U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Canada, April 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.
Official Name: Canada
Area: 9.9 million sq. km. (3.8 million sq mi.); second-largest country
in the world.
Cities: Capital--Ottawa (pop. 1 million). Other cities--Toronto (4.2
million), Montreal (3.3 million), Vancouver (1.8 million).
Terrain: Mostly plains with mountains in the west and lowlands in the
Climate: Temperate to arctic.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Canadian(s).
Population: 29.5 million (1995).
Annual growth rate: 1.5%.
Ethnic groups: British 28%, French 23%, other European 15%,
Asian/Arab/African 6%, indigenous Indian and Eskimo 2%, mixed background
Religions: Roman Catholic 42%, Protestant 40%.
Languages: English, French.
Education: Literacy--99% of population aged 15 and over have at least a
Health: Infant mortality rate--7/1,000. Life expectancy--75 years male,
82 years female.
Work force: (15,125,000):Trade--17%. Manufacturing--15%. Transportation
and communications--8%. Finance--6%. Public administration--6%.
Construction--5%. Agriculture--4%. Forestry and mining--2%. Other
Type: Confederation with parliamentary democracy.
Independence: July 1, 1867.
Constitution: The amended British North America Act of 1867 patriated to
Canada on April 17, 1982, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and unwritten
Branches: Executive--Queen Elizabeth II (head of state, represented by a
governor general), prime minister (head of government), cabinet.
Legislative--bicameral parliament (104 member Senate, 295-member House
of Commons). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Political Parties: Liberal Party, Bloc Quebecois, Reform Party, New
Democratic Party, Progressive Conservative Party.
Subdivisions: 10 provinces, 2 territories.
GDP: $580.3 billion (1996).
Annual growth rate: 1.5%.
Per capita GDP: $19,465.
Natural resources: Petroleum and natural gas, hydroelectric power,
metals and minerals, fish, forests, wildlife.
Agriculture: Products--wheat, livestock and meat, feed grains, oil
seeds, dairy products, tobacco, fruits, vegetables.
Industry: Types--motor vehicles and parts, machinery and equipment,
aircraft and components, other diversified manufacturing, fish and
forest products, processed and unprocessed minerals.
Trade: Merchandise exports--$184.6 billion: motor vehicles and spare
parts, lumber, wood pulp and newsprint, crude and fabricated metals,
natural gas, crude petroleum, wheat; partners--U.S. 78.6%, EU 6.3%,
Japan 4.5%. Merchandise imports-- $164.1 billion: motor vehicles and
parts, industrial machinery, crude petroleum, chemicals, agricultural
machinery; partners--U.S. 77.3%, EU 8.9%, Japan 3.7%.
The bilateral relationship between the United States and Canada is
perhaps the closest and most extensive in the world. It is reflected in
the staggering volume of trade--nearly US$1 billion a day--and people--
nearly 100 million a year--crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. In fields
ranging from environmental cooperation to free trade, the two countries
have set the standard by which many other countries measure their own
progress. In addition to their close bilateral ties, Canada and the U.S.
also work closely through multilateral fora. Canada--a charter signatory
to the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-
-has continued to take an active role in the United Nations, including
peacekeeping operations. It is also an active participant in discussions
stemming from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE). Canada joined the Organization of American States in 1990 and
has been an active member. It seeks to expand its economic ties across
the Pacific through membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
forum (of which the U.S. is also a member), and which it will host in
Although Canada views its relationship with the U.S. as crucial to a
wide range of interests, it also has pursued policies that occasionally
accentuate its distinctiveness from the United States. This is
particularly true of Cuba, with regard to which the U.S. and Canada have
pursued divergent policies for nearly 40 years, even while sharing the
common goal of a peaceful democratic transition.
U.S. defense arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any
other country. The Permanent Joint Board on Defense, established in
1940, provides policy-level consultation on bilateral defense matters.
The United States and Canada share NATO mutual security commitments. In
addition, U.S. and Canadian military forces have cooperated since 1958
on continental air defense within the framework of the North American
Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
The two countries also work closely to resolve transboundary
environmental issues, an area of increasing importance in the bilateral
relationship. A principal instrument of this cooperation is the
International Joint Commission (IJC), established as part of the
Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to resolve differences and promote
international cooperation on boundary waters. The Great Lakes Water
Quality Agreement of 1972 is another historic example of joint
cooperation in controlling transboundary water pollution. The two
governments also consult semi-annually on transboundary air pollution.
