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Municipal Government in Canada

Municipal governments are local elected authorities. They include citiestowns and villages, and rural (county) or metropolitan municipalities. They are created by the provinces and territories to provide services that are best managed under local control; from waste disposal and public transit to fire services, policing, community centres and libraries. A municipal government’s revenue is raised largely from property taxes and provincial grants.

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Administrative Tribunals in Canada

Administrative tribunals make decisions on behalf of federal and provincial governments when it is impractical or inappropriate for the government to do so itself. Tribunals are set up by federal or provincial legislation; this is known as “empowering legislation.” Tribunals are commonly known as commissions or boards. They make decisions about a wide variety of issues, including disputes between people or between people and the government. Tribunals may also perform regulatory or licensing functions. Their decisions may be reviewed by the courts. Because they engage in fact-finding and have the power to impact personal rights, tribunals are often seen as “quasi-judicial.”

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Political Campaigning in Canada

A political campaign is an organized effort to secure the nomination and election of people seeking public office. In a representative democracy, electoral campaigns are the primary means by which voters are informed of a political party’s policy or a candidate’s views. The conduct of campaigns in Canada has evolved gradually over nearly two centuries. It has adapted mostly British and American campaign practices to the needs of a parliamentary federation with two official languages. Campaigns occur at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Federal and provincial campaigns are party contests in which candidates represent political parties. Municipal campaigns — and those of Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are contested by individuals, not by parties.

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Lobbying in Canada

Lobbying is the process through which individuals and groups articulate their interests to federal, provincial or municipal governments to influence public policy or government decision-making. Lobbyists may be paid third parties who communicate on behalf of their clients; or they may be employees of a corporation or organization seeking to influence the government. Because of the possibility for conflict of interest, lobbying is the subject of much public scrutiny. At the federal level, lobbying activities are governed by the Lobbying Act. Provinces and municipalities have their own lobbying laws and by-laws.

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Prohibition in Canada

Prohibition in Canada came about as a result of the temperance movement. It called for moderation or total abstinence from alcohol, based on the belief that drinking was responsible for many of society’s ills. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) of 1878 gave local governments the “local option” to ban the sale of alcohol. Prohibition was first enacted on a provincial basis in Prince Edward Island in 1901. It became law in the remaining provinces, as well as in Yukon and Newfoundland, during the First World War. Liquor could be legally produced in Canada (but not sold there) and legally exported out of Canadian ports. Most provincial laws were repealed in the 1920s. PEI was the last to give up the “the noble experiment” in 1948.  

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Political Participation in Canada

Canadians participate in the political system any time they voluntarily try to influence the outcome of an election, or a government or party policy. This can be done in various ways, from voting to campaigning for a political cause to running for political office. The highest turnout rate for a federal election was 79.4 per cent in 1958. Voter turnout in Canada declined in the 1990s and 2000s, reaching 58.8 per cent in 2008. The numbers then began trending upwards, reaching 68.3 per cent in 2015 and 67 per cent in 2019. Women, who gained the right to vote federally in 1918, vote at slightly higher rates than men. Older citizens are more politically active than younger ones, although voting among people age 18 to 34 increased sharply between 2011 and 2019.

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Temperance Movement in Canada

The temperance movement was an international social and political campaign of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on the belief that drinking was responsible for many of society’s ills. It called for moderation or total abstinence from alcohol. This led to the legal prohibition of alcohol in many parts of Canada. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) of 1878 gave local governments the “local option” to ban the sale of alcohol. In 1915 and 1916, all provinces but Quebec prohibited the sale of alcohol as a patriotic measure during the First World War. Most provincial laws were repealed in the 1920s in favour of allowing governments to control alcohol sales. Temperance societies were later criticized for distorting economic activity, and for encouraging drinking and organized crime.

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Marriage in Canada

Marriage remains one of the most important social institutions in Canada. It has undergone profound changes since the 1960s. The marriage rate is in decline and the traditional idea of a family is being transformed. After the turn of the millennium, the marriage rate fell to 4.7 marriages per 1,000 people (compared to 10.9 in the 1940s). Married couples are still the predominant family structure. But between 2001 and 2016, the number of common-law couples rose 51.4 per cent; more than five times the increase for married couples over the same period. The definition of what constitutes a married couple also changed in 2005 with the legalization of same-sex marriage. In 2016, 65.8 per cent of Canadian families were headed by married couples; down from 70.5 per cent in 2001. Marriage falls under federal jurisdiction, but the provinces regulate marriage ceremonies and grant marriage licences.

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Constitution Act, 1867

The Constitution Act, 1867 was originally known as the British North America Act (BNA Act). It was the law passed by the British Parliament on 29 March 1867 to create the Dominion of Canada. It came into effect on 1 July 1867. The Act is the foundational document of Canada’s Constitution. It outlines the structure of government in Canada and the distribution of powers between the central Parliament and the provincial legislatures. It was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867 with the patriation of the Constitution in 1982.

