The Forum in Canada

History

Canada is the product of the 1867 union of three colonies in British North America: Nova Scotia; New Brunswick; and Quebec and Ontario (which were united into a single colony and called Canada East and Canada West). Six other provinces subsequently joined Canada: Manitoba (1870); British Columbia (1871); Prince Edward Island (1873); Saskatchewan and Alberta (1905); and Newfoundland (1949). In addition, three northern territories are also constituent parts of the federation: Yukon; the Northwest Territories; and Nunavut, which was carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1999.

The nation of Canada, founded by the Constitution Act of 1867, initially adopted a fairly centralized federal structure. The 1982 Constitution Act affirmed aboriginal rights and introduced an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms to which all governments and legislatures are subject.

The Council of the Federation, established in 2003, acts as a spokesman for the provincial governments of this large and diverse country.

Structure

Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy, consisting of ten provinces and three territories. The British monarch, also the monarch of Canada, is the official Head of State, although typically the monarch appoints a Governor General to perform the role on their behalf. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and selects ministers to lead various departments, typically with regional representation.

The Parliament of Canada is bicameral, consisting of the Senate and the House of Commons, although the monarch also retains considerable power in this arena. The Senate (the upper house) is comprised of 105 members appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, who serve until the age of 75. The Senate is supposed to provide regional equality, although the extent to which this is achieved is debatable. Members of the House of Commons (the lower house) are elected in single member districts via a first past the post voting system.

Each of Canada’s provinces and territories have their own Premiers, governments, and unicameral legislatures. Provincial governments have a significant amount of power and jurisdiction within their localities, including responsibility for areas such as health care, education, and welfare. They also have the ability to implement province-specific taxation.

Canada is a parliamentary democracy with a system that expresses a divided rather than a shared model of federalism. The country has established independent tax powers for both levels of government (provincial and federal), but there is weak provincial representation at the centre. Strong executive-led government in the federal and provincial capitals, combined with a weak Senate, has led to executive domination of relations between and among the federal partners.

Canadian federalism has been affected by the country’s linguistic diversity, centered on the French-English relationship, its regional diversity, and its ethno-cultural diversity. Reflecting the historical presence of two language communities, Canada has two official languages, French and English. Since Canada’s settlement and growth has depended heavily on immigration, approximately 14% of Canadians have other mother tongues. In 1991, almost 1 million people in Canada reported having aboriginal origins, in whole or in part.

Canada’s high degree of decentralization has been driven by factors such as: judicial interpretation of division of powers in favor the provinces; inadequate representation of regional diversity leading to popular support for provincial powers; the growing importance of provincial jurisdiction areas such as health, welfare and education; and Quebec nationalism.