Can An Immigrant Become The Prime Minister In Canada?

In most countries, there are many strict requirements for people who wish to run for public office. These requirements get even stricter for higher positions. And, for the chief executives of these countries, political candidates should meet a stricter set of criteria.

Alongside qualifications, one other requirement is citizenship status. Presidents, senators, congressmen, ministers, and prime ministers all need to be citizens of their countries to be eligible.

Due to its ageing population, Canada relies mainly on immigration to address its needs. These needs are mostly in the labour force. It must be kept in mind, however, that politicians are not immune to ageing. With many nearing their retirement age, many people wonder about their possible replacements.

And, these questions also arise about the Canadian prime minister. Surely, a political party in Canada could select one of its own to fill this role.

But, can an immigrant be elected to the highest possible position in the Canadian government?

A “Crash Course” On Canada’s Government

To understand how the Canadian prime minister is elected, it is important to understand the basics of the Canadian government.

People can elect representatives into the government. This means that Canada has a democratic government. Due to its size, Canada has a form of government similar to the United States. It has a federal form of government. A federal form of government has a central national government. But, it gives much power to state governments. This is how it works for the United States federal government. In the case of Canada, power is distributed to the provinces. Further, cities or municipalities in these provinces have authority as well.

The Canadian Parliament: An Overview

Canadian Parliament

The Canadian government has a parliament. Two “chambers” make up the Canadian parliament. These are the House of Commons and the Senate. While the members of the senate are given their positions, this is not the case for the members of the house of commons.

People from all over Canada elect representatives from their communities to be members of the house of commons. These representatives are the  “Members of Parliament” (MPs, for short). Since 338 communities make up Canada, there are also 338 MPs. These members of parliament must be Canadian citizens.

The House of Commons and The Prime Minister

The members of parliament who make up the house of commons are all elected by the people.

Within the house of commons, there are 5 political parties. We will not go into each one in detail. The important thing to note is this. These different political parties make up the house of commons. Each can elect a certain number of MPs. The political party with the most members of parliament get to elect who the prime minister will be.

Elections take place every 4 years. But, the prime minister could serve for as long as he or she can maintain the support of his political party. Of course, the prime minister also needs the support of other MPs outside his party.

Examples of prime ministers who served longer than their 4-year terms are Pierre Trudeau and his son, Justin Trudeau. Other examples include former prime ministers Stephen Harper and Jean Chretien.

To summarize:

  • Canada has a democratic, federal form of government.
  • Power is shared between the national government and provincial governments.
  • The national government has a parliament.
  • Parliament consists of the senate and the house of commons.
  • The house commons consists of 338 members of parliament (MPs).
  • These members of parliament come from different political parties in Canada.
  • The political party with the most MPs in the house of commons elect the prime minister.
  • Prime ministers have a term of 4 years. But, this could be longer with the support of their political party and the rest of the house of commons.

For more detailed information, J.J. McCullough does a great job of explaining the Canadian government’s structure in his video:

How Does A Person Become Prime Minister?

A person could become the Canadian Prime Minister in three ways.

Election By The Majority Party

As mentioned earlier, the election of a prime minister happens within the house of commons. More specifically, the house of commons will consist of 338 members of parliament with different political affiliations. In other words, these MPs are members of one of five Canadian political parties. They must also have Canadian citizenship.

A member of parliament could be a member of the Liberal or Conservative Party. He or she may also be with the New Democratic Party. Some MPs are currently members of two smaller parties in Canada- the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party.

If one political party can win more than half of the 338 positions in the house of commons, this would make that party the majority party. The majority party elects the prime minister from one of its members. Often, it is the party leader.

In short:

  • The majority party should occupy at least 170 positions in the house of commons.
  • The majority elects the prime minister.
  • Almost always, the prime minister is the leader of the party.

Election By The Party With “Narrow Plurality”

What is “narrow plurality”?

We could use an analogy to understand this term.

Imagine slicing a pizza into three parts. In most cases, one of the three slices would be the biggest slice. But, it would be smaller compared to the combined size of the two other slices.

Now, think of the whole pizza as 338 seats in the house of commons. The three slices represent three political parties. One party may have the highest number of MPs elected. But, this is not going to be the majority (i.e. more than half of 338). With more than three political parties involved, the political party with the most MPs in the house of commons is the party with narrow plurality. 

In the Canadian government, a person can be a prime minister by being elected by his party. But, his party does not need to be the ruling majority. It can also have the right to elect the prime minister by simply being the party with narrow plurality.

So:

  • The party that elects the prime minister does not need to have more than half of the 338 seats in the house of commons.
  • By being with the party with narrow plurality, a party leader could be prime minister.

