Canadian politics are based on the British parliamentary system of government. The same basic principles apply both federally and provincially but with differences relating to structure and jurisdiction.

A government in Canada is formed by people elected by the citizens to represent them as members of parliament. These members have a "seat" in the parliament House of Commons. They are usually affiliated with a Canadian political party, although they may be independent. After an election, the party with the most elected members, or seats, is invited to form the next government. The leader of the party is declared to be the leader of the government. Federally, this position is the Prime Minister. Provincially and territorially, this position is the Premier. This makes the party leader an important position. Typically political parties meet at a convention and choose their leader through a balloting process. Only party members vote for their leader. For the large parties, this is a public process that is most often broadcast on the Canadian television channels. Each party has particular rules governing which members are eligible to run for leader and who may vote for them. When a vote for party leader has been completed, often there is not a single person with enough votes to win. When this happens, those candidates with the least number of votes are excluded from a subsequent ballot resulting in fewer choices in the next vote. Since party leadership conventions are broadcast, those candidates dropped from the ballot have an opportunity to influence the voting process. Usually they publicly declare their support for one of the remaining candidates in hopes that their supporters also move to the identified candidate. In return for such support, the dropped candidate expects to receive favor should their choice of candidate become the next party leader.

When the government wishes to enact power, the leader convenes a session of parliament. Each parliament is made of members who vote on bills that might be enacted into laws. Bills are usually presented by the government in power for voting by the parliament. There can be no ties when such legislative votes are called. In practice, however, there are occasions where some members may be absent during a vote which results in an even number of members voting on an issue, producing a tie result. In this case, the Speaker of the House votes to break ties. Ordinarily, the Speaker is the controller of parliament and, though an elected member, remains impartial and does not vote. Canadian bills are each judged on their own merits. There are no packages of bills where one may be defeated by the defeat of another. There is also no veto provision for bills. If a bill is passed by a vote of parliament, it advances to lawful status. Since the bills are usually advanced by the government, there is really no need to have a veto mechanism.

The federal parliament has the Senate of Canada that must review and pass all bills before they can be advanced into law. The senate can originate bills as well, but usually most start in the House of Commons. Generally, the senate reviews bills and provides constructive comments only. Many senators work in committees that help to establish bills. Rarely does the senate impede progress of bills. Senators are appointed to their positions by the prime minister. In practice, the senate is usually comprised of members that are affiliated with a political party. The majority of senators is usually affiliated with the party of the prime minister.

After elections, there is the possibility that no party receives a majority of the seats. This has most recently happened with the federal election in 2008. In such cases, the leader of the party with the most seats is invited to form a minority government. This can only happen if the leader is able to build a consensus with one or more of the other party leaders to ensure that parliament will support the leader's initiatives. Usually minority governments are unable to sustain a consensus. Minority governments rarely last as long as majority ones. They can be overturned if one of their votes fails to achieve a majority of votes. A failure on such a vote triggers a new election.

Members of parliament, federally, represent several parties. In 2008, the Conservative, Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party each had elected members. There can also be independent members of parliament such as the 2 that were elected in 2008.

Governments are mandated to serve for up to 5 years. In practice, the leader is able to call an election any time before that limit. In reviewing the current political climate, the leader may feel that an early election is warranted. Standard reasons given are usually that the government needs a fresh mandate from the people to enact new programs, the leader wishes to receive confirmation that the party fully represents the people, or that the current parliamentary structure becomes unworkable. Whatever the case, the leader appeals to the Queen's representative to dissolve parliament. The federal Governor-General, or the provincial Lieutenant Governor, confirms the request and authorizes another election.