Under the Air Quality Agreement of 1991, both countries have made
substantial progress in coordinating and implementing their acid rain
Trade and Investment
Canada and the U.S. serve as the largest market for each other's goods.
Bilateral trade increased by about 50% between 1989--when the U.S.-
Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) went into effect--and 1994, when the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) superseded it. It has since
increased by more than a third. NAFTA continues the FTA's moves toward
removing all tariffs and virtually all import and export restrictions.
It also resolves some long-standing bilateral irritants and liberalizes
rules in several areas, including agriculture, services, energy,
financial services, investment and government procurement. NAFTA forms
the largest trading area in the world, embracing the 380 million people
of the three North American countries.
Almost one-third of U.S.-Canadian trade is in the automotive sector.
Under the 1965 U.S.-Canada Automotive Agreement (Auto Pact)--which
provided for free trade in cars, trucks, and auto parts--two-way trade
in automotive products rose from $715 million in 1964 to $58 billion in
1992. Auto Pact benefits are incorporated into NAFTA.
The U.S. is Canada's leading agricultural market, taking nearly one-
third of all food exports. Conversely, Canada is the second-largest U.S.
agricultural market (after Japan), primarily importing fresh fruits and
vegetables and livestock products.
Nearly two-thirds of Canada's forest products--including pulp and paper-
-are exported to the United States; almost 75% of Canada's total
newsprint production also is exported to the U.S.
The United States imports more than 2 trillion cubic feet, or 12% of its
natural gas requirements, from Canada. Canada is the largest energy
supplier to the U.S.
While 95% of U.S.-Canada trade flows smoothly, there are occasionally
bilateral trade disputes over the remaining 5%, particularly in the
agricultural and cultural fields. Usually, however, these issues are
resolved through bilateral consultative forums or referral to WTO or
NAFTA dispute resolution.
The United States and Canada also have resolved several major issues
involving fisheries. By common agreement, the two countries submitted a
Gulf of Maine boundary dispute to the International Court of Justice in
1981; both accepted the court's October 12, 1984 ruling which demarcated
the territorial sea boundary. In 1990, the United States and Canada
signed a bilateral Fisheries Enforcement Agreement which has served to
deter illegal fishing activity and reduce the risk of injury during
fisheries enforcement incidents. Their success in achieving a Pacific
salmon treaty in 1985 has been tempered by difficulties in negotiating
multi-year extensions of its constituent fisheries regimes.
Canada and the United States signed an aviation agreement during
President Clinton's visit to Canada in February 1995, and air traffic
between the two countries has increased dramatically as a result. The
two countries also share in operation of the St. Lawrence Seaway,
connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. is Canada's largest foreign investor; at the end of 1995, the
stock of U.S. direct investment was estimated at $82.3 billion, or about
65% of total foreign direct investment in Canada. U.S. investment is
primarily in Canada's mining and smelting industries, petroleum,
chemicals, the manufacture of machinery and transportation equipment,
Canada's investment in the United States is substantial. At the end of
1995, the stock of Canadian direct investment in the United States was
estimated at $55 billion. Canadian investment in the United States is
concentrated in manufacturing, wholesale trade, real estate, and
petroleum, with recent growth in investment and services.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge D'Affaires, a.i. - Thomas G. Weston
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs - Christine Shelly\
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs - Vladimir Sambaiew
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs - Gail Gulliksen
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs - Dale Slaght
The U.S. Embassy in Canada is located at 100 Wellington Street, Ottawa
(tel. 613-238-5336), directly across from Parliament Hill.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal system, a
parliamentary government, and strong democratic traditions. Many of the
country's legal practices are based on unwritten custom, but the federal
structure resembles the U.S. system. The 1982 Charter of Rights
guarantees basic rights in many areas.
Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, serves as a symbol of the
nation's unity. She appoints a governor general on the advice of the
prime minister of Canada, usually for a five-year term. The prime
minister is the leader of the political party in power and is the head
of the cabinet. The cabinet remains in office as long as it retains
majority support in the House of Commons on major issues.
Canada's parliament consists of an elected House of Commons and an
appointed Senate. Legislative power rests with the 295-member Commons,
which is elected for a period not to exceed five years. The prime
minister may ask the governor general to dissolve parliament and call
new elections at any time during that period. Federal elections were
last held in October 1993. Vacancies in the 104-member Senate, whose
members serve until the age of 75, are filled by the governor general on
the advice of the prime minister. Recent constitutional initiatives have
sought unsuccessfully to strengthen the Senate by making it elective and
assigning it a greater regional representational role.
