A Guide to the Role of Provincial Premiers in Canada

Parliament Hill in Ottawa

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The head of government of each of the ten Canadian provinces is the premier. The role of the provincial premier is similar to that of the prime minister in the Canadian federal government. The premier provides leadership with the support of a cabinet and an office of political and bureaucratic staff.

The provincial premier is usually the leader of the political party that wins the most seats in the legislative assembly in a provincial general election. The premier does not need to be a member of the provincial legislative assembly to lead the provincial government but must have a seat in the legislative assembly to participate in debates.

The heads of government of the three Canadian territories are also premiers. In Yukon, the premier is chosen in the same way as in the provinces. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut operate under a consensus system of government. In those territories, members of the legislative assembly elected in a general election elect the premier, speaker, and cabinet ministers.

The Provincial Cabinet

The cabinet is the key decision-making forum in the provincial government. The provincial premier decides on the size of cabinet, selects cabinet ministers (usually members of the legislative assembly), and assigns their department responsibilities and portfolios. The premier chairs cabinet meetings and controls the cabinet agenda. The premier is sometimes called the first minister.

Major responsibilities of the premier and provincial cabinet include:

  • Developing and implementing policies and priorities for the province
  • Preparing legislation to be introduced in the legislative assembly
  • Submitting government spending budget to the legislative assembly for approval
  • Ensuring provincial laws and policies are carried out

Head of a Provincial Political Party

The source of power of a provincial premier in Canada is as leader of a political party. The premier must always be sensitive to the executives of his or her party as well as to the grassroots supporters of the party.

As the party leader, the premier must be able to explain party policies and programs and be able to put them into action. In Canadian elections, voters increasingly define the policies of a political party by their perceptions of the party leader, so the premier must continuously attempt to appeal to a large number of voters.

The Legislative Assembly

The premier and cabinet members have seats in the legislative assembly (with occasional exceptions) and lead and direct the legislative assembly's activities and agenda. The premier must retain the confidence of the majority of the members of the legislative assembly or resign and seek a dissolution of the legislature to have the conflict resolved by an election.

Due to time constraints, the premier participates in only the most important debates in the legislative assembly, such as a debate on a speech from the throne or debates on contentious legislation. However, the premier actively defends the government and its policies in the daily question period held in the legislative assembly.

Also, the premier must fulfill his responsibilities as a member of the legislative assembly in representing the constituents in his or her electoral district.

Federal-Provincial Relations

The premier is the main communicator of provincial government plans and priorities with the federal government and with the other provinces and territories in Canada. Premiers participate in formal meetings with the prime minister of Canada and other premiers at first ministers conferences. And, since 2004, the premiers have come together at the council of the federation, which meets at least once a year, to coordinate positions on issues they have with the federal government.

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Munroe, Susan. "A Guide to the Role of Provincial Premiers in Canada." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/role-of-provincial-premiers-in-canada-510822. Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 29). A Guide to the Role of Provincial Premiers in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/role-of-provincial-premiers-in-canada-510822 Munroe, Susan. "A Guide to the Role of Provincial Premiers in Canada." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/role-of-provincial-premiers-in-canada-510822 (accessed March 29, 2023).