Canada is a country located in the northern half of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and north to the Arctic Ocean. With an area of 9.98 million square kilometres, it is the second largest country in the world by total area and the fourth largest by land area. Canada’s border with the United States is the longest land border in the world. Most of the country has a cold or very cold winter climate, but the southern regions are warm in summer. Canada is sparsely populated, with most of the country dominated by forest, tundra and the Rocky Mountains. About four-fifths of the country’s 36 million inhabitants are urbanised and live near the southern border. The capital is Ottawa, the largest metropolis is Toronto; other large conurbations are Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Hamilton.
Canada has been inhabited by various Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. From the 16th century, the British and French laid claim to the region, with the colony of Canada being established by the French in 1537. Through various conflicts, the United Kingdom gained and lost territories in British North America until, in the late 18th century, it became the largest colony in the world. Under the British North America Act, on 1 July 1867, the colonies of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia amalgamated to form the semi-autonomous federal Dominion of Canada. This marked the beginning of the growth of the provinces and territories from the largely self-governing Dominion to the present ten provinces and three territories that make up modern Canada.
In 1931, Canada gained almost complete independence from the United Kingdom with the Statute of Westminster, 1931. Full sovereignty was achieved when the Canada Act, 1982, removed the last remaining legal dependence on the British Parliament. Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. The country is officially bilingual at the federal level. It is one of the most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations in the world, the result of massive immigration from many other countries. Its advanced economy is the eleventh largest in the world, based primarily on its abundant natural resources and well-developed international trade networks. Canada’s long and complex relationship with the United States has had a significant impact on its economy and culture.
Canada is a developed country with the 10th highest nominal per capita income in the world and the 9th highest Human Development Index. It ranks among the best in international measures of open government, civil liberties, quality of life, economic freedom and education. Canada is a full member of the Commonwealth of Nations, a member of La Francophonie and a member of several major international and intergovernmental institutions or groupings, including the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the G8, the Group of Ten, the G20, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.
Canada has a federal system of government, with ten provinces and three territories. Laws vary slightly from province to province, although for the most part they are fairly uniform.
At the federal level, the Canadian Parliament is based on the British Westminster system, with a popularly elected House of Commons and a Senate appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. Each province has its own government and legislature, based on the same system, but without a Senate. The Premier is the head of the provincial government.
Queen Elizabeth II remains the nominal head of state, with a Governor General appointed as her representative in Canada and a Lieutenant Governor in each province. This is a constitutional monarchy; the roles of the Queen and her representatives are largely ceremonial, with the Prime Minister exercising the greatest authority in government.
The Canadian Constitution defines certain areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. For example, each province sets its own drinking age, minimum wage, sales tax and labour regulations, and administers its own road, health and education systems. Two of the three territorial parliaments (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) are unique in that they are non-partisan – no political parties are represented, but all candidates run as independents in their constituencies.
At the federal level, there are four major parliamentary parties: the Conservative Party (right of centre), the Liberal Party (left of centre), the New Democratic Party (left of centre) and the Bloc Québécois (a regional party that advocates Québec’s secession from Canada and does not run candidates outside Québec). Only the Conservatives and the Liberals (currently) have ever formed the national government, although the NDP has governed several provinces. The Bloc – which for obvious reasons tends to be viewed negatively in other parts of the country – does not participate in provincial politics, but another provincial sovereignist party, the Parti Québécois, has won provincial elections and formed the Québec government several times.
Domestically, Canada has successfully negotiated compromises between its own culturally and linguistically diverse population, a difficult task given the diversity of language, culture and even history within the country. In contrast to the traditional image of the United States as a melting pot (which is now in decline), Canada prefers to see and define itself as a mosaic of cultures and peoples. Canadians are used to living and interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis and are generally very friendly and understanding when approached in public. The country is largely urban and has a diverse population (less so in rural areas). As is often the case in neighbouring countries, there is a certain rivalry between Americans and Canadians, perhaps more evident in Canada than in the United States. So if you are an overtly American visitor, a minority of Canadians may make comments that could offend you. However, if you do not boast about being American and do not compare Canada negatively with the United States, you are likely to hear only good-natured jokes.
Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming was the first to propose time zones for the world in 1876, and Canada, as a continental country, is covered by several time zones from coast to coast.
- GMT -8 Pacific Time (Yukon, British Columbia)
- GMT -7 Mountain Time (Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut)
- GMT -6 Central Time (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, parts of Northwestern Ontario, Nunavut)
- GMT -5 Eastern Time (Ontario, Quebec, Nunavut)
- GMT -4 Atlantic Time (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, parts of Labrador and Eastern Quebec)
- GMT -3.5 Newfoundland Time (Newfoundland and some points in Labrador at the Strait of Belle Isle)
Daylight saving time, when clocks are set forward by one hour, is observed in most of the country (except Saskatchewan) from 2am on the second Sunday in March to 2am on the second Sunday in November; during this period, for example, British Columbia has GMT -7, while Alberta has GMT -6.
In English-speaking Canada, the 12-hour clock system is mainly used, while in French-speaking Canada, the 24-hour clock is usually used. The 24-hour notation is also commonly used in English in contexts such as train and flight schedules.
Units of measurement
Canada’s official system of measurement is the metric system, but many English-speaking Canadians still use the imperial system for many things in everyday speech. One of the most widespread remnants of the imperial system is the use of feet and inches to measure short distances and heights, and especially the use of pounds for masses, even among young Canadians, although these measurements are given in metric units on official documents. In Québec and other French-speaking communities, however, the metric system is used almost exclusively. You will still hear older Canadians use the term “mile” to refer to informal distances, and they may also give temperatures in Fahrenheit to refer to the outside temperature, while younger Canadians use Fahrenheit to refer to the temperature of pools and hot tubs, but use Celsius to refer to the outside temperature. All weather forecasts are displayed in °C. Similarly, all road signs will use metric units, meaning that speed limits will be in km/h and distances in km. Note that the terms “gallons”, “pints” and “fluid ounces” are generally used in Canada for the British, not the American, versions of these units.
The 2011 Canadian census counted a total population of 33,476,688, an increase of about 5.9% from 2006. In December 2012, Statistics Canada reported a population of over 35 million, the fastest growth rate of any G8 country. Between 1990 and 2008, the population increased by 5.6 million, representing an overall growth of 20.4 %. The main drivers of population growth are immigration and, to a lesser extent, natural increase. Canada has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world, largely due to economic policy and, to a lesser extent, family reunification. Both the Canadian public and major political parties support current levels of immigration. In 2010, a record 280,636 people immigrated to Canada. The Canadian government projects 280,000 to 305,000 new permanent residents in 2016, a similar number to recent years.New immigrants are settling primarily in large metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.Canada also receives large numbers of refugees, accounting for more than 10% of annual refugee resettlements worldwide.
About four-fifths of the population lives within a 150-kilometre (93-mile) radius of the border with the United States. About 50% of Canadians live in urban areas concentrated along the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, while another 30% live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and the Calgary-Edmonton corridor in Alberta. Canada stretches in latitude from the 83rd parallel north to the 41st parallel north, with about 95% of the population living below the 55th parallel north. Like many other industrialised countries, Canada is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2006, the average age was 39.5 years, and by 2011 it had risen to about 39.9 years. In 2013, the average life expectancy of Canadians was 81 years. The majority of Canadians (69.9%) live in a family household, 26.8% report living alone, and 3.7% live with non-relatives. The average household size in 2006 was 2.5 persons.
According to the 2006 census, the largest self-reported ethnic origin is Canadian (32% of the population), followed by English (21%), French (15.8%), Scottish (15.1%), Irish (13.9%), German (10.2%), Italian (4.6%), Chinese (4.3%), First Nations (4%), Ukrainian (3.9%) and Dutch (3.3%). There are 600 recognised First Nations governments or bands with a total population of 1,172,790. Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing almost twice as fast as the national population, and four per cent of the Canadian population professed an Aboriginal identity in 2006. Another 16.2 per cent of the population belonged to a non-Aboriginal visible minority group. In 2006, the largest visible minority groups were South Asian (4.0%), Chinese (3.9%) and Black (2.5%). Between 2001 and 2006, the number of visible minorities increased by 27.2%. In 1961, less than two per cent of the Canadian population (about 300,000 people) belonged to a visible minority. In 2007, almost one in five (19.8%) were foreign-born, and almost 60% of new immigrants were from Asia (including the Middle East). The main sources of immigrants to Canada were China, the Philippines and India. According to Statistics Canada, visible minority groups could make up one-third of Canada’s population by 2031.
Canada is religiously diverse and encompasses a wide range of beliefs and customs. Canada has no official church and the government officially professes religious pluralism. Religious freedom in Canada is a constitutionally protected right that allows individuals to assemble and worship without restriction or interference. The practice of religion is now generally regarded as a private matter in society and in the state. With Christianity becoming less and less a central and integral part of Canadian culture and daily life, Canada has become a post-Christian, secular state. The majority of Canadians do not consider religion important in their daily lives, but still believe in God. According to the 2011 census, 67.3% of Canadians identify themselves as Christians; of these, Roman Catholics are the largest group, making up 38.7% of the population. The largest Protestant denomination is the United Church of Canada (representing 6.1% of Canadians), followed by Anglicans (5.0%) and Baptists (1.9%). Secularisation has been on the rise since the 1960s. In 2011, 23.9% reported not belonging to any religion, up from 16.5% in 2001. The remaining 8.8% belong to non-Christian religions, the most important of which are Islam (3.2%) and Hinduism (1.5%).
Canada is the eleventh largest economy in the world in 2015, with a nominal GDP of approximately US$1.79 trillion. It is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Group of Eight (G8), and is one of the ten largest trading nations in the world with a highly globalised economy. Canada is a mixed economy, ranking ahead of the US and most Western European countries in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, with relatively low income disparity. The country’s average household disposable income per capita is over US$23,900, above the OECD average. In addition, the Toronto Stock Exchange is the seventh largest stock exchange in the world in terms of market capitalisation, listing more than 1,500 companies with a combined market capitalisation of over US$2 trillion in 2015.
In 2014, Canada’s exports totalled more than C$528 billion, while imported goods were worth more than $523 billion, of which about $349 billion came from the United States, $49 billion from the European Union and $35 billion from China. The country’s trade surplus was C$5.1 billion in 2014, compared to a surplus of C$46.9 billion in 2008.
Since the early 20th century, the growth of manufacturing, mining and services has transformed Canada from a largely rural economy into an industrial and urbanised one. As in many other developed countries, Canada’s economy is dominated by the service sector, which employs about three-quarters of the country’s labour force. However, Canada differs from other developed countries in the importance of its primary sector, of which forestry and the petroleum industry are two of the most important components.
Canada is one of the few developed countries that are net energy exporters. Atlantic Canada has huge offshore natural gas reserves, and Alberta is also home to significant oil and gas resources. The vast Athabasca oil sands and other assets mean that Canada has a 13% share of global oil reserves, the third largest share in the world after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Canada is also one of the world’s largest suppliers of agricultural products; the Canadian Prairies are one of the world’s largest producers of wheat, canola and other grains. The Canadian Department of Natural Resources provides statistics on its major exports; the country is a leading exporter of zinc, uranium, gold, nickel, aluminium, steel, iron ore, coking coal and lead. Many of Canada’s northern cities, where agriculture is difficult, are viable because of their proximity to mines or sources of timber. Canada also has a significant manufacturing sector concentrated in southern Ontario and Quebec, with the automotive and aerospace industries being particularly important.
Canada’s economic integration with the United States has increased significantly since the Second World War. The 1965 Agreement on Trade in Automotive Products opened Canada’s borders to trade in the automotive sector. In the 1970s, concerns about energy self-sufficiency and foreign ownership in manufacturing prompted Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government to adopt the National Energy Program (NEP) and the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA). In the 1980s, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives abolished the NEP and changed FIRA’s name to Investment Canada to encourage foreign investment. The 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement eliminated tariffs between the two countries, while the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) extended the free trade area to Mexico. In the mid-1990s, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien began to run annual budget surpluses and regularly reduce the national debt.
The global financial crisis of 2008 led to a major recession, which resulted in a significant increase in unemployment in Canada. In October 2009, the national unemployment rate in Canada was 8.6%, with provincial unemployment rates ranging from a low of 5.8% in Manitoba to a high of 17% in Newfoundland and Labrador. Between October 2008 and October 2010, the Canadian labour market lost 162,000 full-time jobs and a total of 224,000 permanent jobs. Canada’s federal debt was estimated at $566.7 billion for the 2010-11 fiscal year, up from $463.7 billion in 2008-09. In addition, Canada’s net external debt increased by $41 billion to $194 billion in the first quarter of 2010. However, Canada’s regulated banking sector (comparatively conservative among G8 countries), pre-crisis federal government budget surpluses and long-term public debt reduction policies have allowed for a less severe recession than in other G8 countries. Since 2015, the Canadian economy has largely stabilised and experienced a modest return to growth, although the country continues to be affected by volatile oil prices, sensitivity to the Eurozone crisis and a higher than average unemployment rate. The federal government and many Canadian industries have also begun to expand trade with emerging Asian markets to diversify exports; Asia is now Canada’s second largest export market after the United States. In particular, the much-discussed pipeline proposals are expected to increase exports of Canadian oil reserves to China.