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Editorial: The Stanley Flag and the “Distinctive Canadian Symbol”

Prime Minister Lester Pearson and John Matheson, one of his Liberal Members of Parliament, are widely considered the fathers of the Canadian flag. Their names were front and centre in 2015 during the tributes and celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the flag’s creation. But the role played by George Stanley is often lost in the story of how this iconic symbol came to be.

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Governor General of Canada

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. As such, there is a clear division between the head of state and the head of government. The head of government is the prime minister, an elected political leader. The head of state is the Canadian monarch. Their duties are carried out by the governor general, who acts as the representative of the Crown — currently Elizabeth II — in Canada. (Lieutenant-Governors fulfill the same role in provincial governments.) The governor general performs a wide array of ceremonial duties. They also fulfill an important role in upholding the traditions of Parliament and other democratic institutions. Inuk leader Mary Simon was formally installed as Canada’s 30th Governor General on 26 July 2021. She is the first Indigenous person to hold Canada’s viceregal position.

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Voting Rights

The right to vote in Canada has not been straightforward. Race, ethnicity, and gender were often factors in determining who had the right to vote, a right that, once earned, could be taken away. Learn about the complicated history of Voting Rights in Canada.

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Sponsorship Scandal (Adscam)

After a razor-thin majority voted in the 1995 Quebec Referendum for Quebec to stay in Canada, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien responded with various initiatives to promote federalism in the province. A sponsorship program began in 1996. Public money was directed from the Department of Public Works and Government Services to private advertising agencies to promote Canada and the federal government at cultural, community and sports events in Quebec. The media began questioning the spending and handling of these contracts. Two auditor general reports and a public inquiry revealed that ad agency executives and Liberal Party officials had corruptly handled more than $300 million; $100 million of which was funnelled from the government to the Liberal Party. Five people were found guilty of fraud. Along with several other issues, the scandal helped lead to the government of Chrétien’s successor, Paul Martin, being reduced to a minority in 2004.  

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Cabinet

In Canada’s parliamentary system of government, the cabinet is the committee of ministers that holds executive power. Cabinets are chaired by the prime minister (or in the provinces, by the premier). Ministers are typically elected politicians drawn from the party holding the most seats in the House of Commons (or the provincial legislature). Cabinets are traditionally strong, consensus-driven bodies; although some believe their influence is waning in the face of powerful prime ministers and their advisers.

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Canada and the G7 (Group of Seven)

The G7, or Group of Seven, is an international group comprising the governments of the world’s largest economies: Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. It was founded as the G6 in 1975 and became the G7 with the addition of Canada in 1976. The Group is an informal bloc; it has no treaty or constitution and no permanent offices, staff or secretariat. The leaders of the member states meet at annual summits to discuss issues of mutual concern and to coordinate actions to address them. The meeting location and the organization’s presidency rotates among the members. The European Union is also a non-enumerated member, though it never assumes the rotating presidency.

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Governors General of Canada Since Confederation

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. The Crown is the head of state, and the governor general acts as their representative in Canada. The governor general has extensive ceremonial duties. They fulfill an important role in upholding the traditions of Parliament and other democratic institutions. Inuk leader Mary Simon was formally installed as Canada’s 30th Governor General on 26 July 2021. She is the first Indigenous person to hold Canada’s vice-regal position.

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Responsible Government

Responsible government refers to a government that is responsible to the people. In Canada, responsible government is an executive or Cabinet that depends on the support of an elected assembly, rather than a monarch or their representatives. A responsible government first appeared in Canada in the 1830s. It became an important part of Confederation. It is the method by which Canada achieved independence from Britain without revolution.

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Secularism in Quebec

The Quiet Revolution (1960–1970) gave rise to secularism within Quebec society. The latter became both secular by widening the separation between Church and State, as well as non-confessional by removing religion from institutions. 

However, the issue of secularism is still a matter for debate. In June 2019, the passage of the Act Respecting the Laicity of the State fueled many discussions about the place of religion in public domain.

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Crown

In a monarchy, the Crown is an abstract concept or symbol that represents the state and its government. In a constitutional monarchy such as Canada, the Crown is the source of non-partisan sovereign authority. It is part of the legislative, executive and judicial powers that govern the country. Under Canada’s system of responsible government, the Crown performs each of these functions on the binding advice, or through the actions of, members of Parliament, ministers or judges. As the embodiment of the Crown, the monarch — currently Queen Elizabeth II — serves as head of state. The Queen and her vice-regal representatives — the governor general at the federal level and lieutenant-governors provincially — possess what are known as prerogative powers; they can be made without the approval of another branch of government, though they are rarely used. The Queen and her representatives also fulfill ceremonial functions as Head of State.

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Prime Minister of Canada

The prime minister (PM) is the head of the federal government. It is the most powerful position in Canadian politics. Prime ministers are not specifically elected to the position; instead, the PM is typically the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons. The prime minister controls the governing party and speaks for it; names senators and senior judges for appointment; and appoints and dismisses all members of Cabinet. As chair of Cabinet, the PM controls its agenda and greatly influences the activities and priorities of Parliament. In recent years, a debate has emerged about the growing power of prime ministers, and whether this threatens other democratic institutions.

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Bomarc Missile Crisis

The CIM-10B Bomarc was the world’s first long-range, nuclear capable, ground-to-air anti-aircraft missile. Two squadrons of the missile were purchased and deployed by the Canadian government in 1958. This was part of Canada’s role during the Cold War to defend North America against an attack from the Soviet Union. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s refusal to equip the missiles with nuclear warheads led to a souring of Canada’s relationship with the United States, especially once the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the issue to the fore. The issue split Diefenbaker’s Cabinet and contributed to his party losing the 1963 election.

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Green Paper

A green paper is a statement by the government, not of policy already determined, but of proposals put before the nation for discussion. Like a white paper, a green paper is an official document sponsored by the Crown. (Traditionally, green papers were printed on green paper to distinguish them from white papers.) A green paper is produced early in the policy-making process, when ministers are still formulating their proposals. Many white papers in Canada have been, in effect, green papers. And at least one green paper — the 1975 Green Paper on Immigration and Population — was released for public debate after the government had already drafted legislation.

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Distribution of Powers

Distribution of powers refers to the division of legislative powers and responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments. The areas of distribution were first outlined at the Quebec Conference in 1864 (see Quebec Resolutions) and are enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867. They have been a source of debate and tension between the provinces and the federal government for generations. (See Federal-Provincial Relations.) However, this part of the Constitution has remained remarkably unchanged since Confederation.

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Filibuster

A filibuster is a parliamentary delaying tactic. It is typically employed by opposition parties to delay or prevent the passage of a bill they don’t like. A filibuster is brought about when legislators speak at great length in opposition to a bill; propose numerous, often trivial amendments; or raise many parliamentary points of privilege. All of this is designed to keep the bill from coming to a vote. The goal of a filibuster is to either change a bill or stop its passage.

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White Paper

A government white paper is a Cabinet-approved document that explains a political issue and proposed legislation to address it. The purpose of a white paper is to introduce a new government policy to test the public’s reaction to it. The name derives from the custom of binding the document in white paper, rather than using a cover page. White papers are different from green papers, which seek public reaction not to new policy but to more general proposals. The most controversial white paper in Canada was issued in 1969; it sought to redefine the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous peoples. (See The 1969 White Paper.)

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Welfare State

The welfare state in Canada is a multi-billion dollar system of government programs that transfer money and services to Canadians to deal with an array of societal needs.