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Québec’s political system is based on three separate powers known as the legislative power (legislature), the executive power (government), and the judicial power (courts).
Québec is part of Canada, a federation of 10 provinces and 3 territories. This means that the authority to make laws is divided between the Parliament of Canada and the provincial legislatures.
The Québec legislature can make laws in matters of provincial jurisdiction assigned under the Canadian Constitution. Essentially, the Constitution assigns
- to the federal government, responsibility for matters of a general or national interest
- to the provincial governments, responsibility for matters of provincial or local significance
Certain areas of jurisdiction are shared by both levels of government.
Quebecers elect the provincial and federal candidates who will make decisions on their behalf. This is known as representative democracy.
In Québec, the Election Act sets out the rules for holding general elections or by-elections and the Chief Electoral Officer administers voting.
The legislative power is exercised at the National Assembly. Laws are passed or amended during public parliamentary sessions.
Established by the Constitutional Act of 1791, Québec’s parliamentary system is based on the British model. Parliament examines the bills submitted by the government and either accepts or rejects them. It also oversees the government's application of laws and supervises all government activities.
The National Assembly is composed of 125 members elected by the people in each of Québec’s electoral divisions. Members represent the electors of their electoral division, debate questions of public interest and exercise their roles as legislators and overseers. The National Assembly sits in the Parliament Building, located in the provincial capital, Québec.
Together with the Lieutenant Governor, the National Assembly forms the Parliament of Québec. Appointed by the Queen on the federal government’s recommendation, the Lieutenant Governor is the Queen's representative in each of the Canadian provinces. In Québec, it is customary to consult the Premier on the appointment of the Lieutenant Governor.
The business, discussions and debates of the National Assembly and parliamentary committees are known collectively as parliamentary proceedings. Parliamentary procedure determines the rules that govern the National Assembly, its Members, and the government’s interaction with the Assembly.
Enforcing laws is the responsibility of the executive power, also called the government. The executive power is exercised by the Premier and by the ministers he or she selects from among the elected members of his or her party. Together, they form the Conseil exécutif, also known as the Conseil des ministres, or cabinet. As the government’s chief decision-making body, the Conseil des ministres is responsible for:
- the administration of government
- determination of the orientation of the government’s activity
- the application of laws
- the adoption of regulations under acts
- the administration of the State
Together with the Lieutenant Governor, the Conseil exécutif forms the government of Québec.
The Premier is the central figure in Québec’s political system. His or her powers and responsibilities are determined by convention.
The Premier is the head of government. Under the principle of ministerial responsibility, the Premier and all of his or her ministers must be or become a Member of the National Assembly. The Premier is accountable to the National Assembly.
To form a government, the Premier must have the support of a majority of elected members of the National Assembly. Accordingly, the leader of the political party that wins the most seats in a general election normally becomes the Premier. The Premier, in turn, selects the members who will form the cabinet (ministers) and holds power for as long as he or she retains the confidence of a majority of members of the National Assembly within his or her four-year mandate.
The judicial power is exercised by the courts, which interpret the law. Judges are appointed by the Québec government (Court of Québec) and the federal government (Superior Court, Court of Appeal). The Supreme Court is the highest court in Canada and is composed of nine judges appointed by the federal government, three of whom must be from Québec.
For further information, visit the Justice page.
Shared areas of federal-provincial jurisdiction
Québec is one of ten partners in the Canadian federation, of which the central government is located in Ottawa.
The Constitutional Act of 1867 gives the federal government responsibility for matters that concern all Canadians, in particular:
- foreign affairs
- regulation of interprovincial and international trade and commerce
- criminal law
- central banking
- monetary policy
- transportation (aviation, marine transport, and rail)
Provincial governments have jurisdiction in matters of local interest and local well-being, including:
- health and social services
- natural resources
- property and civil rights
- provincial and municipal courts
- local institutions (municipal)
- transportation (provincial highways, vehicle registration, and driver licensing)
In addition to transportation, other areas of responsibility are shared by both levels of government, such as control over agriculture, immigration and certain aspects of natural resource management.
However, if federal and provincial laws in these areas conflict, the federal law prevails.
Québec is a democratic society. The citizens of Québec have the power and responsibility of choosing the people who will represent and govern them. In addition to federal elections, representative democracy is exercised at the provincial, municipal, and school board levels.
To elect the provincial government, general elections are held in Québec on a fixed date every four years. The purpose is to elect one member for each of the 125 electoral divisions of Québec, whose electors will thus be represented in the National Assembly.
In each electoral division, the elector votes for the candidate of his or her choice under a first-past-the-post voting system. All Canadian citizens aged 18 or over who have been living in Québec for at least six months have the right to vote.
The party that has the highest number of elected members takes power and forms the government. Its leader becomes Premier of Québec. All the other members form the opposition. The party that has the second highest number of elected members, after the party in power, becomes the Official Opposition. Its leader becomes Leader of the Opposition. The party that comes third in terms of the number of members becomes the second opposition. The leader of this party becomes the leader of the second opposition group.
The Act to govern the financing of political parties prohibits corporate entities, whether public or private, from contributing to the financing of political parties and imposes a ceiling on individual contributions.
To find out the composition of the National Assembly and the number of members for each party, visit the Members page of the National Assembly website.
For further information