By the British North America Act of 1867, passed by the Imperial Parliament, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick came into the Union. Later Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia joined. Up to the present Newfoundland has stood aside. Under the British North America Act, Canada is ruled to-day.
There is first the Imperial government represented by a Governor-General. The commandant of Canada’s regular militia is also an Imperial officer.
There is second the federal government with executive, legislative and judicial powers; or a cabinet, a parliament, a supreme court.
There are third the provincial governments with executive, legislative and judicial powers.
Details of each section of government can not be given here; but several facts should be noted; for they explain the practical workings of Canada’s system.
The Witenagemot—or Saxon council of wise men—stands for Canada’s ideal of a parliament. It is not so much a question of spoils. It is not so much a case of “the outs” ejecting “the ins.” I have never heard of any party in Canada taking the ground, “Here—you have been in long enough; it’s our turn.” I have never heard a suggestion as to tenure of office being confined to “one term” for fear of a leader becoming a Napoleon. If a leader be efficient—and it is thought the more experienced he is, the more efficient he will be—he can hold office as long as he lives if the people keep on electing him.
The Cabinet—or inner council of advisers to the Governor-General—must be elected by the people and directly responsible to the House. At its head stands the Premier.
Within her own jurisdiction Canada’s legislature has absolute power. If her treaties or acts should conflict with Imperial interests, they would be disallowed by the Imperial Privy Council as unconstitutional, or ultra vires. Likewise of the provinces, if any of their acts conflicted with federal interests, they would be disallowed as ultra vires.
Should the Governor-General differ from the Cabinet in office, he must either recede from his own position or dismiss his advisers and send them to the country for the verdict of the people. Should the people endorse the Ministry, the Governor-General must either resign or recede from his stand. I know of no case where such a contingency has arisen. A Governor-General is careful never to conflict with a Ministry endorsed by the electorate.