Government 101: How Government Works
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Government includes a governing party, a seat of government, jurisdiction (or an area that is governed), laws and citizens. In Canada, there are three levels of government:
- Federal (or national). The Government of Canada is the central level of government in Canada. It provides social services, supports the economy, maintains national defence and security, establishes criminal law, and maintains relationships with Indigenous and international governments
- Provincial. The B.C. Government establishes provincial laws, supports B.C.'s economy, provides public services to support citizens, manages natural resources, and builds working relationships with Indigenous Peoples and other governments
- Local. Municipalities and regional districts provide community planning, bylaws, and essential local services such as clean water, sewer systems, parks and recreation, and fire protection
General elections in B.C. are scheduled every four years. Elections can happen early if the elected party chooses to have one sooner or if it loses the Legislative Assembly's confidence.
Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected across the province. The Lieutenant Governor invites the political party with the most MLAs to form government. The leader of that party becomes the Premier.
The party with the second highest number of MLAs becomes the official opposition. The opposition, along with MLAs from other parties, hold the governing party accountable by questioning decisions and presenting alternatives.
The legislative branch makes laws and gives authority to Cabinet. It includes:
- The Lieutenant Governor
- The Legislative Assembly
- Non-partisan statutory officers
- The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
- Officers of the Legislative Assembly
The executive branch sets a strategic agenda and oversees day-to-day operations. It includes:
- The Premier – the first minister and chief officer of the executive branch
- The Cabinet of British Columbia, also known as the B.C. Executive Council
- Cabinet ministers and ministers of state
- Cabinet committees, including the Treasury Board Committee
- The Cabinet Secretary – also known as the Deputy Minister to the Premier and Head of the Public Service
- The public servants that work for the public service
- Deputy ministers (DMs) and assistant deputy ministers (ADMs)
The judicial branch is independent and ensures that government follows the law. Courts can “unmake” government decisions that violate the Constitution, provincial law, federal law, or common law (e.g. precedents established in past decisions or violating due process). Policy teams must consult closely with legal counsel to ensure the actions that government takes follow the law.
Making decisions is a core part of what government does. Specific people have authority to make decisions. They're given advice and accurate information to inform their decisions.
Decisions take the form of strategies, legislation, regulations, directives, policies, or guidance.
Here's an overview of how decisions are made:
Cabinet sets government priorities according to the strategy in their election platform. They also make regulations, appoint officials and provide direction on day-to-day government operations. Here are some current strategies being worked on:
- Strategic Plan 2020: A Stronger BC, For Everyone (PDF, 361KB)
- Economic Plan 2019-2020: A Framework for Improving British Columbians' Standard of Living (PDF, 8.7MB)
Cabinet gives direction to ministers. When a minister is appointed, they get a mandate letter outlining what they're assigned to work on with help from the public service.
By carrying out government decisions and policies, public servants turn political strategic direction into action.
Based on direction from Cabinet, ministries create their own policies and a service plan – a three-year plan of ministry goals and objectives. Ministries get funding from the budget to deliver their service plan. See current ministry service plans.
Each ministry's divisions, branches and teams create work plans that show how they will help the ministry deliver on its commitments.
Employees carry out daily work that aligns with strategic direction. They're encouraged to develop personal career goals around the work they do. Every year, employees review their career goals with their supervisor.
They also influence how government operates by:
- Providing evidence-based advice and options to decision-makers
- Implementing policy agenda from political leaders
- Helping to design, maintain and deliver public programs
Public servants make decisions and policies related to their ministry's mandate. Policy teams conduct research and analysis to provide advice about different options and best practices. Most day-to-day operational policy decisions are made by public servants in leadership roles.
Citizens can report issues or concerns to their local representative (MLA) to have it brought forward for discussion.
The public service is working on government-to-government relationships with Indigenous people.
The public service also connects with individuals, organizations and other governments to gather information about needs and requirements that is then shared when advising leaders.