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 strengthened provincial ownership of natural resources, the latter being especially important for Alberta.
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. The leader of the political party voted into power by Canadian citizens becomes the head of government, known as the prime minister. The prime minister then chooses a cabinet of ministers from members of his or her party. Each minister is responsible for the administration of a department. Although elected for a five-year term, the prime minister may call an election at any time.
At a provincial level, the monarchy is represented by a lieutenant governor. Like the governor general, the position is mainly ceremonial.
Under the lieutenant governor are members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Assembly members are elected for a period of up to five years, though an election for a new assembly can be called at any time by the lieutenant governor or on the advice of the premier. In the Legislative Assembly are the premier, the cabinet ministers and backbenchers, the leader of the official opposition, other parties, and independent members. The laws of British Columbia are administered by the cabinet, premier, and lieutenant governor; they are interpreted by a judiciary made up of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Court of Appeal, and County or Provincial Courts.
The current ruling party is Gordon Campbell’s Liberal Party, which swept to power in April 2001. Provincial politics in British Columbia have traditionally been a two-party struggle. For information on the provincial government, its ministries, and current issues, visit www.gov.bc.ca.
The members of the Alberta Legislature are elected on a party system in the same way as those in British Columbia. The leader of the party in power, known as the premier, 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. Now, the Alberta Heritage Fund holds monies for programs and services, but most of the fund’s $14.5 billion is invested. The Progressive Conservative Party is currently in power. Other parties include the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and Alberta Alliance. The website of the Alberta government is www.alberta.ca.
Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory
North of the 60th parallel are three territories (the third is Nunavut). Simply put, these three Northern jurisdictions lack the population to qualify as provinces, and therefore fall under the constitutional control of the federal government. Fully elected assemblies give the territories a degree of independence, but there are no political parties. Instead, a single member of each electoral district is voted to the legislative assembly. Members of the assembly then elect a premier and cabinet ministers. At the top of the territorial ladder is a commissioner, who performs a role similar to the lieutenant governor’s. For information on the Northwest Territories government go to www.gov.nt.ca; the website of the Yukon government is www.gov.yk.ca.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition