Canada’s three levels of government

Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Parliament Hill  by Wladyslaw.  CC BY-SA

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Canada is a constitutional monarchy. In this system, the Queen or King of Canada is the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government. The functions of the monarch are generally carried out by her representative, the Governor General (federal) and the Lieutenant-Governor (provincial). These duties include promoting Canadian sovereignty, serving as Commander-in-Chief, presentation of orders, decorations, medals and awards, and others.

The head of government is the Prime Minister. The three main levels of government are federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal. Each level has different areas of responsibility depending on geography and types of services:


This level creates laws and manages program and services that affect the whole country. The seat of the federal government is in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. It is concerned with:

  • national defence
  • foreign affairs
  • employment insurance
  • money
  • banking
  • federal taxes
  • the post office
  • shipping
  • railways
  • telephones
  • pipelines
  • Aboriginal lands and rights
  • copyright law
  • criminal law

The federal government is made up of Members of Parliament (MPs) from every province or territory in Canada. The political party that elects the most MPs forms the federal government and their leader becomes the Prime Minister.


This level of government is responsible for issues that affect the province or territory. These are matters such as:

  • provincial taxes
  • hospitals
  • prisons
  • education
  • marriage
  • property and civil rights
  • rules of the road
  • age of majority

The provincial government is made up of the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs). MLAs may also be called Members of the Provincial Parliament or MPPs (Ontario), Members of the House of Assembly or MHAs (Newfoundland and Nova Scotia) or Members of the National Assembly or NHAs (Quebec). These are elected officials that represent a geographical area of the province called a riding. The political party with the most MPPs forms the provincial government. The head is called the Premier.


The municipal government is receives its power from the provincial government. It deals with issues concerning the community such as:

  • city parks
  • public transportation
  • collection of garbage and recycling
  • water and sewer services
  • fire prevention
  • city roads and sidewalks
  • licensing and control of pets

The municipal government is headed by a mayor. In First Nations communities, band councils are similar to municipal governments. The members elect the band council which makes decisions that affect the local community.

Sources: Library of Parliament of Canada, Get to know Canada

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