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Just like many European countries, Canada has a parliamentary form of government, with a bicameral legislature (meaning it has two separate bodies). The House of Commons is the lower house of its parliament and is made up of 338 elected members.
The Dominion of Canada was established in 1867 by the British North America Act, also known as the Constitution Act. Canada remains a constitutional monarchy and is a member state of the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom. So Canada's parliament is modeled after the UK's government, which also has a House of Commons (but Canada's other house is the Senate, while the UK has a House of Lords).
Both houses of Canada's parliament can introduce legislation, but only members of the House of Commons can introduce bills having to do with spending and raising money.
Most Canadian laws start as bills in the House of Commons.
In the Commons Chamber, MPs (as Members of Parliament are known) represent constituents, discuss national issues and debate and vote on bills.
Election to the House of Commons
In order to become an MP, a candidate runs in a federal election. These are held every four years. In each of Canada's 338 constituencies, or ridings, the candidate who gets the most votes is elected to the House of Commons.
Seats in the House of Commons are organized according to the population of each province and territory. All Canadian provinces or territories must have at least as many MPs in the House of Commons as the Senate.
Canada's House of Commons has more power than its Senate, even though the approval of both is needed to pass legislation. It's highly unusual for the Senate to reject a bill once it's been passed by the House of Commons. And Canada's government is answerable only to the House of Commons; a Prime Minister only stays in office as long as he or she has the confidence of its members.
Organization of the House of Commons
There are many different roles within Canada's House of Commons.
The Speaker is chosen by MPs via secret ballot after each general election. He or she presides over the House of Commons and represents the lower house before the Senate and the Crown. He or she oversees the House of Commons and its staff.
The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party in power, and as such is the head of Canada's government. Prime Ministers preside over Cabinet meetings and answer questions in the House of Commons, much like their British counterparts. The Prime Minister is usually an MP (but there were two Prime Ministers who began as senators).
The Cabinet is chosen by the Prime Minister and formally appointed by the Governor General. The majority of cabinet members are MPs, with at least one senator. Cabinet members oversee a specific department in the government, such as health or defense, and are assisted by parliamentary secretaries, also MPs appointed by the Prime Minister.
There are also Ministers of State, assigned to assist cabinet ministers in specific areas of government priority.
Each party with at least 12 seats in the House of Commons appoints one MP to be its House Leader. And each recognized party also has a whip, who is responsible for making sure party members are present for votes, and that they hold ranks within the party, ensuring unity in votes.