The Prime Minister of Canada

Canadian Prime Ministers and Their Role in the Government of Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Mike Ridewood / Getty Images

The Prime Minister of Canada is the head of the government in Canada, usually the leader of the Canadian federal political party electing the most members to the Canadian House of Commons during a general election. The Prime Minister of Canada selects the members of the cabinet, and with them is responsible to the Canadian House of Commons for the administration of the federal government.

Stephen Harper - Prime Minister of Canada

After working in several right-wing parties in Canada, Stephen Harper helped form the new Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. He led the Conservative Party to a minority government in the 2006 federal election, defeating the Liberals who had been in power for 13 years. His emphasis in his first two years in office was on getting tough on crime, enlarging the military, reducing taxes and decentralizing government. In the 2008 federal election, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were re-elected with an increased minority government, and Harper put his government's immediate focus on the Canadian economy. In the 2011 general election, after a tightly scripted campaign, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives won a majority government.

Role of the Prime Minister of Canada

Although the role of prime minister of Canada is not defined by any law or constitutional document, it is the most powerful role in Canadian politics. The Canadian prime minister is the head of the executive branch of the Canadian federal government. The prime minister selects and chairs cabinet, the key decision-making forum in the Canadian federal government. The prime minister and cabinet are responsible to parliament and must maintain the confidence of the people, through the House of Commons. The prime minister also has significant responsibilities as head of a political party.

Prime Ministers in Canadian History

Since Canadian Confederation in 1867 there have been 22 prime ministers of Canada. More than two-thirds have been lawyers, and most, but not all, came to the job with some cabinet experience. Canada has had only one woman prime minister, Kim Campbell, and she was only prime minister for about four and a half months. The longest-serving prime minister was Mackenzie King, who was Prime Minister of Canada for more than 21 years. The prime minister with the shortest term in office was Sir Charles Tupper who was prime minister for just 69 days.

Diaries of Prime Minister Mackenzie King

Mackenzie King was Prime Minister of Canada for more than 21 years. He kept a personal diary from the time he was a student at the University of Toronto to just before his death in 1950. Library and Archives Canada has digitized the diaries and you can browse and search through them online. The diaries provide a rare insight into the private life of a Canadian prime minister. The diaries also provide a valuable first-hand political and social history of Canada spanning more than 50 years.

Canadian Prime Ministers Quiz

Test your knowledge of Canadian prime ministers.