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Parliamentary
Primer

How Parliament Works

How Canada Is Governed

How Canada Is Governed

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This means that the King or Queen is the Head of State, but the Prime Minister is the Head of Government.

Bills are created and passed by Parliament, but the Governor General (the Monarch’s representative in Canada) signs them into law.

Canada is also a federal state: its ten provinces and three territories share a central government. Parliament passes laws that affect all Canadians, in areas like foreign policy and national defence. Each province makes its own laws in other domains, such as education and health care.

Structure Of Parliament Icon

The Structure of Parliament

There are three parts of Parliament, which all work together to create new laws:

Official Diamond Jubilee Portrait of the Queen of Canada

The Monarch

Head of State


represented in Canada by the Governor General

Senate Chamber

The Senate

Upper Chamber


appointed


105 seats


represents Canada by region

New House Of Commons

The House of Commons

Lower Chamber


elected


338 seats


represents Canada by population

Icon How Laws Are Made

How Laws Are Made

Canada’s legislative process involves all three parts of Parliament. To become a law, a bill must be approved by both Chambers and the Governor General (or a deputy).

How does it work?

STEP 1

A bill (proposed law) is introduced in either the Senate or the House of Commons.

Step 1

STEP 2

Parliamentarians debate the bill and vote to decide whether it should be studied further.

Step 2

STEP 3

If the bill passes, it is sent to a committee, which studies it in depth and may suggest changes.

Step 3

STEP 4

The bill goes back for a final debate and vote, based on the committee’s report.

Step 4

STEP 5

If the bill passes the vote, it is sent to the other Chamber, where it goes through the same process.

Step 5

STEP 6

Once the bill has been passed by both Chambers in identical form, it goes to the Governor General for Royal Assent and becomes Canadian law.

Step 6
Icon Work Of House Commons

The Work of the Senate

The Senate is Parliament’s Upper Chamber.

Senators are appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister, to represent the regions, provinces and territories of Canada. They draft bills, refine legislation passed by the House and debate issues on their merits. Much of the Senate’s most important work is done in committees, where Senators study bills in depth and hear from a wide range of witnesses.

Icon Work Of Senate

The Work of the House of Commons

The House of Commons is the elected law-making body in Parliament.

Most bills begin in the House, and its Members spend much of their time debating and voting. Each of the 338 Members of the House (usually called Members of Parliament or MPs) represents a specific geographic area in Canada, known as a riding. MPs serve as representatives of the people who live in their riding.

Inside Parliament

History of the Parliament Buildings Icon

History of the Parliament Buildings

The Parliament Buildings are older than Canada.

Construction began in 1859, when new buildings were needed to house the government of the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec). When Canada became an independent country in 1867, the buildings became the seat of the new federal Parliament.

There are three Parliament Buildings: Centre Block (which is home to the Senate and the House of Commons) and the East and West Blocks (which house parliamentarians’ offices). The East and West Blocks are still standing, but the original Centre Block was destroyed by fire in 1916. The only part of the building to survive was the Library. The current Centre Block was built from 1916 to 1920.

Icon Art And Architecture

Art and Architecture

Art And Architecture
Art And Architecture
Art And Architecture

The Parliament Buildings were designed in the Gothic Revival style, which was popular during the late 19th century.

Gothic Revival combines medieval traditions – like pointed arches, vaulted ceilings and gargoyles – with more modern elements. Centre Block features ornate carvings, vibrant stained glass windows and many works of fine art.

Icon Highlights

Centre Block Highlights

Centre Block is the heart of Canadian democracy and the most richly decorated part of Parliament.

Icon Library

The Library of Parliament

Built in the 1870s, the Library is known for its beautiful interior.

The bright and colourful decor and the detailed woodwork are unique to this space.

Despite its historic origins, the Library supports the work of Parliament with modern and innovative services including customized research, reference and analysis. It also creates products that help teach Canadians about their Parliament.

Icon Peace tower

The Peace Tower

Centre Block’s iconic clock tower was built in the 1920s, after the devastating First World War.

To honour the sacrifices made by Canadians and to celebrate the end of the conflict, it was named the Peace Tower. The Peace Tower is also home to the 53 bells of the carillon, a unique musical instrument that is still played every weekday by the Dominion Carillonneur.

Memorial Chamber Icon

The Memorial Chamber

Memorial Chamber

Inside the Peace Tower, the Memorial Chamber is dedicated to the memory of Canadians who have lost their lives in military service.

It houses seven volumes, elaborately bound and decorated and placed on stone altars. These Books of Remembrance contain the names of Canada’s lost servicemen and women.

Order Publications

Learning About Parliament

Interested in learning about Parliament?

The following publications are available free of charge. To order, contact us or fill in the order form below.

How Canadians Govern Themselves

How Canadians Govern Themselves

A detailed resource on Parliament, law-making, governance and democracy. Recommended ages: 13 to adult.

Read online >

English

French

Our Country, Our Parliament

Our Country, Our Parliament

An in-depth publication that explains Parliament and Canadian democracy to younger readers. Recommended ages: 10 to 14.

Read online >

English

French

Welcome to Parliament

Welcome to Parliament

An overview of Parliament for visitors and general readers. Recommended ages: 13 to adult.

Read online >

Bilingual

At Work in the Senate

At Work in the Senate

A fold-out pamphlet showing who’s who in the Senate. Recommended ages: 13 to adult.

Read online >

Bilingual

At work in the House of Commons

At Work in the House of Commons

A fold-out pamphlet showing who’s who in the House of Commons. Recommended ages: 13 to adult.

Read online >

Bilingual

Guide to the Canadian House of Commons

Guide to the Canadian House of Commons

A source of detailed information about the key players and work of the House of Commons. Recommended ages: 13 to adult.

Read online >

Bilingual

Get to Know the House of Commons

Get to Know the House of Commons

A junior-level pamphlet that offers a basic overview of the House of Commons. Recommended ages: 9 to 12.

Read online >

Bilingual

Foundations: A History of Canada and Its Parliament

Foundations: A History of Canada and Its Parliament

A look at some of the key events that have shaped Canada and its Parliament, from prehistory to the present day. Recommended ages: 12 to adult.

Read online >

English

French

The Speakers

The Speakers

These online publications include details on the role and history of the Speakership, as well as biographies of the Speakers.

The Speakers of the Senate of Canada >
The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons >

Other languages

Other languages

An overview of Canada’s Parliament is available online in more than 30 languages.

Read online >
Access other languages >

Please fill out the form.

Please re-use these materials.