Canada is part of the British Commonwealth, but the monarchy and the elected government of Great Britain have no control over Canada’s political affairs. The British monarchy is represented in Canada by a governor general. The country’s constitution is based on five important acts of British Parliament, the most recent being the Canada Act of 1982. That act gave Canada the power to amend its constitution, provided for recognition of the nation’s multicultural heritage, and, most important for Alberta, strengthened provincial ownership of natural resources.
The Canadian government operates through three main agencies: the Parliament (made up of the Senate and the House of Commons), which makes the laws; the Executive (Cabinet), which applies the laws; and the Judiciary, which interprets the laws. Elections are held every five years, and the leader of whichever political party is voted into power by Canadian citizens becomes the head of government, known as the prime minister. The prime minister chooses a cabinet of ministers from members of his or her party. Each of the ministers is responsible for the administration of a department.
In Alberta, like in the other nine provinces, the monarchy is represented by a lieutenant governor. Like the governor general, the position is mainly ceremonial. The members of the Alberta Legislature are elected on a party system for a maximum of five years. The Progressive Conservative Party is currently in power. The other parties of consequence are the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and Alberta Alliance. The leader of the party in power is known as a premier, who oversees the running of 18 departments. With so much control over the province’s natural resources and, in turn, Alberta’s future, many premiers have enjoyed a particularly high profile. One such premier, Peter Lougheed, initiated the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which collects billions of dollars in oil royalties for the people of Alberta. Initiated in 1976, the fund changed direction in the mid-1990s, steering toward long-term financial returns as opposed to specific projects. Currently, the General Reserve Fund holds monies for programs and services, but most of the fund is invested.
For more information on Alberta’s government, visit www.alberta.ca.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition