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Photograph of the interior of the House of Commons, pre-1916
Group of small photographs of the Conservative members of the House of Commons, 1892
The executive branch of government in Canada is supported by a number of central agencies. The "centrality" of these executive units refers to their role in the formation and administration of policies that are applied throughout other government organizations. Central agencies of the federal government include the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's Office, the Department of Finance, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Public Service Commission.
A number of these agencies were recognized by order-in-council at the time of Confederation on July 1, 1867, though they have evolved under Canada's federal system to meet the changing needs of Canadians. The Canadian system is characterized by the sharing of legislative responsibilities between several legislatures, including the federal Parliament centred at Ottawa and the ten provincial legislatures. The Constitution Act, 1867 assigns specific responsibilities to the federal and provincial governments, and furthermore grants residual power -- any legislative matters not identified explicitly in the Act -- to the central federal government.
Because central agencies administer these unique additional powers from the symbolic "centre" of Canadian federation, they have a direct influence over the progress of Canada's federal system. Over time, the influence of central agencies has shifted according to prevailing national conditions. During the two world wars, for example, the centre of government exerted tremendous influence on national and provincial policies. Since the 1960s, regular consultations between the levels of government have altered the role of the central agencies, while the executive decision-making process has become far more concentrated in response to the emergence of provincial centres of power. No matter what the prevailing conditions are, the historical record generated by the centre of government speaks to the endurance of political ambition in all its facets.