Canada was a founder member of the Commonwealth in 1931 when its
independence was recognised under the Statute of Westminster, and Arnold
Smith of Canada was the first Commonwealth Secretary-General (1965–75).
In 2013 short story writer Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in
Literature and Eliza Robertson won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Three Canadians have won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Mordecai
Richler, in 1990; Rohinton Mistry (born in Bombay, India), in 1992 and
1996; and Lawrence Hill, in 2008.
The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management
has its HQ in Ottawa, the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver and the
Commonwealth Journalists Association in Toronto.
Joined Commonwealth: 1931 (Statute of Westminster)
Population: 35,182,000 (2013)
GDP: 1.3% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 8
Official language: English, French
Timezone: GMT minus 8–3hr
Currency: Canadian dollar (C$)
Area: 9,976,000 sq km
Capital city: Ottawa
Population density (per sq. km): 4
The second largest country in the world, Canada comprises the northern
half of the North American continent, bordering with the USA to the
south and north-west (Alaska). It is bounded by three oceans: the
Pacific to the west; the Arctic to the north; and the Atlantic to the
east. Indented shores and numerous islands (some very large) give it the
longest coastline of any country at 202,100 km. Cape Columbia on
Ellesmere Island is 768 km from the North Pole.
Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories. The
provinces (and provincial capitals) are: Alberta (Edmonton), British
Columbia (Victoria), Manitoba (Winnipeg), New Brunswick (Fredericton),
Newfoundland and Labrador (St John’s), Nova Scotia (Halifax), Ontario
(Toronto), Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), Québec (Québec),
Saskatchewan (Regina); and the territories (and capitals): Northwest
Territories (Yellowknife), Nunavut (Iqaluit) and Yukon (Whitehorse).
Nunavut was formed in April 1999 – from the eastern and central parts of
the Northwest Territories – as a semi- autonomous region for the Inuit
Ottawa (capital, Ontario, pop. 883,391 in 2011), Toronto (Ontario,
5.13m), Montréal (Québec, 3.4m), Vancouver (British Columbia, 2.13m),
Calgary (Alberta, 1.09m), Edmonton (Alberta, 960,015), Québec (696,946),
Winnipeg (Manitoba, 671,551), Hamilton (Ontario, 670,580), Halifax (Nova
Scotia, 297,943), Saskatoon (Saskatchewan, 222,035), Regina
(Saskatchewan, 192,796), St John’s (Newfoundland and Labrador, 165,346),
Fredericton (New Brunswick, 61,522) and Charlottetown (Prince Edward
The country has 1,042,300 km of roads, including an extensive network of
expressways. The 7,821 km Trans-Canada Highway is the longest national
highway in the world.
East–west routes predominate on both the privately owned freight railway
systems. The total system extends over 58,345 km. Toronto and Montréal
have underground urban railway systems, called the Subway and Metro
The St Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959, provides a water transport
system from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes. It has a
system of locks to lift vessels 170 metres between Montréal and Lake
Superior. Of the many international ports, the busiest is Vancouver.
Remote areas are accessible only by air. There are well over 1,000
airports, more than 800 with paved runways.
Canada is a member of Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation, North Atlantic
Treaty Organization, Organisation for Economic Co- operation and
Development, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie,
Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade
With the USA and Mexico, Canada is a member of the North America Free
There are six physical regions. The largest is the Precambrian (or
Canadian) Shield, the dominant geological feature of the country. It
consists of ancient, very hard rocks to the north of the St Lawrence
river, occupying nearly half of Canada’s total area and including
plateau-like highlands with thousands of lakes and rivers. Almost a
quarter of the world’s fresh water is concentrated here.
The second region is the Appalachian mountains to the east, which cover
Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and part
of Québec. The mountains have been eroded by glaciers, wind and water
over 300 million years; their highest elevation, in Gaspe’s Shickshock
Mountains, is under 1,300 metres.
The third region is the Great Lakes–St Lawrence Lowlands in the
south-east, stretching from Québec City to Lake Huron. It is the
country’s most productive agricultural area.
The fertile Interior Plains or prairies, the fourth region, are a vast
expanse of land and sky, rising gently from Manitoba to Alberta and
spreading northward through the Mackenzie river valley to the Arctic
The Western Cordillera, the fifth region, is a rocky spine of mountains
along the Pacific coastline. The Cordillera stretches from South America
to Alaska, and the Canadian portion includes many peaks over 3,000
metres, the highest being in the Rocky Mountains.
The Arctic region, finally, consists of hundreds of islands, covering an
area of 2,800 km by 1,800 km and reaching to Canada’s northern tip.
In the High Arctic, temperatures rise above freezing for only a few
weeks in July/August. The boreal forest area is snow- bound for more
than half the year and precipitation is light, except along the Labrador
The eastern Atlantic region has changeable winter temperatures and heavy
snowfall. Fog is common, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador.
July/August temperatures are 16–18°C. Winter also brings heavy snowfalls
to the Great Lakes–St Lawrence region; but summer temperatures average
almost 20oC, with heat waves.
