Over the past month or so, a number of people in Canada have been demonstrating against the government in various locations, including the nation’s capital. Some of these demonstrators have been calling for an overthrow of the current government to address their demands. However, government in Canada is not chosen by coup.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and our head of state is the Governor General, representing the Crown. The government is defined under the terms of the Constitution Act, 1867, the Statute of Westminster, 1931, and the Canada Act, 1982.
Under the GG, there are two branches of government—Parliament (legislative) and the Supreme Court (judicial). Parliament consists of two bodies, the House of Commons and the Senate. Members of the Commons (MPs) are elected in 338 single-seat ridings across Canada, electoral districts based on population as determined by official census. There are currently six political parties represented in Canada, and it is difficult, though possible, for someone other than a party member to be elected. The party that has the most members elected to the Commons is asked by the GG to form a government, and that party’s leader (chosen by party members in a separate forum) becomes Prime Minister (PM).
The party receiving the second-most votes in an election is considered to be Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The Senate is comprised of 105 members appointed by the GG on the advice of the PM, who since 2016 is advised by an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. Senators are drawn from four regions, each of which is allotted twenty-four seats (Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces), with the remaining nine seats allocated to Newfoundland and Labrador (six) and the three northern territories—Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon (one each). Senators must resign at the age of seventy-five.
The Commons is the dominant chamber, being composed of elected not appointed members, but approval of both bodies is required for the passage of legislation.
The Supreme Court consists of nine Justices appointed by the Governor in Council, on the advice of the PM, and Justices must also retire at the age of seventy-five. The Court—which sits at the apex of a broad-based pyramid of provincial and territorial courts, superior courts, and courts of appeal (whose judges are appointed by those jurisdictions), and a few other federal courts—constitutes Canada’s final court of appeal, and may consider criminal, civil, and constitutional matters of law.
Federal elections must be held in Canada at least every four years, but may be held more often if the GG, on the advice of the PM, chooses to dissolve Parliament and call an election. Certain votes in Parliament are designated ‘confidence votes’, and any government that loses one of these must resign. In any case where Parliament is prorogued, the GG may call an election, or (more unlikely) may choose to ask one of the other party leaders to form a government.
After any election, Canada will have either a majority or minority government. The first occurs when the leading party’s MPs outnumber the combined opposition parties’ members, thus allowing the government to win any vote (so long as party solidarity prevails). The minority situation requires the leading party to win votes from a number of opposition members sufficient to ensure passage of legislation.
The government at the time of writing is a minority Liberal (CLP) government led by PM Justin Trudeau, and the Loyal Opposition is the Conservative (CPC) party under interim leader Candice Bergen. Other parties represented in the Commons are the Bloc Quebecois (BQ), New Democratic (NDP) Party, and Green (GPC) Party. There are no elected members from the People’s (PPC) Party, nor are there any independent members.
At any time when concerned citizens decide to call for changes to government policy, they are entitled to mount public demonstrations to advance their grievances. This right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, and a number of such demonstrations are what we have been witnessing lately.
However, it is unlawful for any group of citizens to argue for or seek to impose a change in government by arbitrary means. The only way to choose a government in Canada is through a democratic election conducted under the authority of the Canada Elections Act. Thus, citizens with grievances must seek to influence voters in order to sway their votes in a subsequent election, rather than advocating for an overthrow of the duly-elected government.
Among the demonstrators currently protesting and airing their grievances, the small but vocal faction calling for an overthrow of the government is acting illegally, and must eventually be held accountable. A recent editorial in the Globe & Mail newspaper summed up my feelings concisely, and this is an excerpt—
…Canada has seen many protests of the legal variety. For example, Toronto last weekend saw one of its regular anti-mandate and anti-vaccine demonstrations. A few hundred people assembled at Queen’s Park and then, carrying signs and banners, they marched down streets that police had temporarily closed for their benefit. Then they went home. You can disagree with their views – and we do – but their protest was perfectly legal.
What’s happened at multiple border crossings, and on the streets of Ottawa, is an entirely different story. These aren’t legal protests. They are blockades. As such, they enjoy no protection under our laws. They are, on the contrary, a threat to the rule of law and democratic government itself. The blockades have generally been non-violent, but they are nonetheless an attempt by a tiny minority of Canadians to impose upon the large, silent, law-abiding majority of their fellow citizens.
…[R]easonable people can disagree on all sorts of things. But there can be no disagreement on this: A handful of protesters don’t get to decide which streets will be open and which will be closed, or which bridges and borders will be open to trade and which will not.
Who elected these blockaders? Who gave them this power? Not you. Not anyone.
Government in Canada is not chosen by coup.