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Politics of Canada


This article is part of the series
Politics of Canada
Executive

The Crown
Governor General
Prime Minister
Cabinet

Legislative

Parliament
Senate
   Speaker of the Senate
   Government Leader in the Senate
   Opposition Leader in the Senate
House of Commons
   Speaker of the House
   Government Leader in the House
   Leader of the Official Opposition

Judicial

Supreme Court
Lower Courts of Appeal
Constitution
   Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Regions

Provinces and territories

Canada is a constitutional monarchy as a Commonwealth Realm (see Monarchy in Canada) with a federal system of parliamentary government, and strong democratic traditions. Many of the country's legislative practices derive from the unwritten British constitution. In that context the executive tends to apply strict party discipline on members of its party, with the net effect of seriously diminishing the influence of its own backbenchers and opposition parties alike. This effect is exacerbated in Canada by the practice of having party leaders elected by the party at large rather than by the parliamentary caucus. However Canada has evolved its own set of rules. Party discipline in Canada is stronger than in the United Kingdom, and more of the votes are considered confidence votes. However, backbenchers can exert their influence by being selected to parliamentary committees, like the Public Accounts Committee or the National Defence Committee, for example.

This situation, where much power is held in the hands of the Prime Minister, has been characterized by Paul Martin as a "democratic deficit". The situation may be contrasted with the written constitutional provisions of its American neighbour that provide for the separate elections of a president and a legislature. The advantage of the fact that there is not the separation between president and legislature is that it is uncommon for a government to have difficulty passing legislation. The gridlock that can occur in the United States when a President and the Congress cannot agree on a law does not ever happen in the same way; although minority governments and the Senate can make it hard to pass legislation, it is never to the same extent.

The political system under which Canada operates, known as the Westminster system, was enshrined by the British Parliament by the Constitution Act 1867 (formerly called the British North America Act), but the federal model and division of powers were devised by Canadian politicians. Particularly after World War I, citizens of the self-governing "dominions" began to develop a strong sense of identity, and in the Balfour Declaration, 1926, the British government expressed its intent to grant full autonomy to these dominions. Thus in 1931 the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster giving legal recognition to the autonomy of Canada and other dominions. Canadian politicians were unable to obtain consensus on a process for amending the constitution until 1982. Therefore, amendments to Canada's constitution required the approval of the British Parliament. Similarly, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain continued to make the final decision on legal issues until 1949, such as whether a woman could be appointed to the Senate (see Persons Case).

Table of contents

Executive

Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada is the repository of executive power, which she normally does not exercise herself. As expressed in the constitution, "the Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen". The government acts in her name. The term The Crown is usually used to represent the power of the monarchy. Government ministers are ministers of the Crown. Criminal prosecutions are made by Crown prosecutors in the name of the monarch.

Since the monarch does not reside in Canada, she appoints a governor general to represent her and exercise her powers. The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the prime minister. "Advice" in this sense is a choice without options since it would cause a major political crisis if the prime minister's advice were not followed. This convention protects the monarchy. As long as the monarch is only following the advice of her ministers, she is not held personally responsible for the decisions of the government. The governor general is typically appointed for five-years, but there is no set maximum time for anyone to hold the office.

The prime minister is appointed by the Governor General, but to ensure the continuity of a stable government this person will always be the one who has the confidence of the House of Commons to lead the government. In practice, the position usually goes to the leader of the strongest political party in the Commons which usually has most of the seats in the lower house and forms a majority government. On several occasions in Canadian history no party has had a majority in the House of Commons and thus one party, usually the largest, forms a minority government. However, the prime minister holds office until he or she resigns or is removed by the Governor General, therefore, the party that was in government, before the election, may attempt to continue to govern if they so desire, even if they hold less seats than another party. Coalition governments are rare at the federal level, Canada has only once had a coalition government: the Union Government of Sir Robert Borden during World War I.

Political parties are private organizations that are not mentioned in the constitution. By the convention of responsible government, the prime minister and most of his cabinet are members of Parliament so they can answer to Parliament for their actions. But, constitutionally, any adult Canadian is eligible for the jobs, and prime ministers have held office after being elected leader but before taking a seat in the Commons (John Turner, for example), or after being defeated in their constituencies. The prime minister selects ministers to head the various government departments and form a cabinet. The members of the Cabinet remain in office at the pleasure of the prime minister. If the Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the government, the prime minister and his cabinet are expected either to resign their offices or to ask for Parliament to be dissolved so that a general election can be held. To avoid non-confidence voting, strong party discipline has long been an established fact of life in the Canadian parliament, in which members of a party, especially members of the ruling party, are strongly urged always to vote the "party line" or face consequences, up to expulsion from the party's caucus. While the government likes to keep strong control due to the issue of motions of no confidence in (unwritten) practice the only time it is required is when a money bill (financial or budget) does not pass. However if a government finds that it can not pass any legislation it is common to hold a vote of confidence. But the failed passage of most bills does not require a vote of confidence, contrary to how it is often portrayed. The exception would be if the Prime Minister or the government declared that if a bill did not pass they would consider it a confidence issue (hence how backbenchers are often held to strict party voting).

