Federal Government

Federal Government popularly refers to the national or dominion level of government, and in its most general sense includes the executive, legislative and judicial branches, along with the numerous departments and agencies comprising the administrative branch. The 3 principles regulating the powers of the various components of government and the relationships between them are inherited from Britain: parliamentary supremacy, meaning that the Senate and House of Commons acting in conjunction with the Crown possess constitutional plenary powers to legislate; the fusion of executive and legislative instruments, eg, as opposed to the US principle of separation of powers; and the Rule of Law, applied and maintained by an independent judiciary. The relationship between the legislature and the Cabinet is held in equilibrium by the doctrine of individual and collective ministerial responsibility to the legislature. If the executive can maintain the confidence of the legislature, it can continue to govern. If not, a Cabinet must resign or seek dissolution of the legislature and call an election.

A more precise definition of federal government focuses on the term "federal." A federal government is distinct from a unitary government, eg, that of Britain. In the latter, there is only one seat of ultimate authority. In a federal government, there are 2 independent seats of authority. Parliament and the provinces are each assigned certain powers and jurisdictional terrain. In practice, this subdivision modifies the principle of parliamentary supremacy; each separate level of government is supreme as long as it does not trespass on the preserve of the other. The umpire for resolving jurisdictional disputes is the Supreme Court of Canada.

See also Federalism; Distribution of Powers.