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Government in Canada


Government in Canada is organized into three and quite often four levels: federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal (which is often subdivided into regional and local). Each level is charged with various responsibilities by either the Constitution or a higher level of government.

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The Constitution of Canada divided the responsibilities of the Government into federal and provincial jurisdictions. It also provided for the possibility of the provincial governments to delegate some of its responsibilities to a municipal government.

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The Federal Government is seated in Ottawa and is headed by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister. Its responsibilities include:
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  • defence,
  • criminal law,
  • employment insurance,
  • postal service,
  • census,
  • copyrights,
  • trade regulation,
  • external relations,
  • money and banking,
  • transportation,
  • citizenship, and
  • Indian affairs.
The Consitution also specified that every issue not mentioned as belonging to the provincial or territorial governments comes under the power of the Federal Government. For more information on the Government of Canada, please continue on to the Federal Government page.


The Provincial and Territorial Governments currently number ten and three, respectively. Each has its own capital city and is headed by a Lieutenant Governor (provinces) or a Commissioner (territories) on the advice of a Premier (provinces) or a Government Leader (territories). A province exists in its own right, a creation of the Constitution Acts, 1867 - 1982. A territory, however, is created through federal law. As a result, Crown lands in the territories are retained by the federal government in the Crown in right of Canada. This differs from the provinces, which own provincial lands in the Crown in right of the province. Secondly, in a territory, federal Parliament may enter into provincial-type affairs, such as school curriculum. Thirdly, territorial governments are not included in the Constitutional amending formula the way we decide if we want to change something in the Canadian Constitution. Provinces get a vote when a change is proposed territories do not. In general, provincial and territorial responsibilities include:

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  • property and civil rights,
  • administration of justice,
  • natural resources and the environment,
  • education,
  • health, and
  • welfare.
For more information on the government of Canada's provinces, please continue on to the Provincial Government page.


Municipal Governments are essential "creatures" of the provincial or territorial governments. The latter can create, modify, or eliminate a municipal government at will and controls exactly which powers a municipal government is entitled to execute. There are hundreds of municipalities in each province and territory and are labelled in many different forms. "Upper tier" municipalities include Regions, Counties, and Districts and are headed by a Chair or a Warden. "Lower tier" municipalities which exist within an upper tier include Cities, Towns, Townships, and Municipalities and are headed by a Mayor or a Reeve. Their responsibilities vary from location to location but generally include:
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  • water
  • sewage,
  • waste collection,
  • public transit,
  • land use planning,
  • libraries,
  • emergency services,
  • animal control, and
  • economic development.
For more information on municipalities in Canada, please continue on to the Municipal Government page.


See also
Federal Government
Provinces & Territories
Municipal Government
Government Fact Sheets to Download
Provincial Fact Sheets to Download


Copyright Craig I.W. Marlatt