Canadian Federalism

From Academic Kids

Canadian Federalism is known as one of the three pillars of the constitutional order, along with responsible government, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The addition of federalism to the Canadian constitutional structure was in reaction to the colonial diversities in the Maritimes and the Province of Canada, in particular the strong distinction between the french in Lower Canada and the British in Upper Canada. It was considered essential to the co-existence of the French and English.

The division of power between the federal government and the provinces was initially outlined in the British North America Act 1867, with amendements that came form the Constitution of Canada.

Federal Provincial Distribution of Legislative Powers

Template:Wikisourcepar The Federal Provincial Distribution of Legislative Powers (also known as the division of powers) defines the scope of the power of the federal Parliament of Canada and the powers of each individual provincial legislature or assembly. Many disputes have been decided by the House of Lords (in its capacity as a court, rather than its role as a house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom) and later by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the exact length and breadth of this division of powers. Unlike the United States Constitution this constitution has created an overarching federal jurisdiction based only upon peace, order and good government 92 (Preamble) with a minor residual jurisdiction based in the provinces and exclusive federal jurisdiction based upon the enumerated powers.

A quick perusal of these powers (reproduced below for the sake of clarity in this article) shows that while the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over criminal law and procedure 92(27) the provinces have jurisdiction over the administration of justice, including criminal matters 93(14) and penal matters 93(15) regarding any laws made within provincial jurisdiction. Thus Canada has a single Criminal Code but many provincial laws that can result in incarceration or penalty. The courts have recognized that the provinces and the federal government have the right to create corporations; only the federal government has the right to incorporate banks, though provinces may incorporate credit unions.

In relation to marriage and divorce while the federal government has exclusive authority governing marriage and divorce 92(26) (giving Canada a single family law) the provinces can pass laws regulating the solemnization of marriage 93(12). However since the provinces have jurisdiction over civil and political rights 93(13) they can make statutes and common law (or civil law in the case of Quebec) creating such institutions as common-law marriage and civil union.

It is interesting to note that nowhere in the division of powers of the Constitution Act of 1867 is there a mention of a treaty power, this is because such power was still held by the British Empire, it was granted to Canada only after the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

External Links


  • P.W. Hogg, "Constitutional Law of Canada" (2001)

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