The prime minister is the chief minister and effective head of the executive in a parliamentary system, is normally the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. If there is no majority, the PM is the leader of that party most likely to win support from other parties in the House. In Canada the title is usually reserved for the head of the federal government while the term Premier is normally (but not always) used to designate the head of the executive branch of a provincial government.

Formally, a PM is appointed by the Governor General who has little discretion in the matter, except in a crisis such as the death of the incumbent PM. Although the position and responsibilities of office are not defined in any statute or constitutional document, the PM has always been the most powerful figure in Canadian politics. The PM controls the party, speaks for it, and after appointment to office has at his or her disposal a large number of patronage appointments with which to reward party faithful. The PM appoints and dismisses all members of Cabinet and allocates their responsibilities.

As chair of Cabinet, the PM controls the agenda and discussions at meetings and selects the members of Cabinet committees. Because of these factors and the convention of party solidarity, the PM has great influence over the activities and agenda of Parliament. The PM also enjoys a special relationship with the Crown, as he or she is the only person who can advise the governor general to dissolve Parliament and call an election. In recent years the PM has chosen a personal staff for advice on policy. This enables the PM to have a direct influence on policy discussions and committee decisions, making it highly unlikely that any policy proposal not meeting approval will be put into effect.

Political reality, various conventions and the Constitution do limit the power of the PM. The PM must always be wary of offending the various regions of the country and must be able to conciliate competing factions within the party and the Cabinet and throughout Canada. The PM must also be able to delegate authority without losing control. This requires rare qualities and few prime ministers, if any, have been generously endowed with all of them. The prime minister's official residence is located at 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa.

Prime Ministers of Canada

Name Party Term
Sir John A. Macdonald Conservative 1867-73
Alexander Mackenzie Liberal 1873-78
Sir John A. Macdonald Conservative 1878-91
Sir John J.C. Abbott Conservative 1891-92
Sir John Sparrow Thompson Conservative 1892-94
Sir Mackenzie Bowell Conservative 1894-96
Sir Charles Tupper Conservative 1896
Sir Wilfrid Laurier Liberal 1896-1911
Sir Robert Borden Conservative 1911-17
Sir Robert Borden Union Gov 1917-20
Arthur Meighen Conservative 1920-21
W.L. Mackenzie King Liberal 1921-26
Arthur Meighen Conservative 1926
W.L. Mackenzie King Liberal 1926-1930
R.B. Bennett Conservative 1930-35
W.L. Mackenzie King Liberal 1935-48
Louis St-Laurent Liberal 1948-57
John Diefenbaker Conservative 1957-63
Lester B. Pearson Liberal 1963-68
Pierre Elliott Trudeau Liberal 1968-79
Charles Joseph Clark Conservative 1979-80
Pierre Elliott Trudeau Liberal 1980-84
John Napier Turner Liberal 1984
Brian Mulroney Conservative 1984-93
Avril Kim Campbell Conservative 1993
Brian Mulroney Conservative 1984-93
Jean Chrétien Liberal 1993-2003
Paul Martin Liberal 2003-06
Stephen Harper Conservative 2006-