U.S. Department of State

Background Notes: Canada, October 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: 30.2 million.
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 
ninth-grade education.
Health: Infant mortality rate--7/1,000. Life expectancy--75 years male, 
82 years female.
Work force: 15 million. 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 (301-member House of Commons, 
104-member Senate). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Political parties: Liberal Party, Reform Party, Bloc Quebecois, New 
Democratic Party, Progressive Conservative Party.
Subdivisions: 10 provinces, 2 territories.


GDP (1996): $585.1 billion.
Annual growth rate: 1.5%.
Per capita GDP: $19,621.
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--$196.2 billion: motor vehicles and spare 
parts, lumber, wood pulp and newsprint, crude and fabricated metals, 
natural gas, crude petroleum, wheat. Partners--U.S. 81.1%, EU 5.8%, 
Japan 3.9%. Merchandise imports--$170.9 billion: motor vehicles and 
parts, industrial machinery, crude petroleum, chemicals, agricultural 
machinery. Partners--U.S. 75.7%, EU 8.7%, Japan 3.1%.

U.S.-Canada Relations

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--over 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 

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 (OAS) 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 
(APEC)--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 occasionally pursues policies at odds 
with 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 

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 semiannually on trans-boundary air pollution. 
Under the Air Quality Agreement of 1991, both countries have made 
substantial progress in coordinating and implementing their acid rain 
control programs.

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. Trade has 
since increased by 40%. NAFTA continues the FTA's moves toward reducing 
trade barriers and establishing agreed upon trade rules. 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 $104.6 billion 
in 1996. 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 is also 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 1996, the 
stock of U.S. direct investment was estimated at $87.6 billion, or about 
71% 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, 
and finance.

Canada's investment in the United States is substantial. At the end of 
1996, the stock of Canadian direct investment in the United States was 
estimated at $60 billion. Canadian investment in the United States, 
which includes investment from Canadian holding companies in the 
Netherlands, is concentrated in manufacturing; wholesale trade; real 
estate; and petroleum, finance, and insurance and other services.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Gordon D. Giffin
Deputy Chief of Mission--Mary Ann Peters 
Minister--Counselor for Political Affairs--Christine Shelly 
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs--Vladimir Sambaiew
Minister-Counselor for PublicAffairs--Gail Gulliksen 
Minister-Counselor for CommercialAffairs--Dale Slaght

The U.S. embassy in Canada is located at 100 Wellington Street, Ottawa 
(tel. 613-238-5335), 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 301-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 June 1997. 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 to a 
second term on June 2, 1997, winning 155 of parliament's 301 seats. 
These results reflected slippage from the Liberals' 1993 total, when the 
party took 178 of 295 seats. In the 1997 vote, the sovereigntist Bloc 
Quebecois (with 44 seats), which constituted Canada's official 
opposition from 1993-97, was displaced by the western-based Reform 
Party, which won 60 seats. Canada's two historic opposition parties--the 
Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party--regained 
official party status in the 1997 election with 20 and 21 seats 
respectively, after their near total eclipse in the 1993 poll.

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 is embarked on similar initiatives in 
other fields. Meanwhile, it has attempted to strengthen the national 
role on interprovincial trade, while also seeking national regulation of 

National Unity 

Key to the national unity 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 
civil code.

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 Parti 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 
sovereignty referendum.

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 federalists over 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.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel 
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate 
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by 
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: 
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). 
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will 
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. 
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is 
required). The CABB also carries international security information from 
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of 
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication 
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a 
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250. 

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. 
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate 
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648) 

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization 
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water 
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information 
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is 
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal 
Government Officials" listing in this publication). 

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas 
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country 
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Official"; listing in this publication). 
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency. 

Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign 
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis 
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is 
available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the 
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

[end of document]

Return to Western Hemisphere Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage