Understanding Canada's Parliament

The Process of Making Laws and Running the Canadian Government

Canadian Parliament building
Canadian Parliament building. Brian Kennedy Getty Images

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means that it recognizes the queen or king as the head of state, while the prime minister is the head of government. Parliament is the legislative branch of the federal government in Canada. Canada’s Parliament consists of three parts: the Queen, the Senate and the House of Commons. As the legislative branch of the federal government, all three parts work together to make the laws for the country.

Who Are the Members of Parliament?

The Parliament of Canada is made up of the sovereign, represented by the governor-general of Canada, plus the House of Commons and the Senate. Parliament is the legislative, or law-making, branch of the federal government. 

Canada's government has three branches. The members of Parliament, or parliamentarians, meet in Ottawa and work with the executive and judicial branches to run the national government. The executive branch is the decision-making branch, consisting of the sovereign, the prime minister and the Cabinet. The judicial branch is a series of independent courts that interpret the laws passed by the other branches.

Canada's Two-Chamber System

Canada has a bicameral parliamentary system. That means that there are two separate chambers, each with its own group of parliamentarians: the Senate and the House of Commons. Each chamber has a Speaker who acts as the presiding officer of the chamber.

The prime minister recommends individuals to serve in the Senate, and the governor-general makes the appointments. A senator must be at least 30 years old and must retire by his or her 75th birthday. The Senate has 105 members, and the seats are distributed to give equal representation to the major regions of the country.

In contrast, voters elect representatives to the House of Commons. These representatives are called Members of Parliament, or MPs. With few exceptions, anyone who is qualified to vote can run for a seat in the House of Commons. Thus, a candidate needs to be at least 18 years old to run for an MP position. Seats in the House of Commons are distributed in proportion to the population of each province and territory. In general, the more people in a province or territory, the more members it has in the House of Commons. The number of MPs varies, but every province or territory must have at least as many members in the House of Commons as it has in the Senate.

Making Law in Canada

Members of both the Senate and the House of Commons propose, review and debate potential new laws. This includes opposition party members, who also may propose new laws and participate in the overall lawmaking process.

To become law, a bill must pass through both chambers in a series of readings and debates, followed by careful study in committee and additional debate. Finally, the bill must receive "royal assent," or final approval, by the governor-general before becoming law. 

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Munroe, Susan. "Understanding Canada's Parliament." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/parliament-508470. Munroe, Susan. (2017, July 29). Understanding Canada's Parliament. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/parliament-508470 Munroe, Susan. "Understanding Canada's Parliament." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/parliament-508470 (accessed December 17, 2017).