CanadaCanada is a vast and beautiful country occupying the entire northern portion of the North American continent. The nation, which consists of 10 provinces and three territories, extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west and northward into the rarely-traveled Arctic Circle. With nearly 10 million square kilometers of land space, Canada is the world’s second-largest country (after Russia) by total area, and the southern border it shares with its lone neighbor, the United States, is the world’s longest land border shared by the same two countries.
In the following article we will take a brief look at the country of Canada, and provide some pertinent information regarding its history, government structure, economy, demographics and culture.
Brief History of Canada
The first Europeans to reach Canada were the Vikings in the early 11 century in an expedition led by the famed explorer Leif Eriksson. The Vikings, however, did not establish a colony in the new land, and the region that is now Canada was largely forgotten until the end of the 15 century, when, in 1497, the English King Henry VII sent an Italian named Jean Cabot on an expedition across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. In the early 16 century, a Frenchman named Jacques Cartier also sailed on two expeditions to Canada, sailing into the St. Lawrence River in August of 1535.
No permanent European settlements were made in Canada until the early 17th century, when in 1603 a Frenchman named Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) sailed up the St Lawrence River. In 1604 he founded Port Royal in Acadia (Nova Scotia), and later, in 1608, founded Quebec (the name Quebec is believed to be an Algonquin word meaning a narrow part of a river). In 1642 the French founded Montreal, and the new colony in Canada was called New France.
The English were also interested in Canada, setting up a rivalry between England and France that would last for centuries. After settling the area around what is now the Hudson Bay in the early 17 century, the English would later go on to capture Quebec in 1629, although the region was later returned to the French in 1632.
The Seven Years War (1756-1763) pit England against France in a bloody fight for control over Canada. In 1758, the British captured the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, and in 1759, the English General Wolfe captured the city of Quebec (Wolfe’s victory at Quebec ensured that Canada would become British rather than French). In 1763, the French were forced to surrender all their territories in Canada to Britain by the Treaty of Paris.
After their victory in the Seven Years War, the British were left with the problem of how to deal with the French Canadians. To avoid further conflict, the British enacted the Quebec Act of 1774, allowing the French Canadians to practice their own religion—Roman Catholicism—and to keep French civil law alongside British criminal law. By 1775, Canada had a population of about 90,000.
In the early 19 century, the population of Canada grew rapidly, boosted by a massive wave of European immigration. Canada established its first democratic government in 1867, when Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were federated as the Dominion of Canada. Manitoba was made a province in 1870, and British Columbia joined the confederation in 1871. Alberta and Saskatchewan would later join in 1905.
In the late 19th and early 20th century the population of Canada continued to grow, and the Canadian economy also expanded, aided by the spread of railways. A transcontinental railroad, the Canadian Pacific, was completed in 1885. Gold was found in the Klondike District of the Yukon in 1896, sparking a gold rush that would last for several years.
In the early 20 century, more than 60,000 Canadians died in the First World War. Following the war, in the 1920s, Canada saw several prosperous years, but like the rest of the world the country suffered greatly during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Exports of timber, fish and grain dropped off sharply, and by 1933 unemployment had soared to a whopping 23%. The government introduced relief works, but economic hardship continued throughout the decade. The early 1940s marked the beginning of World War II, during which an additional 45,000 Canadians lost their lives.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the population of Canada had grown to 18 million and the country underwent a major economic boom that continued until the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when unemployment again rose to over 11 percent. The late 1990s and early 2000s again brought prosperity to Canada, and today the country, like the rest of the world is beginning to shake off the effects of the global recession that began in 2008. In 2012, the unemployment rate in Canada stood at 8.1 percent, but today that number has shrunk to 6.9 percent—the lowest rate the country has seen since before the 2008 recession.
Government of Canada
The national or federal government of Canada is unique in that borrows elements from both the British and American models of government to create a somewhat unusual, albeit very effective system. Like most of the governments installed in developed countries around the world, the Canadian government uses a system of checks and balances between the various branches of government, which ensures that no single branch can use or abuse its powers to the detriment of the people.
The national government of Canada was set up by the Canadian Constitution of 1867—an act of the British parliament. However, in 1982, the constitution was amended to give Canada political independence from Great Britain, although the monarch still retains some executive powers. In addition, the 1982 amendment provided an outline of the political rights and freedoms reserved for Canadian citizens, an outline similar to the Bill of Rights that begins the Constitution of the United States.
At the national level, Canada has three branches of government: the executive branch, legislative branch and judicial branch, each with specific roles and duties.
The executive branch of the Canadian government is officially led by Queen Elizabeth II of England, who serves as the active head of state entrusted with sweeping powers over the legislative and judicial branches. The British monarch’s position, however, has historically been more honorary rather than enforced, though should the monarch decide, she could assert considerable power over Canada. Although the executive branch typically bows to the will of parliament and the constitution, it does so by tradition rather than any specific act of law.
Due to the geographic distance between Canada and Great Britain, the Queen appoints a governor-general in Canada to oversee the executive powers reserved for the monarch. Currently the governor-general of Canada is David Lloyd Johnston.
The Prime Minister of Canada, currently Steven Harper, is appointed by the governor-general to serve as the head of the Canadian federal government and wields most of the executive power in the country. The prime minister is almost always chosen from whichever party holds a majority in the House of Commons—one of two legislative bodies in Canada—however if no party holds a majority, the prime minister is typically appointed from the party with the most members in that house. Although the prime minister cannot be removed from office, the House of Commons can pass an “act of no confidence” in the government, which will generally result in the resignation of the prime minister and his/her cabinet.
The duties of the prime minister of Canada are many, including presiding over Cabinet meetings, meeting with official foreign delegations and answering questions in the House of Commons. Since the Prime Minister is usually a member of the Parliament, he/she also spends time helping the constituents who put him/her in office.
Collectively, the legislative branch of Canada’s government is known as Parliament. Within Parliament is a bicameral structure, meaning there are two houses or assemblies with legislative power. The appointed house is called the Senate, where members are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the Prime Minister. The elected body of legislative government is known as the House of Commons. Members of this house are chosen through democratic election procedures held every four to five years. Though in theory both branches of legislative government are roughly equal in the power they wield, the House of Commons is generally seen as the most powerful arm of the Canadian government and introduces more bills each year to the Parliament.
The judicial branch of Canadian government is responsible for overseeing all cases of criminal law, as well as maintaining a Supreme Court—the highest court in the land, with members appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Matters of civil law are monitored using principles of British common law, except for in Quebec, where a French code of law is adhered to. The Supreme Court consists of nine jurists or justices and is used as a “court of final circumstance” in cases where the lower courts cannot adequately come to a legal decision.
The Constitution Act of 1867 provides for the establishment and operation of Canada's professional judiciary. It gives the federal government exclusive lawmaking power over Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure (but not over the establishment of criminal courts), and it gives the provinces exclusive lawmaking power over the administration of justice in each province.
The national or federal government of Canada appoints the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court, and it also appoints some judges to provincial courts. The latter are sometimes referred to as “section 96 judges,” named after Act 96 of the Constitution which allowed the federal government to appoint them. These judges typically sit in their respective provincial Supreme Court or Court of Appeal or in equivalent courts such as the Court of the Queen’s Bench, the Superior Court (in Quebec) or the General Division of the Court of Justice (in Ontario).
Economy and Organizations in Canada
Canada boasts one of the largest and most advanced economies in the world, relying chiefly upon its abundant store of natural resources and well-developed trade networks. Canada’s long and complex relationship with the United States has had a significant and very positive impact on its economy and culture.
According to economic experts, Canada has historically had one of the most resilient economies amongst the world’s developed nations. This success can largely be attributed to a better regulated and less leveraged financial market—a market that, throughout the history of the nation, has not allowed debt levels to spiral out of control, and one that has always relied on the vast depth of the country’s natural resources. The tremendous variety of some of the world’s most treasured natural resources found in Canada are exported primarily to the United States and Western European nations, but in recent years there has also been increasing demand for these resources and products from China and several other emerging markets around the globe.
While exportation only represents about one-third of Canada’s overall economic output, the stability of the country’s financial markets have prevented exports from crumbling (even during the great global recession that began in 2008), thus supporting a steady level of consumer domestic spending.
Canada is a highly developed country and one of the wealthiest in the world, boasting the eighth-highest per capita income globally, and the eleventh-highest ranking in the Human Development Index. The country ranks very high in international measurements of education, government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life and economic freedom. Canada’s consistent participation in economic, international and intergovernmental institutions or groupings includes its membership in the G8 (Group of Eight); the Group of Ten (an economic group); the Group of Twenty (G-20 major economies); the North American Free Trade Agreement; and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Canada's alliances include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United Nations (UN).
