Provincial and Territorial Governments

Part 1: Introduction to Provincial and Territorial Governments

This mini-course on Provincial & Territorial Governments is meant as a complement to NAWL’s core modules on Feminist Law Reform. NAWL is grateful to Amanda Therrien for her invaluable work as the primary author of this mini-course.

What happens when Provincial and Federal powers conflict?

If the provincial or federal governments attempt to legislate outside of their respective spheres, the impacted portion of the law may be found to be ultra vires (i.e., “outside the scope”) and thus invalid. Additionally, the doctrine of paramountcy states that when provincial and federal laws legislate on the same issue and conflict without either being ultra vires, the federal legislation will prevail. Click here to see the doctrine of paramountcy in action in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Law Society of British Columbia v Mangat, 2001 SCC 67. An understanding of how the federal and provincial/territorial spheres of power interact and may conflict is an important aspect of feminist law reform: feminist advocates must ensure that they are approaching the branch of government that is empowered to enact the legislation they are advocating for. 

Read

Federalism and Equality Rights Implementation in Canada

Linda White


A Two-Way Street: Federalism and Women’s Politics in Canada and the United States

Jill Vickers


Engage & Discuss

Consult section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 or the relevant statue for the territory that you are located in. What powers does your Province/Territory have? How might federalism impact feminist law reform efforts? 

Part 2: The Structure of Provincial Governments and Yukon

With the exception of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Legislative Assemblies across Canada are organized in a similar fashion. In order to engage in feminist law reform, it is necessary to become familiar with the different branches of provincial/territorial governments to understand whether you should be approaching a member of parliament, a cabinet minister, or the premier. This module will provide an overview of how provincial 

Provincial and Yukon governments are divided into legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. 

The legislative branch consists of the Legislative Assembly and its members. Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only two provinces with a different name for their provincial legislatures. In Quebec, it is referred to as the National Assembly, while in Newfoundland and Labrador it is called the House of Assembly. The legislative branch is primarily concerned with creating, amending, and passing laws. Follow the links below to see the webpage for your Province/Territory’s Legislative Assembly. 

Below is an overview of the roles and responsibilities of the Lieutenant Governor, Premier, Cabinet Ministers, and Members. 

Engage & Discuss

Familiarize yourself with the names and roles of the members in your Province/Territory. 


Does the composition of members represent the diversity of your Province/Territory? Why or why not? 

Meetings of legislative assemblies are recorded and accessible via their websites. Navigate to your Province/Territory’s Legislative Assembly page to view a sessions or click here to view a recent sitting of the Alberta Legislative Assembly. 


What subjects are under discussion? How are issues being presented?

Part 3: The Structure of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Governments

The Nunavut and the Northwest Territories operate on a consensus model of government. This module will examine the structure of these territories’ legislatures. 

As with the provinces, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are comprised of a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branches. The Legislative branch consists of the Legislative Assembly and the Commissioner (a role similar to that of Lieutenant Governors in the Provinces). The executive branch refers to the Premier and their cabinet and also includes the Commissioner, while the judicial branch refers to the court system. 

The key difference is that Members of the Legislative Assembly are elected as independents rather than as affiliates of a political party. Once the election has concluded, the Members select the Speaker, Premier and Ministers from amongst themselves in a secret ballot election. The Commissioner, appointed by the Governor General, is then responsible for formally appointing the Premier and the Ministers. Importantly, although the number of cabinet seats is not fixed, it cannot be a majority of the Members. 

Read

Consensus Government and Collaboration: The COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada’s North and the Role Partnership Played in Protecting the Health and Well-Being of Residents

Caroline Cochrane


Watch

Engage & Discuss

What are some of the benefits of consensus governments? 


What might some of the drawbacks be? 

Part 4: The Benefits of Feminist Advocacy at the Provincial and Territorial Levels

Provincial and territorial governments are important sites for feminist advocacy due to the broad scope of their powers and their ability to effect change within the Province/Territory. This module will explore some examples of feminist advocacy at the provincial and territorial levels as well as some of the limitations of this type of advocacy. 

Reproductive and Abortion Rights 

Provincial/territorial governments play a significant role with regards to access to reproductive care and abortion. Although abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988, provincial/territorial governments were able to hinder access to abortion services by refusing to cover the costs of the procedure outside of a hospital setting, as seen currently in New Brunswick, or by simply refusing to provide abortion services at all, as was the case in Prince Edward Island until recently. In 2016, thanks to feminist advocacy efforts by organizations like LEAF and Abortion Access Now PEI, Prince Edward Island started providing abortion services for the first time since 1982. 

Climate Change

Provincial/territorial governments are beginning to take concrete action on climate change, with many provinces/territories developing specific action plans to address the crisis. Click here to read Newfoundland and Labrador’s Climate Change Action Plan. 

COVID-19

As provinces/territories are responsible for public health, their action or inaction made a significant impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to view a video discussing the variations in how provincial and territorial governments approached the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Read

Canadian Civil Liberties Association January 2021 Statement of Claim in a lawsuit challenging New Brunswick’s restrictions on abortion


How the Provinces Compare in Their COVID-19 Responses

Charles Breton & Mohy-Dean Tabbara


Engage & Discuss

Visit the website of your Province/Territory’s Status of Women committee or office. 

