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Canada

Ottawa

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Canadian dollar

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History

Canada was one of the first parts of the Americas reached by Europeans in modern times. Vikings reached it from Greenland and Iceland in the 13th century and settled in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Irish and Welsh may have crossed earlier; Bristol merchants may have reached it before Columbus; so may the Portuguese who might have said "ca nada" = there is nothing here. (Actually, this may be a silly story - see Name of Canada). The Scottish Earl Henry St Clair of Orkney is known to have visited and planted a colony in Nova Scotia in 1398. John Cabot reached Newfoundland in 1497 and claimed it for England. The Newfoundland fishery was economically important to Europeans at least from the 16th century. It was claimed for England in 1583 by Sir Humphrey Gilbert and thus was the first English colony in the Americas. It was settled by fishermen without a formal government.

It was the French who first became interested in the furs available from the interior reached through the St Lawrence Valley and they therefore traveled widely through the interior of North America trapping animals and buying them from the native inhabitants. Later some of them settled in the lower St Lawrence Valley forming the nucleus of what is now Quebec, a potentially sovereign province (state).

The French settlement was conquered by the British during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). The famous battle at Quebec city was won by the British general Wolfe by a daring manouvre of climbing the cliff called the Heights of Abraham. George Washington was active in this war as a member of the British forces.

Modern Canada exists because at the end of the American War of Independence the British still controlled the St Lawrence Valley and the colonies associated with it which had not joined the rebel colonies. The British headquarters during the war of Independence had been at Halifax in Nova Scotia.

The lower St Lawrence valley was settled by the French from about 1620 and organized into the colony of New France from 1647. The Treaty of Utrecht at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession removed French government from Newfoundland, Hudson Bay and Nova Scotia in 1713. The Treaty of Paris (1763) transferred Canada itself, including territory in what is now the United States, to Britain. This followed the British conquest of Quebec city by troops who included some from the English colonies.

This began the modern conflict between the English and French speaking communities and ended the French hope for the control of North America, exercised from the St Lawrence and westward to the Mississippi valley down to New Orleans. It also ended the fear of the 13 coastal colonies that they might be conquered by the French, thus increasing their desire for autonomy from Britain.

After the British conquest of Quebec some of the French migrated to New Orleans where they were known as Acadians (Cajuns). France was left with the territory west of the Mississippi - Louisiana - which they never settled.

At the end of the War of Independence some of those loyal to Britain (Tories) migrated from the United States to the Canadian provinces, creating an English speaking population in Ontario and the west.

It was in Canada that the principle of Dominion status within the British Empire was devised. This was limited sovereignty with local self-government, evolving towards complete independence. Self-government began as early as 1840. At that time British North America consisted of Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario). New provinces were added as the settlers moved west.

The Confederation was formed in 1867, based on the federal principle adopted by the United States. Manitoba joined in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. Newfoundland and Labrador joined only in 1949.

In Canada's case complete independence came in 1926 when Canadian diplomatic representatives were recognized. The other British dominions became independent with the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which left the British monarch as head of state but exercised through a Governor General who is now always a local citizen.

The future of Canada is uncertain. The most important recent event was the formation of a free trade area with the United States. Because Canadians live close to the United States border they have long been influenced culturally by the south. However, Canadian governments have in the past tried to prevent economic domination by the United States. With the free trade agreement they have ended the controls over investment from the south. The agreement has also made possible the economic freedom of Quebec to be followed, perhaps, by political independence. Most commentators believe the rest of Canada would then be tempted to ask to join the United States. However, as Canadian cities are generally safer and, as Canadians believe, more civilized, many Canadians would be reluctant to join the United States with its social problems. Canadians would be unwilling to give up the mildly social democratic policies (Health Services and other social welfare provisions) for the United States's policies of private medicine and lack of care for the poor.

The rejection of the constitutional reforms by a referendum in October 1992 seemed to leave the status of Quebec uncertain and make the formation of a Quebec sovereign state more likely. However, following the referendum in 1995 which resulted in a small majority for the status quo, support for separation in Quebec has declined to 15% according to recent opinion polls.