While a member of a governing party can vote however they want the main way that they are kept in line is that if they vote against the party line (especially in confidence votes) the can be kicked out of the party that they are a member of. In practice this leads to a loss of funding in an election and someone else running for the party the member was elected previously under. However in the 2004 election one independent member of parliament was elected. He had sought nomination under the Conservative Party of Canada having held a seat in one of the two founding parties. He did not win the nomination but won the election for his seat. He is the first independent member of parliament to be elected in recent memory. Most independent members were elected under a party but either chose to leave it or were kicked out. After the Conservative Party of Canada was formed a number of members of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance Party chose to sit as independents. Carolyn Parrish was a Member of Parliament for the Liberal party at the beginning of this government, however due to controversial statements she was kicked out of the party. This results in an interesting and unusual political situation. If there is a vote of confidence the Liberal party can win the confidence vote if all of the members of the NDP party and both independents vote with the Liberal party.

When there are enough seats for another party to form a government after the resignation of a prime minister the governor general will ask the other party to try and form the government. This became clear after the King-Byng Affair in 1926. In practice it is unlikely there could be a separate and new alliance created.

Parliament

Politics of Canada

Politics of Canada
Political parties in Canada
Electoral districts
Elections in Canada:
1867 – 1872 – 1874 - 1878 – 1882
1887 – 1891 – 1896 – 1900 – 1904
1908 – 1911 – 1917 – 1921 – 1925
1926 – 1930 – 1935 – 1940 – 1945
1949 – 1953 – 1957 – 1958 – 1962
1963 – 1965 – 1968 - 1972 – 1974
1979 – 1980 – 1984 – 1988 – 1993
1997 – 2000 – 2004 – 2005? – Sum.
Provincial results

Canada's parliament consists of the monarch, an elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate. The Governor General appoints Canadians, who are recommended by the Prime Minister, to the Senate according to a formula that distributes the seats among the provinces. In practice, legislative power rests with the party that has the majority of seats in the House of Commons which is elected from a current 308 constituencies (or electoral districts) for a period not to exceed five years. Canada's highly disciplined political parties and first-past-the-post electoral system have, since the 1970s, usually given one political party control of the Commons. The five-year period has only been extended once, in 1916. The prime minister may ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament and call new elections at virtually any time. That request was refused only once, during the minority government of 1926. For strategic reasons, prime ministers usually call new elections after four years in power.

Members of the Senate do have some power however. It is usually the greatest after a party has been in power a long time (and hence nominated Senators that would most likely support their policies) and a new party forms the government. Brian Mulroney was forced to go to the unheard of length of increasing the size of the Senate so that he could get bills he wanted passed through the Senate. Also after the criminalization of abortion was decided to be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Supreme Court of Canada a new bill was prepared by Kim Campbell who was then Minister of Justice. While it passed in the House of Commons there was a tied vote in the Senate. In the case of tied votes the bill is not passed. For more on this particular case see the page on abortion in Canada.

Since 1867 there have been only three Canada-wide referenda.

Provincial governments

Each province is governed by a Lieutenant Governor, a premier, and a single, elected legislative chamber. Provincial governments operate under a parliamentary system similar in nature to that of the federal government, with the premier chosen in the same manner as the Prime Minister of Canada. The lieutenant governor, recommended by the prime minister and then appointed by the governor general, represents the Crown in each province. A Lieutenant Governor, like the Governor General, has real power only in extreme emergencies.

Residuary power – that is, all powers not specified in the constitution – resides with the federal government; the original intent of this provision was to avoid the sectionalism which had recently resulted in the American Civil War. However, in 1895 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that the federal government could exercise its residuary power only in wartime. As a result, responsibilities for new functions of government such as labour law or social welfare had to be accommodated under powers specified in the British North America Act. Many ended up being assigned to provincial areas of jurisdiction, so that Canada today is a highly decentralized federation. Further decentralization of functions has been implemented to accommodate provincial aspirations, chiefly those of Quebec, as described below. However, all provinces have the right to assume the powers now exercised only by Quebec, and Alberta and Ontario have expressed interest in doing so.

Judicial branch

Criminal law, most of which is contained in the federal Criminal Code (R.S.C. 1985, Chapter C-46), is uniform throughout the nation and is under federal jurisdiction. Civil law is based on the common law of England, except in Quebec, to which Britain granted the right in 1774 to retain the French civil code. While legislation regarding non-criminal matters is, generally speaking, different from province to province, there are some non-criminal legislation, such as the federal Divorce Act (R.S.C. 1985, Chapter 3 (2nd Supp.)), that is applicable throughout the nation. Justice is administered by federal, provincial, and municipal courts.

The Supreme Court of Canada is the court of final jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has nine justices, appointed by the Governor General on the advice of Cabinet. This court hears appeals from decisions rendered by the various appellate courts from the provinces and territories. A trial-level court from a common law province is required to follow previous decisions from both the Supreme Court of Canada and the appellate court of its respective province or territory. In contrast, a Quebec trial-level court may treat judgments from higher courts to be persuasive but not binding. See Courts of Canada.

Canada: political information

Country name:

  • conventional form: Canada
  • formerly called: Dominion of Canada

Data code: CA

Government type: Constitutional Monarchy Capital: Ottawa, Ontario

Administrative divisions: 10 provinces and three territories*; Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories*, Nova Scotia, Nunavut*, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon Territory*

National holiday: Canada Day, 1 July (1867)

Constitution: Based on several unwritten conventions as well as the Constitution Act, 1982 (including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly the British North America Act, 1867).

Legal system: except for criminal law, it is based on English common law, except in Quebec, where a civil law system, centred on the Civil Code of Quebec and based on the Custom of Paris in pre-revolutionary France; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations. See Law of Canada.

Suffrage: Citizens aged 18 years or older. Only 2 citizens in Canada cannot vote; the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer.

Executive branch:

  • Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada (since February 6, 1952), represented by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (since October 7, 1999)
  • Head of Government: Prime Minister Paul Martin (since December 12, 2003)
  • Cabinet: Ministers (usually around 30) chosen by the Prime Minister to lead various ministries and agencies. Most, but not all, will be members of his own party in the House of Commons. See also: Cabinet of Canada
  • Elections: The monarch is hereditary. The governor general is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister for a five-year term. Following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons is automatically designated by the governor general to become prime minister.

Legislative branch: The bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate and the House of Commons. Currently the Senate is limited to 104 members, who are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister to serve until age 75. The number of Senators was exceeded once when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sought to ensure the passage of a national sales tax. The House of Commons currently has 308 members elected by a plurality of popular votes in separate constituencies for terms that do not exceed five years. The five-year term has been exceeded once when Prime Minister Robert Borden perceived the need during World War I.

Judicial branch: Supreme Court, judges are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the Cabinet without parliamentary review.

Political parties and leaders: by number of elected representatives

Government department and structure

Notable Crown corporations and other government agencies

International organization participation: ABEDA, ACCT, AfDB, APEC, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, C, CCC, CDB (non-regional), Council of Europe (observer), The Commonwealth, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECLAC, ESA (cooperating state), FAO, La Francophonie, G-7, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, Kyoto Protocol, MINURCA, MINURSO, MIPONUH, MONUC, NAM (guest), NAFTA, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNDOF, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOP, UNTAET, UNTSO, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, Zangger Committee

Flag description: three vertical bands of red (hoist side), white (double width, square), and red with a red maple leaf centred in the white band (See Flag of Canada)

Principal government officials

Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General: Adrienne Clarkson
Prime Minister: Paul Martin
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Security: Anne McLellan
Ambassador to the United Nations: Allan Rock

Political conditions

For many of the last 37 years (except for three short breaks due to transitional or short-lived minority governments), the position of Prime Minister has been held by a Quebecer. Quebecers by law, must hold three of the nine positions on the Supreme Court of Canada. Prime Ministers are now expected to be fluent in English and at least functional in French. In selecting leaders, political parties give preference to candidates who are fluently bilingual.

Paul Martin's Liberal Party won a minority victory in the June 2004 general elections. In December of 2003, Martin had succeeded fellow Liberal Jean Chrétien, who had, in 2000, become the first Prime Minister to lead three consecutive majority governments since 1945, However, in 2004, the Liberals lost seats in Parliament, going from 172 of 301 Parliamentary seats to 135 of 308, and from 40.9% to 36.7% in the popular vote. The Canadian Alliance, which did well in western Canada in the 2000 election, but was unable to make significant inroads in the East, merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the Conservative Party of Canada in late 2003. They proved to be moderately successful in the 2004 campaign, gaining seats from a combined Alliance-PC total of 78 in 2000 to 99 in 2004. However, the new Conservatives lost in popular vote, going from 37.7% in 2000 down to 29.6%. The Conservatives currently form the Official Opposition.

