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Home / The Course / Which Government Level? / Provincial and Territorial Government / Powers

The Canadian Constitution grants provincial governments jurisdiction over many aspects of everyday life, such as primary and secondary education, health and social services, property and civil rights, provincial and municipal courts, and municipal institutions. Furthermore, schools are generally run by school boards or commissions elected under provincial education acts.

Provinces have the legislative power to adopt and amend laws and regulations, establish policies and implement programs in their fields of jurisdiction, and also have the taxing power to raise money in order to fulfil their responsibilities.

Many of their areas of responsibility, however, are shared with the federal government and financed by both levels. For example, in the area of transportation, the federal government has jurisdiction in matters involving movement across provincial or international borders (aviation, marine transport and rail), whereas the provinces look after provincial highways, vehicle registration and driver licensing. Control over agriculture, immigration and certain aspects of natural resource management are also shared. When federal and provincial laws in these areas conflict, the federal law prevails.

The three territorial governments (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) have more or less the same responsibilities as the provinces, but do not control land and natural resources. Furthermore, their powers are granted by the federal government rather than guaranteed in the Constitution and therefore can be more easily changed since this would not require a constitutional amendment.

Here is a brief summary of the division of powers between the provincial and federal levels of government.


Area of ResponsibilityFederal governmentProvincial & Territorial governments
International treaties (e.g. Free trade) • Sets policies • Implement only
Criminal law • Administration of justice &  provincial
Health (a shared cost program) •Canada Health Act Health and social services
Environment • Federal authority for environment protection
found under other powers e.g. fisheries, navigation, trade and commerce
• Primary owners of natural resources with responsibility
for their protection and management (does not apply to territories)
Transportation • Aviation, marine transport and rail • Provincial highways, vehicle registration and
driver licensing

Note: The dot indicates that responsibilities are shared by both levels of government.

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