The Cake of Government
The easiest way to understand the Canadian political system is to think of the government as one giant cake. Like most cakes, this one contains three separate layers, each representing one of Canada's three main levels of government. Each layer is responsible for governing different sectors and areas of the country but are all equally important in the overall political system.
Top Layer: Federal Government
Think of the top layer of the political cake as the federal government since this level has the largest jurisdiction out of the three main types of government. The federal government is generally responsible for laws that apply to all Canadians equally and for dealing with international conflict and trade. Some of the main areas that are solely the responsibility of the federal government are criminal law, national defence, international affairs, transportation, immigration, and postal service.
Middle Layer: Provincial Government
Think of the middle layer as the provincial government. In total, Canada has 10 provincial governments that are entirely autonomous. This means that, just like the federal government, the provincial governments receive their power from the Constitution and do not have to get approval from another authority. Some of the main areas that fall under provincial control are education, health care, environment, administration of justice, and welfare.
It's important to also note that the three northern territories do not have the same power as provinces despite having their own governments. Instead, power is delegated to territorial governments by the federal government and do not have full autonomy.
Bottom Layer: Municipal Government
Think of the bottom layer of the cake as the municipal/local government. These governments are generally tasked with governing local municipalities and dealing with the issues that face their smaller jurisdictions. A major difference with this layer of government is that, similarly to territorial governments, they have no real autonomy and are instead given authority by the provincial government. While the local officials almost always make the final decisions that affect their residents, the provincial government has the power to step in and veto or alter any decisions made by the local government. Some of the main areas of focus include water, sewage, emergency services, libraries, parks and other local public services.
The Constitutional Icing
Think of the Constitution as the icing that holds the political cake together while also separating the different layers of government. The Constitution Act mandates what each layer of government has authority over and lists rights and freedoms that cannot be infringed upon by any governing body. This means that the Constitution keeps the provincial and federal government separated and provides both with structure just like icing does for a cake. Without the Constitution there would be no defined government layers and no structure to the political system which makes the icing an essential ingredient in The Cake of Government.