The prairies have cold winters and hot summers, with rapid air flow
bringing dramatic weather changes. Annual average precipitation in
southern Saskatchewan is less than 350 mm, compared with 1,110 mm in
Vancouver, to the west.
The coast of British Columbia has the most temperate climate in Canada.
The most significant environmental issues are damage to forests and
lakes by acid rain, and contamination of oceans by waste and run-off
from agriculture, industry and mining.
The Appalachian region is heavily wooded, with mixed sugar maple and
spruce. Similar forests flourish in the Great Lakes–St Lawrence
Lowlands, and white pine, spruce and fir thrive in the south of the
Precambrian Shield. The far north of the Shield and the Arctic are too
cold for trees, but mosses, lichens, short grasses and dwarf shrubs
burst into life and quickly fade in a six- week summer.
A desert-like sweep of short grasses in the southernmost parts of
Alberta and Saskatchewan is succeeded further north by fertile
grasslands, where millions of ponds provide breeding grounds for half of
North America’s ducks, geese, swans and pelicans, and for mosquitoes.
British Columbia is heavily forested, containing some huge trees
including some 1,000 year-old Douglas firs.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), thought to have arrived from
Europe in the 1890s, is causing havoc to wildlife in marshes, ponds and
stream banks. Arable land comprises five per cent of the total land area
and forest 34 per cent, there having been no significant loss of forest
cover during 1990–2012.
Canada has 34 national parks, including the Rocky Mountains NP. In the
tundra of the far north are found seals, polar bears, the gigantic
musk-oxen and caribou. In the extensive stretches of forest are moose,
brown, black and grizzly bears, and beavers, one of Canada’s national
symbols. The grasslands were once home to enormous herds of bison but
extensive hunting means these are now only to be found in wildlife
reserves. Some 11 mammal species and 13 bird species are thought to be
From 1968 to 1984, Canadian politics was dominated by Pierre Trudeau,
leader of the Liberal Party and four times Prime Minister. During his
administrations, social welfare was increased, immigration liberalised
and multiculturalism promoted. After his retirement in 1984, his party
was eventually ousted by the Progressive Conservative Party (PCP) under
Brian Mulroney, who promoted more stringent social policies, some
privatisation and free trade.
Brian Mulroney was succeeded in 1993 by Kim Campbell, Canada’s first
woman Prime Minister. Campbell and the Conservatives were crushingly
defeated in the October 1993 elections, winning only two seats. The
Liberal Party, led by Jean Chrétien, won 177 seats. Recently established
parties, the Reform Party (52 seats) and Bloc Québécois (54), did well
in the election.
In an early general election in June 1997, Chrétien and the Liberal
Party retained power with a reduced majority, winning 155 seats. The
Reform Party took 60 seats, Bloc Québécois 44. The PCP recovered to 20
seats and the New Democratic Party also won 20, up from nine in 1993.
The elections exposed the increasing regionalisation of Canadian
politics, with 101 of the Liberal seats being won in Ontario and the
remainder in a few large cities. The Reform Party’s seats were almost
exclusively in the west of the country.
The Canadian Alliance became the official opposition in the federal
House of Commons in March 2000 when the Reform Party joined it.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) was founded in 1968, with a separatist
programme. It came to power in Québec in 1976 and a referendum on Québec
sovereignty was held in 1980 in which 60 per cent of Québec voters
rejected secession. However, Québec did not approve the new Federal
Constitution of 1982, and the issue remained unresolved.
A way forward was apparently found by the Meech Lake accord in 1987. Its
main points were the recognition of Québec as a ‘distinct society’ and
new provincial powers. However, Manitoba and Newfoundland failed to
ratify the accord before the 1990 deadline and New Brunswick then halted
its own ratification process. Many Québécois were antagonised by what
they interpreted as a rejection of their interests, culture and
language. Extensive public consultations on constitutional reform
followed, culminating in the Charlottetown accord of 28 August 1992.
Among other things, this accord recognised Québec as a distinct society
and also recognised aboriginal rights to self-government within Canada.
However, the Charlottetown Accord proposals were rejected in a national
referendum in October 1992.
Despite the clear practical difficulties of secession, the PQ, winning
the provincial elections of 1994, held a referendum on the separatist
option on 30 October 1995. The result was a narrow defeat for the
secessionists: a majority of less than one per cent voted to remain
within the federation of Canada.
In August 1998 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that under both
federal and international law Québec only had the right to secede with
the agreement of both federal and seven of the ten provincial
legislatures. However, it did stipulate that should a clear majority of
the people of Québec vote to secede, then the federal and provincial
governments should enter into negotiations with it in good faith.
In Québec’s provincial elections in November 1998, the vote was evenly
divided between the PQ and the Liberals, although the PQ was returned
with 75 of the 125 seats – but only 43 per cent of the votes cast. With
voters divided, it seemed unlikely that the PQ would risk another
referendum in the near future.
During 2000, the federal parliament passed legislation giving it the
right to approve questions to be posed in future referendums on
secession by individual provinces.
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