Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy with a federal system and strong democratic traditions. As a Commonwealth Realm, Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada. Her duties are performed by the governor-general at the federal level and by lieutenant-generals at provincial level. The governor-general is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister.

Surprisingly, the role of Canada’s prime minister is defined neither by law nor by the written constitution, but it is effectively the most powerful role in Canadian politics. The prime minister is traditionally the leader of the largest political party in the House of Commons. He or she selects cabinet ministers and allocates cabinet positions. The prime minister and cabinet have executive power at the federal level.

The federal parliament is made up of the Queen, the elected House of Commons with 308 members and the appointed Senate with 105 members. Elections take place at least once every five years. Members of the Senate, whose seats are apportioned regionally, are chosen by the prime minister in consultation with the cabinet.

Canada is composed of ten provinces and three territories. The provinces have a large degree of autonomy from the federal government. They are responsible for most of Canada’s social programmes such as health and welfare and have unicameral, elected legislatures. The territories are controlled and administered by the federal government, although elected territorial councils have increasing jurisdiction in local matters.

Justice is administered both at a federal and provincial level, in a four-tiered structure. The Supreme Court resides over the judicial system and is the final court of appeal in civil and criminal cases, for both federal and provincial appeal courts, and also deals with constitutional issues. In the next tier are the appeals courts. The third tier consists of the Federal Court, the Tax Court of Canada, and the provincial and territorial superior courts of general jurisdiction. The fourth tier is of provincial courts, including the Traffic Division, the Small Claims Division, the Family Division and the Criminal Division. Judges in the federal courts and the superior provincial courts are appointed by the federal government.

The Constitution Act of 1982 includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.