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Prime Minister of Canada

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Paul Martin

The prime minister is the head of the government in Canada. But the prime minister is not Canada’s head of state. Who is? It's the queen of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II. She's also Britain's monarch.

In the United States, the president serves as both head of the government and head of state. In Canada, there’s a clear difference between the two. When it comes to making most decisions, the prime minister is in charge as head of the government.

The duties of the head of state in Canada are largely ceremonial. The queen appoints someone else—Canada’s governor-general—to carry them out.

FIRST AMONG EQUALS

Canada’s prime minister doesn’t run the country alone. He or she chooses Cabinet members to help run things. The Cabinet members are all equal. But as head of the Cabinet, the prime minister can make decisions without consulting anyone. That’s why Canada’s prime minister is sometimes called “the first among equals.”

Parliament is Canada’s lawmaking body. The prime minister and Cabinet are part of Parliament. The prime minister approves the federal budget, represents Canada on trips to other countries, and chooses the justices of Canada’s Supreme Court. Through the Cabinet, the prime minister controls all government policies.

HOW DOES SOMEONE BECOME PRIME MINISTER?

Any Canadian citizen age 18 or older can become prime minister. But first, the person must become leader of a political party.

Canadian voters don’t elect the prime minister directly. Instead, they elect members of Parliament’s House of Commons. The leader of the political party with the most seats (elected members) in Parliament becomes prime minister.

Elections in Canada are held at least every five years. Sometimes they take place more often. This occurs if most members of Parliament no longer support the prime minister and Cabinet. Members of Parliament register their lack of support in a vote of no confidence. When this happens, either the leader of the main opposition party becomes prime minister or a national election is held.

HOW LONG CAN THE PRIME MINISTER SERVE?

There is no limit to the number of years a prime minister can stay in office. Canada’s longest-serving prime minister was William Lyon Mackenzie King. He was in office for more than 21 years.

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta