Parliamentary System in Alberta

The parliamentary system in Alberta has three branches: the legislative, which makes the laws; the executive, which puts laws into force and administers legislation; and the judicial, which applies and interprets laws through the courts. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta is the legislative branch. The executive refers to the Premier and other Cabinet Ministers. The judiciary refers to the three-level Alberta court system, which includes the Court of Justice, the Court of King’s Bench and the Court of Appeal.

In Alberta, the Lieutenant Governor represents the monarch in the Crown’s role as the head of state.

The Premier as head of government along with the cabinet or Executive Council governs the province. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta’s foundation in the centuries-old Westminster parliamentary tradition provides its strength and ability to adapt to a changing world. With 87 MLAs representing the will of more than 4 million Albertans located in constituencies through the province, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta of today looks very different from how it did in the early 20th century.

As a modern parliamentary democracy,

the Assembly continually evolves to meet the changing needs of Albertans while honouring its traditions.

Democratic Roots


Modern parliamentary democracies have roots in principles of government that are centuries old.

The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words: “demos” meaning people and “kratia” meaning rule. The idea that the people should rule themselves developed in Greece approximately 2,500 years ago, where direct democracy was practised with citizens participating directly in decision-making.

While the Greeks initiated the ideas that made the parliamentary system of government possible,

modern parliamentary democracy has its origins in England. Quite simply, monarchs needed revenue to fight wars and run the kingdom, and the nobility refused to pay taxes without the opportunity to provide input into the allocation of funds.

The English Parliament

struggled with the monarch for control of taxation, spending and making laws for several centuries, which resulted in an often antagonistic relationship between the Crown and Parliament. Parliament gradually obtained more control, and by the 19th century the monarch had evolved into a largely ceremonial head of state almost routinely approving Parliament’s decisions.

Responsible Government


The legislative system in Alberta

is based on the parliamentary principle of responsible government, wherein the government is responsible to the Assembly for the expenditure of public funds and for the passage of its proposed legislation.

Responsible government evolved in the 18th century and has been part of the Canadian system since Canada became a nation in 1867 and even earlier in some provinces.

In this system the responsibilities for proposing, passing and administering laws overlap somewhat. The Premier is the leader of the party commanding a majority of support of elected Members in the Assembly while Cabinet Ministers are appointed MLAs from that party, forming the executive branch of government. Ministers propose most of the laws that pass, and they vote on them along with their fellow MLAs. As well, Ministers are responsible for administering government ministries and the laws guiding them.

Alberta’s Historical Roots

The word “government”

is used in many different ways, but in the Westminster parliamentary tradition it has a very specific meaning and refers strictly to the   cabinet.

A political party or caucus is said to have majority support, or command a majority, when that caucus holds more than half of the seats in an Assembly. In this case the government formed is called a majority government. Majority governments tend to be stable because voting on government Bills and budget estimates is according to caucus lines. The defeat of a major government initiative, such as an appropriation bill that authorizes the expenditure of government funds, often precipitates the downfall of the government. Party unity is necessary for a government to remain in office. Party discipline is a tradition in the parliamentary system and is expressed when all MLAs from the same party support their party’s initiatives in the Assembly. Alberta has only had majority governments throughout its history.

A minority government occurs when the party that wins the most seats in a general election holds fewer than half of the seats in the Assembly. A minority government may survive in the Westminster parliamentary tradition provided it can find support from the opposition to agree to its legislative initiatives. This may come in the form of a coalition between the government and an opposition party to ensure the government has a majority of votes to ensure passage of its bills.

If one of its major initiatives such as an appropriation bill is defeated, it calls into question the confidence of the Assembly in the government. The sitting Premier would ask the Lieutenant Governor to accept the government’s resignation and to call a general election. The Lieutenant Governor decides whether to ask another party to form government or grant an election, which is what occurs in most instances. As a result of their perilous standing minority governments often rely on compromise with other Members or caucuses to stay in power, which is reflected in their bills and spending priorities. Therefore opposition Members in a minority Assembly have more influence on government business than they do with a majority government.


Alberta became a province in 1905 for a number of reasons including population growth and the desire to achieve the entitlements that accompany provincial status.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s Prime Minister at the time, designated Alexander Rutherford as the first Premier of Alberta, and the province was divided into 25 constituencies.

The first provincial general election was held on November 9, 1905, with the Liberals winning 22 of the 25 seats. One of the Assembly’s first decisions was to designate Edmonton as the permanent capital of Alberta.

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