’s policies. The ministers each have a parliamentary secretary. They also belong to the governing party and assist the ministers as directed.

4.2. The Speaker and Presiding Officers

When the House of Commons is in session, the Speaker and other presiding officers oversee the business proceedings, maintain order and decorum in the chamber, and protect the rights and privileges in the House.

When the Parliament is in session, the Speakers of the respective Houses facilitate the debates.


The Canadian government is a constitutional monarchy modelled after the Westminster system of parliamentary government. The King is the Head of the State, represented in the Parliament by the Governor General, who, with the assistance of the Prime Minister chairing the Privy Council and the Cabinet of Ministers, rule the country. 

Over time, the Canadian Constitution has undergone multiple amendments within this existing structure to evolve with the changing times, but always keeping with the country’s governing principles of openness, transparency, and accountability. 

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

Last Updated on by Saket Kumar


  • Lucy

    Payel is an avid writer. She hails from the community and public health fields. She has an insatiable knack for traveling, meeting people, and knowing their cultures and customs. Her writing reflects her passion in the lifestyle and health genre. Through her writings, Payel weaves words to bring out the nuances and angles of our lives and things that matter to us. Education MPH, MSc Specialization in Public Health and Biology Certifications/Qualifications MPH MSc in Biology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *