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-