If Quebec were to leave the Confederation, what would happen to the Maritime Provinces to the east, separated from the main Anglo area? This may not need to be faced.

Languages

English

French

Inuit

Amerindian langs.

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Politics

Canada is a federation, officially the Confederation. It is made up of the 4 western provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the largest eastern province of Ontario, the Maritime provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. And Quebec. In the far north there are the Territories, much of which belong to the Native Americans. The Federal government has weaker powers than that of the United States.

The current constitution (1990) is the result of negotiations between the provinces and the federal government, and especially between the Anglo provinces and Quebec.

The main question of Canadian politics has for 20 years or so been: what is the relation of Quebec to the rest of the country? An increasing number of Quebecois appeared to be choosing independence. Will the 1992 agreement prevent this? It was rejected by a referendum, which leaves the whole question still open.

Changes of government following general elections occur often. Canada has adopted the British system of a Prime Minister responsible to the House of Commons. There is also a Senate which until 1992 has been appointed, like the British House of Lords. Each province has an elected assembly and prime minister. Following the 1992 Constitutional agreement the Senate would have been elected with equal representation from each province (even the small Maritime Provinces).

The party system in Canada is more like that of European countries than that of the United States. There are three main parties in the Federal House of Commons: the Progressive Conservatives (Tories); the Liberals and the New Democrats (who are in fact Social Democrats or a Labor Party). Until October 1993 the Conservatives (Tories) controlled the Federal government but the New Democrats controlled the largest Anglo Province, Ontario.

Political earthquake
In the October 1993 federal elections the Tories lost all except two of their seats and the Liberals took power. A large Quebec Nationalist party declared its intention to promote the secession of Quebec. In the Western provinces the Reform Party gained a large foothold. Perhaps inspired by Ross Perot it had some of the characteristics of an extreme Right Wing party. This extreme electoral swing was the result of a First Past the Post electoral system which exaggerates changes in the electoral support. Thus the losing Tories had two seats but 16% of the national vote; the Liberals had a huge majority of seats but, as with Mrs. Thatcher in Britain, only 43% of the vote. The Liberals are in fact a free market party of the European model, rather than mildly Social Democrat, as in the US.

Desire for secession in Quebec appears to have declined in recent years.

In the January 2006 elections a minority Liberal government was replaced by a minority Conservative government. Once again Quebec's condition is in question.

British Columbia proposed to use the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member voting districts as in Ireland but the referendum did not pass the constitutional change.

Minority government lost its majority in March 2011.

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Economics

One of the G7 economies. The signing of a Free Trade treaty with the US (NAFTA) is changing the traditionally somewhat protectionist Canadian economy. Formerly Canadian trade polices were to reduce US ownership and influence by erecting tariff barriers and special laws on ownership. These have now become illegal. (However, apparently the US can erect barriers, as against Canadian softwood lumber in March 2002.)

Canada’s main economic strength is as a supplier of raw materials - especially oil products and electricity.

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Green/Ecology

Some forest damage from acid rain, much of it originating south of the border.

The St Laurence is badly polluted with heavy metals and organic chemicals, mainly from industry in the Great Lakes.

The question of Quebec's hydroelectricity and its change of land use is exercising many environmentalists.

The Newfoundland fishery has been closed after overfishing. This was a shock, because when Europeans discovered it in the 15th century the Grand Banks cod seemed to be inexhaustible.

Dispute with US over control of Arctic Ocean, as the water becomes free of ice in Summer.

Canada's influence on climate change is that it has large oil reserves and the extremely polluting industry of extracting oil products from the Tar Sands of Alberta.

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Human Rights

Western norm.

Climate effects

One degree
some amelioration of cold winters and slight lengthening of growing season. Loss of sea ice in arctic ocean.

Two degrees
probable influx of settlers from the United States as conditions there worsen.

Last revised 30/04/11


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