Demographics of Canada
As of the last census, Canada boasted a total population of approximately 35 million, an increase of nearly 6 percent over the last five years. About 80 percent of the population lives within 93 miles (150 km) of the United States border. As mentioned briefly above, Canada is home to ten provinces and three territories. The breakdown for these regions by population is outlined below:
- Province of Ontario—12.8 million
- Province of Quebec—7.9 million
- Province of British Columbia—4.4 million
- Province of Alberta—3.6 million
- Province of Manitoba—1.2 million
- Province of Saskatchewan—1 million
- Province of Nova Scotia—922,000
- Province of New Brunswick—751,000
- Province of Newfoundland and Labrador—515,000
- Province of Prince Edward Island—140,000
- Northwest Territories—41,000
- Yukon Territory—34,000
- Nunavut Territory—32,000
Nearly 80 percent of the Canadian population lives in urban areas concentrated primarily in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, the British Columbia Lower Mainland, and the Calgary–Edmonton Corridor in Alberta. Like many other developed 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, but by 2011 that number had grown to 39.9 years. Today, the average life expectancy for Canadians is 81 years of age.
Education in Canada
The provinces and territories of Canada are responsible for education in those specific regions. Education is compulsory for all children ages 6-16 (18 in certain provinces), contributing to an overall adult literacy rate of over 99 percent, one of the highest in the world. According to a 2012 report, Canada is the most educated country in the world. The Program for International Student Assessment indicates that Canadian students perform well above the OECD average, particularly in mathematics, science, and reading.
Culture of Canada
Like its southern neighbor, Canada is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, customs and traditions; a place where people of all types of cultural backgrounds live and work together in relative harmony.
Languages in Canada
The many languages one can hear spoken in Canada are a reflection of the country’s long history and colonial roots. From an official standpoint, Canada is a bilingual country, with both French and English recognized as the nation’s national languages, but there are also a multitude of non-official languages spoken in the country, ranging from German and Spanish to Punjabi and Chinese. This does not include the large number of native languages that can also be heard around the country, particularly in the northernmost reaches of Canada. According to the latest census information, there are over 50 distinct languages and many more native dialects spoken throughout Canada, which are classified into 11 Aboriginal language groups. Of these native languages, only Ojibway, Inuktitut and Cree are spoken by a large enough group of speakers to be considered relevant. Salishan languages are also used in the Northwest Plateau, while Iroquoian and Algic languages are spoken in the Eastern Woodlands cultural area.
Religions of Canada
Religious freedom, once a source of tension in Canada’s early years, is now guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Throughout the course of history, religion has always played a huge role in the lives of Canadians. It has also served as a major source of conflict at times, being that the country is home to so many different religious faiths and traditions. Unlike people in other parts of the world, Canadians can never be assured that their friends and neighbors share their same belief system—or even believe in anything at all.
Regardless, the people of Canada are generally very religious, and nearly 70 percent of the population believes in God and belongs to some type of organized church. However, like many western nations, Canada is also becoming increasingly secular (rather than more religious), with religion serving as an ongoing topic of debate.
In current times, gathering religious statistics in Canada is not an easy task, nor is it an exact science, as the government stopped asking about religious preference after the national census in 2001. Nevertheless, many independent groups have taken it upon themselves to quantify the various religions practiced in the country.
According to recent surveys, Christianity is by far the largest religious faith adhered to in Canada, accounting for roughly 70 percent of the population. In terms of church affiliation, 43 percent of the population self identifies as Roman Catholic, 23 percent claims Protestantism as their religion of choice and another 4 percent practices some other form of Christianity. Within the broad category of Protestantism, 9.5 percent of Canadians belong to the United Church of Canada, 6.8 percent to the Anglican Church, 2.4 percent to the Baptist Church, and 2 percent to the Lutheran Church. Other faiths practiced in the country include Judaism, Islam, and, in much smaller numbers, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, among others. Sixteen percent of the population claims to follow either no religion (agnostic) or has no belief in God (atheist) whatsoever.
Canada offers some of the best cuisine in the world, with some of the most notable contributions being made by the French and later British settlers. However, as immigration increased throughout the years, an increasing number of different nationalities, including people from Germany, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Japan and a number of countries in Eastern Europe, just to name a few, made their way to Canada and other parts of North America, bringing with them a vast array of traditions and recipes.
Much of the gastronomy of Canada is comprised of local seafood and game varieties, hearty soups and stews, and plenty of locally-grown fruits and vegetables.