Appointment By The Governor-General

The prime minister appoints members of his or her cabinet. The prime minister also appoints the governor-general. The governor-general has several responsibilities. He or she signs bills proposed by the prime minister and his cabinet into law. In addition to that, he or she also opens and closes meetings in the Canadian parliament.

The governor-general also has “emergency powers” for unusual situations. These could be situations involving the prime minister, the military, or national security issues. However, these powers have not been used for about 80 years.

Another power of the governor-general is the appointment of the prime minister. Over the past decades, the governor-general has often appointed party leaders of the majority party or the one with narrow plurality.

However, in reality, the constitution allows the governor-general to appoint anybody to the positions of prime minister and party leader. Regardless of citizenship status.

For this reason, an appointee does not even have to be a member of parliament. An example of this happening was the appointment of John Turner. When he was appointed prime minister of Canada in June 1984, he was not a member of parliament. Nor was he a senator. It is also important to note that he had dual citizenship – Canadian and British.

To summarize:

  • Though this is not common, a person can be the prime minister of Canada by being an appointee of the governor-general.

Can Everyone Run For Prime Minister of Canada?

To answer this question accurately, we need to clarify a few things.

Basic Requirements For Eligibility

First, let us talk about the minimum requirements for being elected to the position. To be eligible to run for federal office, a person needs to be at least 18 years of age. There are no requirements on education and qualifications. But, he or she should not be in prison. Being an election officer (in the polls) also disqualifies a person for running for office.

Who is “Everyone”?

But, what do we mean by “everyone”?

People in Canada

In common day parlance, “everyone” could be understood as “everyone in Canada”. However, it is important to note that everyone in Canada has a different status.

Some are native-born citizens. There are also naturalized ones.

Meanwhile, others are permanent residents. In contrast, some are students.

Also, let’s not forget. There are also people in the country who are temporary workers and refugees.

That said, the answers to whether “everyone” could run for prime minister of Canada is no. Not everyone has the right to run for prime minister of Canada.

Why? Because according to elections Canada, only Canadian citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to run for a position in the federal elections. So, right away, this disqualifies permanent residents, international students, temporary workers, and refugees.

“Running” for Prime Minister of Canada

Earlier, it was mentioned that a person could become prime minister of Canada in several ways. He or she could be elected his or her political party if it is the majority party. The same is also true with narrow plurality parties. In some cases, the governor-general could also appoint a prime minister as part of his or her “emergency powers”.

With these in mind, a person does not actually “run” for prime minister.

However, a person could “run” for a position in parliament as an MP. From there, one of two things could happen.

Either he or she holds on to the position of MP with affiliation to a political party.

Or, he or she becomes the leader of the political party.

In the second scenario, becoming a prime minister is possible if the political party is the ruling majority or the narrow plurality. It at this stage when “running” for prime minister of Canada becomes possible.

So, to answer the question, not everyone can run for prime minister of Canada. The most important requirements for this are age and, of course, Canadian citizenship.

Can Immigrants and Canadians With Dual Citizenship Run For Prime Minister of Canada?

Let us begin with immigrants. An immigrant in Canada is a person who was born overseas but lives and works in the country. An immigrant is often a permanent resident. Not a citizen. But, not all citizens are Canadian-born.

In fact, through a process called naturalization, a permanent resident could become a Canadian citizen. As a result, an immigrant can enjoy all the rights of Canadian citizens. Even the right to vote and run for public office (like MP or prime minister).  

A perfect example of an immigrant who got to become prime minister is former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner. Though he had Canadian citizenship at the time he was appointed, he was born in the United Kingdom.

MPs could run for prime minister. And, there are numerous examples of foreign-born MPs. CBC has a list of foreign-born MP’s.

But, what about candidates with dual citizenship? Since they have Canadian citizenship, they too are eligible to become prime minister. This is regardless of what other countries they have citizenships in. To illustrate, when Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer ran for prime minister, he had dual citizenship.

There has been much discussion and debate involving this. For some Canadian voters, they fear that a prime minister with dual citizenship is problematic. There are fears about loyalty. And the suspicions of regular voters and other MPs can affect term lengths. Once again, John Turner is an example of this. He was only prime minister for roughly three months. In September 1984, he had to leave his position due to a “lack of confidence” from the liberal party.

Thus, immigrants and Canadians with dual citizenship could run for prime minister. But, only if:

  • They become citizens of Canada via naturalization
  • They could get the support of other members of their political party.

Conclusion

So, can an immigrant become prime minister of Canada? Yes. But, only after meeting certain requirements.

He or she must be at least 18 years of age. Also, any prospective candidate must be a member of parliament. He or she must also have ties with a Canadian political party. This party must either elect the most MPs into the house of commons. Or, it could be the party of most of the MPs in this chamber of parliament.

Lastly, an immigrant must be a Canadian citizen to earn the support and admiration of the Canadian voter and other members of the Canadian parliament.

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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