Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Its system of government is based on England’s, and the British monarch is also king or queen of Canada. However, because Canada is an independent nation, the British monarchy and government have no control over the political affairs of Canada. An appointed governor general based in Ottawa represents the Crown, as does a lieutenant governor in each province. Both roles are mainly ceremonial, but their “royal assent” is required to make any bill passed by Cabinet into law.
Elected representatives debate and enact laws affecting their constituents. The head of the federal government is the prime minister, and the head of each provincial government is its premier. The speaker is elected at the first session of each parliament to make sure parliamentary rules are followed. A bill goes through three grueling sessions in the legislature—a reading, a debate, and a second reading. When all the fine print has been given the royal nod, the bill then becomes a law.
In the BC legislature, the lieutenant governor is at the top of the ladder. Under him are the members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Assembly members are elected for a period of up to five years, though an election for a new assembly can be called at any time by the lieutenant governor or on the advice of the premier. In the Legislative Assembly are the premier, the cabinet ministers and backbenchers, the leader of the official opposition, other parties, and independent members. All Canadian citizens and BC residents 19 years old and over can vote, providing they’ve lived in the province for at least six months.
Provincial politics in British Columbia have traditionally been a two-party struggle. The province was the first in Canada to hold elections on a fixed date, with the next election scheduled for 2009. In the most recent election, the Liberals defeated the New Democrats (NDP), who came to be reviled by the business community for tax burdens that stalled the local economy. The NDP first came to prominence in the late 1960s as the official opposition to the Social Credit Party (Socreds), advocating free enterprise and government restraint, who had ruled the province for two decades. After a 1972 NDP election win, the support of these two parties seesawed back and forth until 1991, when the Social Credit Party was almost totally destroyed by a string of scandals that went as high as the premier, Bill Vander Zalm.
The laws of British Columbia are administered by the cabinet, premier, and lieutenant governor; they are interpreted by a judiciary made up of the Supreme Court of BC, Court of Appeal, and County or Provincial Courts.
For information on the provincial government, its ministries, and current issues, surf the web to www.gov.bc.ca .