In 1867, the British North America Act (BNA Act), the Constitution of Canada, united three British colonies: the Province of Canada (comprising Upper Canada, which is now Ontario, and Lower Canada, which is now Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The BNA Act made Canada a constitutional monarchy, whose sovereign is the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom (currently Elizabeth II).
Canada is a federation, which means that powers are divided between a central (federal) government and 10 provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador).
The powers of the federal government and the provinces are enshrined in the Constitution. The jurisdictions of the three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) are conferred on them by the federal government and aren’t enshrined in the BNA Act.
Elizabeth II is Canada’s head of state.
In the past, only the British sovereign could amend the Constitution. In 1982, Canada patriated its Constitution, which means it adopted mechanisms to amend it itself, following an agreement between the federal government and nine of the provinces. Quebec refused to sign the agreement, primarily because it wasn’t granted special constitutional status.
Furthermore, since 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is entrenched in the Constitution. Despite these changes, Canada remains a constitutional monarchy and the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, is still the Queen of Canada.
Canada’s system of government is inspired by the British parliamentary system and strongly rooted in tradition. The Parliament of Canada consists of two houses:
- The House of Commons (Lower House) includes 338 elected members.
- The Senate (Upper House) includes 105 members appointed by the prime minister and representing all regions of the country.
A less partisan and more independent Senate
In December 2015, the Trudeau government established a new independent and non-partisan body to advise the Prime Minister on Senate appointments. This advisory committee makes recommendations based on merit to choose who should be appointed to the Senate.