Criminal law, based largely on British law, is uniform throughout the
nation and is under federal jurisdiction. Civil law is also based on the
common law of England, except in Quebec, which has retained its own
civil code patterned after that of France. Justice is administered by
federal, provincial, and municipal courts.
Each province is governed by a premier and a single, elected legislative
chamber. A lieutenant-governor appointed by the governor general
represents the Crown in each province.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State - Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General - Romeo LeBlanc
Prime Minister - Jean Chretien
Minister of Foreign Affairs - Lloyd Axworthy
Ambassador to the United States - Raymond Chretien
Ambassador to the United Nations - Robert Fowler
Canada maintains an embassy in the United States at 501 Pennsylvania
Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001 (tel. 202-682-1740).
Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Liberal government was elected on October
25, 1993, and holds 178 of parliament's 295 seats. Previously, the
Liberals formed the official opposition to the moderate Progressive
Conservative Party (Tories) which governed Canada from 1984 to 1993.
Broad popular disenchantment with the former (Mulroney) government led
to the Tories' near total displacement by two regional opposition
parties--the sovereigntist Bloc Quebecois (with 54 seats) and the
Western Reform Party (with 52 seats), a popularly based conservative
movement focused on law-and-order issues, fiscal responsibility, and
Federal-provincial interplay is a central feature of Canadian politics:
Quebec wishes to preserve and strengthen its distinctive nature; western
provinces desire more control over their abundant natural resources,
especially energy reserves; industrialized central Canada is concerned
with economic development; and the Atlantic provinces have resisted
federal claims to fishing and mineral rights off their shores.
The Chretien government has responded to these different regional needs
by seeking to rebalance the Canadian confederation, giving up its
spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction while attempting to
strengthen the federal role in other areas. The federal government has
reached agreement with a number of provinces, returning to them
authority over job training programs and embarking on similar
initiatives in other fields. Meanwhile, it has attempted to strengthen
the national role on inter-provincial trade while also seeking national
regulation of securities.
Looming over the devolution debate is the ongoing issue of Quebec
separatism. Following the failure of two constitutional initiatives in
the last decade, Canada is still seeking a constitutional settlement
that will satisfy the aspirations of the French-speaking province of
The issue has been a fixture in Canadian history, dating back to the
18th century rivalry between France and Britain. For more than a
century, Canada was a French colony. Although New France came under
British control in 1759, it was permitted to retain its religious and
The early 1960s brought a "Quiet Revolution" to Quebec, leading to a new
assertiveness and heightened sense of identity among the French-speaking
Quebecois, who make up about one-quarter of Canada's population. In
1976, the separatist Parti Quebecois won the provincial election and
began to explore a course for Quebec of greater independence from the
rest of Canada.
In a 1980 referendum, the Party Quebecois sought a mandate from the
people of Quebec to negotiate a new status of "sovereignty-association,"
combining political independence with a continued economic association
with the rest of Canada. Sixty percent of Quebec voters rejected the
Subsequently, an agreement between the federal government and all
provincial governments, except Quebec, led to Canada in 1982 assuming
from the United Kingdom full responsibility for its own constitution.
Quebec objected to certain aspects of the new arrangement, including a
constitutional amending formula that did not require consensus among all
provinces. The 1987 Meech Lake Accord sought to address Quebec's
concerns and bring it back into Canada's constitutional fold. Quebec's
provincial government, then controlled by federalists, strongly endorsed
the accord, but lack of support in Newfoundland and Manitoba prevented
it from taking effect. Rejected in its bid for special constitutional
recognition, Quebec's provincial government authorized a second
Intense negotiations among Quebec, the federal government, and other
provinces led to a second proposed constitutional accord in 1992, the
Charlottetown Accord. Despite near-unanimous support from the country's
political leaders, this second effort at constitutional reform was
defeated in Quebec and the rest of Canada in an October 1992 nationwide
Tired of the country's constitutional deadlock, many Canadians prefer to
focus on economic issues. Nonetheless the election of the sovereigntist
Bloc Quebecois as Canada's official opposition in 1993 and the
subsequent election of the separatist Parti Quebecois as Quebec's
provincial government in September 1994 kept national unity in the
forefront of political debate and resulted in a second referendum on the
This referendum, held in Quebec on October 30, 1995, resulted in a
narrow 50.56% to 49.44% victory for Canadian federalists over Quebec
sovereigntists. Quebec's status thus remains a serious political issue
in Canada, and the province's Parti Quebecois government remains
committed to calling a third referendum if it wins a second term in
provincial elections that must be held before the end of 1999.
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