  • Who is the minister in charge? 
  • What initiatives are currently being prioritized? Make a list of other areas of intervention. 

Part 5: Provincial and Territorial Lawmaking

Lawmaking is one of the primary tasks of a Legislative Assembly and represents an important site of intervention for feminist law reform efforts. As Professor Anne Levesque has stated, “It’s much easier to influence a law and to give it a feminist spin from the beginning than to challenge it in court later on.” This module will provide an overview of the different types of bills introduced in the Legislative Assembly and the process via which these bills become laws.

Types of Bills 

Public or Government Bills: Most bills introduced in the Legislative Assemblies are government bills, which usually reflect the policy and priorities of the current government. Click here for an example of a government bill in Ontario.

How Bills Become Laws 

With minor variations, the process by which a bill becomes law is similar across the provinces and territories. In most cases, a bill is introduced during the first reading and is voted on by the Legislative Assembly. If it passes, it proceeds to a second reading where it is debated and voted on a second time. After this stage, it usually moves to a standing committee. As will be discussed in the next Module, standing committees often solicit feedback from organizations and members of the public and are an important opportunity for feminist law reform as the standing committee can propose amendments to the bill. The bill is then referred back to the House where Members debate it informally before it passes to a third reading. Once the bill passes its third reading, it will receive assent and become law, coming into force at a date to be named. 

All of the bills passed in your Province/Territory are publicly available on the websites of the Legislative Assemblies. Follow the link in Module 2 to see some of the bills passed in your Province/Territory. 

Watch

From Idea to Law: The Legislative Process, Legislative Assembly of Alberta

Engage & Discuss

Debates surrounding bills are contained in the Hansard (official report) of each Legislative Assembly. Locate the Hansard of your Legislative Assembly on its website and read some of the debates. 


Did any of the arguments surprise you?  

Visit the webpage for your Province/Territory’s Legislative Assembly. 

  • What bills are currently being considered? 
  • What stage have they progressed to? 

Draft a bill about an issue that is important to you. What counterarguments do you anticipate receiving? 


What amendments would you be willing to make?   

Part 6: Getting Involved in Provincial Government: Committees and Hearings

Provincial and territorial governments solicit feedback from the public in various ways. Participating in committees and hearings, submitting briefs, and presenting petitions are important avenues of feminist law reform. This module will explore some of the different ways that individuals engaging in feminist law reform can interact with committees and hearings. 

Read

Virtual Committees: Presenter Guide

Legislative Assembly of Manitoba


Engage & Discuss

Navigate to your Province/Territory’s Legislative Assembly homepage and examine the guidelines for making a submission. 


Consider what elements you would include in a draft submission to a committee on a current bill or consultation that interests you. 

Part 7: Getting Involved in Provincial/Territorial Government: Contacting Members of the Legislative Assembly

Interacting with Members of the Legislative Assembly is a key component of feminist law reform as they are responsible for the introduction of bills and petitions into the Legislative Assemblies. Although Members are meant to be accessible to their constituents, in practice they may only be able to meet with you for a short amount of time, which is why preparation for such meetings is essential. This module will outline some strategies and guidelines for meeting with Members of the Legislative Assembly. Click here to consult Module Five of the Feminist Law Reform 101 course as many of the tips for interacting with Members of Parliament hold true for engaging with Members of the Legislative Assembly. 

Read

MLA Advocacy Guide, Public Interest Alberta


Engage & Discuss

Familiarize yourself with the Members of the Legislative Assembly in your province. 

  • Which ones have a track record of feminist advocacy? 
  • Brainstorm how you would approach these Members to discuss issues related to feminist law reform. 

Part 8: Getting Involved in Provincial/Territorial Government: Running for Office

Running for office as a Member of a Legislative Assembly is an important aspect of feminist law reform. Women who run for office often face harassment, misogyny, and underfunding, which is why reform in this area is needed. Click here for a CBC News article detailing some of the abuse faced by female Members. This module will explore the ways in which individuals interested in feminist law reform can run for office and some initiatives that provinces/territories have adopted to increase gender parity in provincial/territorial governments. As of 2022, only the Northwest Territories have reached a state of gender parity, with women representing 52% of the legislature. Several provinces remain under the 30% bar. 

Read

What Does Harassment and Bullying of Women in Politics Look Like?

CBC News


Elect Her: A Roadmap for Improving the representation of Women in Canadian Politics

Karen Vecchio


Watch

Doing Politics Differently: Women Premiers in Canada’s Provinces and Territories

Engage & Discuss

What candidacy rules govern your Province/Territory? Identify whether you think any of these rules might serve as a barrier for marginalized individuals attempting to run for office. 

How many female Members does your Province/Territory have? What are their roles in the legislature? Identify which female Members might be willing to provide mentorship.  

Does an increase in female Members necessarily result in an increase in feminist advocacy? How can members of Provincial and Territorial legislatures ensure that feminist ideals translate into feminist action?