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The "Old Guard Dinner" in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald, May 4, 1882
Group of small photographs of the prime ministers of Canada, 1867-1907
The prime minister is the head of government in Canada. He or she usually assumes that role as the leader of the party with the most members elected to the House of Commons. As well as leading the government, the prime minister is the head of Canada's political executive, the federal Cabinet, which is comprised of ministers selected by the prime minister and recommended to the governor general for appointment.
By constitutional convention, the prime minister also is appointed by the governor general. The prime minister's role technically is that of an adviser who makes recommendations to the governor general -- the de facto head of state and the formal head of Canada's executive -- on matters ranging from Cabinet appointments to setting the date for a general election. Since the early twentieth century, however, that advisory role has been largely symbolic, with the governor general's Crown prerogative set against the constitutionally mandated power and authority of the government-of-the-day. Along with his or her government, the prime minister remains in office so long as he or she maintains the confidence of the House of Commons.
While the modern governor general has only a nominal influence on the operation of the Canadian government, the prime minister's influence is decisive. The prime minister gives shape to the centre of government, not only by selecting Cabinet members, but also by organizing key executive agencies including the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office. Together with the ability to control the government's legislative and policy agendas, the prime minister's considerable authority lies behind each and every executive decree.