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Orders of Government

There are three orders of government in Canada: federal, provincial, and municipal.

The federal government is the level of government that governs the country as a whole. Canadians vote in federal elections to choose who will represent them in this government, and currently, the Government of Canada makes its decisions from Ottawa, with the Prime Minister as head, in the buildings on Parliament Hill.

The federal government’s powers were established in the Constitution Act, 1867, which is one of the key documents of Canada’s constitution. This document spells out the areas of Canadian life that the federal government is responsible for making decisions about; generally issues that affect Canadians across the country, like banking, broadcasting, and criminal law. The federal government is also responsible for Canada’s interactions with other countries, so it is also responsible for things like diplomacy, and international aid.

Each province or territory also has its own government, known as the Provincial or Territorial Government. For example, Nova Scotia is governed in part by the Government of Nova Scotia, while Ontario is in part governed by the Government of Ontario. Quebec is governed by the Government of Quebec, and so on. Each Provincial or Territorial government is headed by a Premier, and they make decisions with other Members of their legislative assembly or provincial parliament in their provincial or territorial capital.

The responsibilities of the provincial and territorial governments are also found in the Constitution Act 1867, just like the federal government. The powers of the provinces are things that seem more important to our daily lives than the issues addressed by the federal government. Provincial and territorial governments have control over highways, education, health care, amongst other issues.

It is important to note that the provincial and federal government share some powers; for example, both federal and provincial governments have some powers over natural resources, and both have some level of control over immigration.

Municipal governments are the governments that run cities, towns, villages, counties, districts, and metropolitan regions. They are not set up by the Constitution Act like the provincial and federal governments. Instead, municipal governments are set up by their provincial governments. For example, the Government of Ontario set up the government of the City of Toronto, and the Government of British Columbia set up the government of the City of Victoria.

Because each city government is given power by their provincial government, different cities are given different powers. However, for the most part, municipal governments are given control over issues in our day-to-day lives, like how streets and sidewalks are maintained, giving out parking tickets, providing police and firefighting services, getting rid of garbage and sewage, and running parks, swimming pools, libraries, beaches, and skating rinks. Municipal governments are elected in municipal elections, and the head of a municipal government is usually called the mayor and they make decisions with their fellow counselors from a City or Town hall.

Additional Resources:

  • An interactive explanation on levels of government from the Government of Ontario
  • An animated video from TVOntario aimed at younger viewers
  • A short game from the Library of Parliament to help you identify the areas of responsibility of federal, provincial, and municipal governments.