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Canadian Electoral System

Electoral systems are methods of choosing political representatives. (See also Political Campaigning in Canada.) Elections in Canada use a first-past-the-post system, whereby the candidate that wins the most votes in a constituency is selected to represent that riding. Elections are governed by an elaborate series of laws and a well-developed administrative apparatus. They occur at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Canada’s federal election system is governed by the Canada Elections Act. It is administered by the Chief Electoral Officer. Provincial election systems, governed by provincial election acts, are similar to the federal system; they differ slightly from each other in important details. Federal and provincial campaigns — and that of Yukon — are party contests in which candidates represent political parties. Municipal campaigns — and those of Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are contested by individuals, not by parties.

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Conservative Party

The Conservative Party was the founding political party of Canada, governing for the first 29 years after Confederation. Since then, the party has not been as electorally successful as its rival Liberals. The Conservatives have had periods in power and long periods in opposition. The party has been most successful when it was able to assemble a national coalition of anglophone conservatives from the West and Ontario, and nationalists from Quebec. Its current leader is Erin O’Toole.

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Political Party Financing in Canada

The financial activities of political parties in Canada were largely unregulated until the Election Expenses Act was passed in 1974. Canada now has an extensive regime regulating federal political party financing; both during and outside of election periods. Such regulation encourages greater transparency of political party activities. It also ensures a fair electoral arena that limits the advantages of those with more money. Political parties and candidates are funded both privately and publicly. Election finance laws govern how parties and candidates are funded; as well as the ways in which they can spend money. (See also Canadian Electoral System.)

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Taxation in Canada

Taxes are mandatory payments by individuals and corporations to government. They are levied to finance government services, redistribute income, and influence the behaviour of consumers and investors. The Constitution Act, 1867 gave Parliament unlimited taxing powers and restricted those of the provinces to mainly direct taxation (taxes on income and property, rather than on activities such as trade). Personal income tax and corporate taxes were introduced in 1917 to help finance the First World War. The Canadian tax structure changed profoundly during the Second World War. By 1946, direct taxes accounted for more than 56 per cent of federal revenue. The federal government introduced a series of tax reforms between 1987 and 1991; this included the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). In 2009, the federal, provincial and municipal governments collected $585.8 billion in total tax revenues.

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Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act, created in 1977, is designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex and a variety of other categories. The Act produced two human rights bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and, through a 1985 amendment, the Human Rights Tribunal Panel (it became the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1998). Decisions of both the Commission and the Tribunal can be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada. Unlike the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides Canadians with a broad range of rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act covers only equality rights. It also governs only federal jurisdictions. Each province and territory in Canada has its own human rights legislation, which apply to local entities such as schools and hospitals.

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Canadian Party System

Political parties are organizations that seek to control government. They participate in public affairs by nominating candidates for elections. ( See also Political Campaigning in Canada.) Since there are typically multiple groups that wish to do this, political parties are best thought of as part of a party system. This system dictates the way political parties conduct themselves in competition with one another. As of 2015, there were 23 registered political parties in Canada. The five major federal parties are the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party of Canada.

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Distribution of Powers

Distribution of powers refers to the division of legislative powers and responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments. The areas of distribution were first outlined at the Quebec Conference in 1864 (see Quebec Resolutions) and are enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867. They have been a source of debate and tension between the provinces and the federal government for generations. (See Federal-Provincial Relations.) However, this part of the Constitution has remained remarkably unchanged since Confederation.

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Notwithstanding Clause

Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is known as the notwithstanding clause. Also known as the override clause, it is part of the Constitution of Canada. The clause allows federal, provincial or territorial governments to temporarily override, or bypass, certain Charter rights. These overrides are subject to renewal after five years. Although the clause is available to governments, its use is politically difficult and therefore rare. It is known colloquially as the “nuclear option,” because its use is considered extremely severe. Since the Constitution was patriated in 1982, the clause has been used only a handful of times by various provinces. The federal government has never invoked the clause.

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Crown Corporation

Crown corporations are wholly owned federal or provincial organizations that are structured like private or independent companies. They include enterprises such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), VIA Rail, Canada Post and the Bank of Canada; as well as various provincial electric utilities. Crown corporations have greater freedom from direct political control than government departments. As long as crown corporations have existed, there has been debate about their structure, accountability and role in the economy.

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Federalism in Canada

Federalism is a political system in which government power and responsibility is divided between a federal legislature and state or provincial legislatures. A true federation, in the modern sense, is a state in which the smaller parts are not sovereign and cannot legally secede. In practice, Canadian federalism has swung between the extremes of centralizing control and decentralizingit. The federal government has jurisdiction over the entire country. Each provincial government has jurisdiction over its portion of the population and region. Both levels of government get their authority from Canada’s written Constitution; but it includes features that are incompatible with a strict approach to federalism. Canadian federalism has been tested throughout the country’s history. It remains a subject of great debate.

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document in Canadian history. It achieved full independence for Canada by allowing the country to change its Constitution without approval from Britain. It also enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s Constitution, the highest law of the land. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country. (See Patriation of the Constitution.)