Premiers and government leaders of territories are styled "The Honourable" only while in office unless they are admitted to the federal privy council, in which case they retain the title even after leaving the premiership.
In a number of provinces they were previously known by the title "prime minister", with "premier" being an informal term used to apply to all prime ministers, even the Prime Minister of Canada. This practice was eventually phased out to avoid confusing the provincial leaders with the federal prime minister, as well as to indicate the distinct nature of the provincial offices. Officially, the last such case outside Quebec was that of W. A. C. Bennett who served as Premier of British Columbia, and styled himself as prime minister until leaving office in 1972.
In the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, the head of government is called premier ministre in French, as the French language does not use a separate term to distinguish the national prime minister from a provincial premier. In Quebec this designation is often translated to prime minister in English. The designation, however, is not exclusive. When they visit Quebec, or when they are described by the Quebec government or many Quebec media, all the other heads of government of the other provinces are also called prime minister in the English version of the official French texts. The name of the province is always added to avoid confusion.
The terms prime minister and premier come from the United Kingdom, where there is only one prime minister/premier. The British prime minister is frequently called the "premier" to this day since there is little chance of confusion in that country. Canada's federal prime minister and premiers are collectively referred to as first ministers, another synonym of British origin.
In practice, a provincial premier plays a public leadership role similar to that of a state governor in the United States, but constitutionally, the premier is not a chief executive but a member of the legislature. Furthermore, while many U.S. state governors have gone on to serve as president, only one Canadian provincial premier has ever gone on to serve as prime minister: Sir John Thompson, who won his party leadership but then lost the only general election he fought as head of a provincial party. Canada's first and sixth prime ministers (Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper) had also been co-premier and premier of British provinces that became part of Canada, but no one who has led a victorious general election campaign in a Canadian province has ever been prime minister.
In the ten provinces of Canada, the premier is usually the leader of the largest political party in the provincial legislature, although there are historical exceptions, the most recent occurring after the 1985 general election in Ontario. The premier is appointed by the lieutenant-governor, who represents both the Crown and the federal government. The lieutenant-governor is guided by unwritten constitutional rules that only rarely require a judgement call on whom to appoint as premier.
Premiers appoint a provincial cabinet and guide legislation through the provincial legislature, of which they are a sitting member.
Premiers hold a fair bit of power within the Canadian federation, especially in regard to the federal government. In many ways they remain the most effective representatives of provincial interests to the federal government, as Parliament's strong party discipline and other factors have impaired provincial representation there. This reality is acknowledged in annual "first ministers conferences" in which the federal prime minister and the 10 premiers meet to discuss provincial-federal relations. The Meech Lake Accord proposed that these meetings be constitutionally mandated, and some premiers have even proposed that these meetings become a formal branch of government, active in the legislative process (see Council of the Federation).
Canada's three territories have premiers as well, though they are technically known as "government leaders". The Premier of Yukon is chosen in the usual fashion, but the premiers of Nunavut and Northwest Territories are selected from within the small and non-partisan elected territorial councils.
See main article: List of current Canadian first ministers.