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Canada country profile

Map of Canada

Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia. However, its population is only about one-fifth of Russia's.

Nearly 90% of Canadians live within 200km of the border with the United States, which means that Canada contains vast expanses of wilderness to the north.

The relationship to its powerful neighbour is a defining factor for Canada. The US and Canada have the world's largest trading relationship.

Overview

The North American Free Trade Agreement, involving Canada, the US and Mexico, has brought a trade boom for Canada. But thorny issues abound. American moves which impact on Canadian exports, in the form of tariffs on Canadian timber and increased subsidies for US farmers, have created particular tension.

Canada is also worried about pollution from US factories near the border, and about the possible impact on the environment of the exploitation of oil deposits in Alaska.

Canada pursues a foreign policy that is distinct from that of the US. The country has committed troops to the American-led war on terror, but does not back the US trade embargo on Cuba. Canada did not send troops to join the US-led war in Iraq.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, the challenge of securing the 9,000-km Canada-US border from possible terrorist infiltration prompted both countries to look at ways of sharing information.

CN Tower, Toronto
Toronto: The thriving metropolis is Canada's commercial hub

Immigration has helped to make Canada one of the world's richest nations. Challenges related to discrimination and integration are gaining increasing attention. Many recent newcomers hail from Asia. Canada's indigenous peoples make up less than two per cent of the population. The way in which provincial governments share land and natural resources with native groups is an ongoing issue.

Separatist aspirations in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec are a major domestic issue. A referendum in 1995 saw advocates of an independent Quebec only narrowly defeated. Subsequent opinion polls indicated a fall in support for independence and the pro-independence Parti Quebecois was defeated in 2003's provincial election.

The concept of nationhood for Quebec resurfaced in late 2006, when parliament agreed that the Quebecois should be considered a "nation" within a united Canada. The move was largely symbolic, having no constitutional or legal grounding.

Canada has been asserting its sovereignty in the Arctic with growing vigour and has become embroiled in territorial spats with the US and Denmark. At stake is the possible bounty from previously-untapped reserves of oil and gas.

Facts

  • Full name: Canada
  • Population: 34.3 million (UN, 2011)
  • Capital: Ottawa
  • Largest city: Toronto
  • Area: 9.9 million sq km (3.8 million sq miles)
  • Major languages: English, French (both official)
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 79 years (men), 83 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Canadian dollar = 100 cents
  • Main exports: Machinery and equipment, automotive products, metals and plastics, forestry products, agricultural and fishing products, energy products
  • GNI per capita: US $43,270 (World Bank, 2010)
  • Internet domain: .ca
  • International dialling code: +1

Leaders

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General

Prime minister: Stephen Harper

The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a third consecutive term in office in snap elections held in May 2011.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper heads Canada's Conservative government

The party gained support, transforming its minorty in parliament into a majority.

Mr Harper's government had been toppled by the opposition in March 2011. A motion, brought by the main opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, declared the government was in contempt of parliament and had lost its confidence in a row centered on Mr Harper's budget plans.

The opposition said Mr Harper's government was in contempt of parliament for failing to provide the estimated costs for a number of spending programmes.

It was the first time that a Canadian government had been found in contempt of parliament.

Mr Harper became prime minister in 2006, after elections that brought to an end 12 years of Liberal government.

However, the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority and had to work with opposition parties in order to govern.

Two years into his first term, Mr Harper called an early election in an attempt to win a working majority. His party improved its position in the October 2008 election, winning 16 more seats than in the 2006 election, but still fell short of an overall majority.

Two months later, Mr Harper came close to being toppled by an alliance of the opposition Liberal and New Democrat parties over his handling of the economic crisis, but avoided a no-confidence vote by suspending parliament for a month.

He prorogued parliament for a second time in January 2010, this time for two months. He described the suspension as "routine", but it drew an angry response from opposition leaders.

They said the move was aimed at avoiding a potentially embarrassing debate on the government's role in the torture of Afghan terror detainees.

Born in Toronto, Ontario in 1959, Stephen Harper studied economics at the University of Calgary in Alberta. He became an MP in 1993 and became leader of the newly-merged Conservative party in 2004.

He is married and has two children. Aside from politics and intellectual pursuits, he is passionate about ice hockey.

Media

Canada has a long history of public broadcasting. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was set up in the 1930s in response to the growing influence of American radio.

Broadcasting in French and English, the CBC runs four radio networks featuring speech-based and cultural programmes. It operates two national TV channels, TV and radio services for indigenous peoples in the north and the international broadcaster Radio Canada International.

There are just under 2,000 licensed radio stations in Canada, many of them commercial. There is extensive take-up of multichannel TV.

The Canadian media are free to present a wide range of views and opinions. The broadcasting regulator rules that quotas of Canadian material - usually 30-35% - must be carried by TV and radio stations.

Nearly 27 million Canadians were online by March 2011 (Internetworldstats.com).

The press

Television

  • CBC - public, operates English-language national network and cable news channel CBC Newsworld
  • Société Radio-Canada - public, operates national French-language network and cable news channel RDI
  • CTV - major commercial network
  • TVA - major French-language commercial network
  • Aboriginal People's TV Network (APTN) - Winnipeg-based national network, via cable and satellite
  • CPAC - parliamentary and political channel
  • CRTC- regulatory body; the CRTC website has information about the main TV groups and their services

Radio

  • CBC - public, operates English-language network Radio One and cultural network Radio Two
  • Société Radio-Canada - public, operates French-language services Première Chaîne and Espace Musique
  • Radio Canada International - external service run by CBC
  • CRTC- regulatory body; the CRTC website has information about the main radio groups and their stations

News agency



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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

SEE ALSO
Harper Canadian government falls
26 Mar 11 |  US & Canada
Canadian parties challenge Harper
24 Mar 11 |  US & Canada
Why Ottawa bombs its frozen river
25 Feb 11 |  US & Canada
Canada immigration 'reaches high'
14 Feb 11 |  US & Canada
Canada in EU seal ban challenge
14 Feb 11 |  US & Canada
Risky mussel harvest under sea ice
27 Jan 11 |  Science & Environment
Polygamy in Canada: How many wives?
23 Nov 10 |  US & Canada
Canada PM focuses on Arctic north
20 Aug 09 |  Americas
Almost more of the same in Canada
15 Oct 08 |  Americas
Legacy of Canada's residential schools
11 Jun 08 |  Americas
Canada natives in day of protests
29 Jun 07 |  Americas
Canada rejects anti-terror laws
28 Feb 07 |  Americas
Canada backs Quebecer nationhood
28 Nov 06 |  Americas
Canada's search for sustainable logging
04 Oct 06 |  Science & Environment
Testing times for Canadian tolerance
07 Jun 06 |  Americas
The great Alberta oil rush
26 Jan 06 |  Business
Canada's right returns from wilderness
24 Jan 06 |  Americas
Profile: Stephen Harper
13 Oct 08 |  Americas

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