This is the first minority government in Canada federally since 1979–1980. That government, led by Joe Clark, lasted only seven months. The situation, however, was different from the current one. The Clark government was elected in part because many voters did not want to support the Liberal party, but they did not expect that the Progressive Conservatives would win enough seats for a minority government. In contrast, polls taken during the 2004 election showed that many Canadians wanted a minority government.

However minority governments have not always been so short lived. While they have not generally lasted four years there have been successful minority governments in the time before 1979 that were fairly stable and able to pass legislation. Minority government situations in Canada may become somewhat difficult to manage though, as in the past there were only three parties that had a significant number of seat in parliament (fourth parties were at times represented in small numbers), although the third party has changed over time. Since the 1930s the third party was first the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation or the New Democratic Party which was formed when an alliance between labour and unions and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation joined. Before this there were other parties that were instrumental including the Progressive Party which had significant influence in the 1920s.

Canada currently has four parties that have a significant number of seats in parliament. While the throne speech was delivered in October 2004 there are already signs that the minority parties expect more representation. Recently a request for a committee suggested by the New Democratic Party was passed, which is quite unusual, and the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative Party insisted on changes to the throne speech, which is also uncommon and in fact is not believed to have precedent.

It is believed that this minority government will likely last longer partly due to political climate (it appears that Canadians may punish a party that causes it quick failure) as well as the fact that changes to the funding of the federal parties has changed. Previously unions and businesses could contribute significant amounts of funding to parties. A change to the funding formula means that these groups can no longer provide significant amounts of money. How much and where they can now contribute is limited in scope.

Changes to law regarding funding of Federal Parties and partial and possible impact

These changes were made by the last Liberal government to deal with the issues of fair access to funding for parties running for seats in the federal parliament. Previously the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative party had benefited the most from the system as they received much more business funding than two other parties, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois. The New Democratic Party did traditionally get less funding from business but did receive a larger percentage of union funding than the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative party. This led to the net result of the previous system favouring parties that were more likely to get business contributions. There was no fifth party that was receiving much of its money in this manner and the Green Party of Canada functioned mainly through personal donations. The NDP also had to depend in a greater manner on personal contributions. It should be noted that personal donations to federal parties and campaigns are tax deductible although, the amount of deduction depends on the amount given. Also only people paying taxes receive any benefit from this. The tax is not a tax credit where everyone would receive a part of the money they donated to a person or a campaign back.

A good part of the reasoning behind the change in funding was that union or business funding should not be allowed to have as much impact on federal election funding as these are not contributions from citizens and are not evenly spread out between parties. They are still allowed to contribute to the election but only in a minor fashion. The new rules stated that a party had to receive 2% of the vote nationwide in order to receive the general federal funding for parties. Each vote garnered a certain dollar amount for a party (approximately $1.75) in future funding. Because this system had not been use before approximations were made based on previous elections. The NDP received more votes than expected (its national share of the vote went up) while the new Conservative Party of Canada received fewer votes than had been estimated and has been asked to refund the difference. The Liberal party also likely received fewer votes than expected. Figures are not yet known, but it is believed they too will need to refund money. It should be noted that the province of Quebec was the first province to impliment a similar system of funding many years before the changes to funding of federal parties.

Additionally the money that the parties receive will not start to be disbursed until the beginning of 2005, which hampers the parties that have two parties that are the most likely to form the next government from funding an election, although all parties are hampered to some degree. The Green Party of Canada will be getting federal funding under the new system as it got a sufficient share of the popular vote. It did not get any funds based on the approximations for the federal election in 2004. Parties will not begin to receive new funding towards elections until 2005, and then not in full, as it will be disbursed quarterly. Since the NDP and the Green Party do rely more on individual contributions they are in a better position politically at the moment to fight an election as they are not as reliant on the federal funding.

Other impact of funding changes

Federal seats of Canada vary. Some are considered "safe" seats in that they have gone to one party or another consistently for many years. An example of a "safe" seat would be the Ottawa-Vanier riding. It has elected a federal Liberal member of parliament for over 50 years. Other seats are not safe in that they are close or go back and forth between different parties. The change in structure to the funding likely had impact on voting and did have impact on electoral strategy.

In safe seats all of the parties that are running are of course hoping to win the seat and will try to get the most support that they can. However like other countries Canada has seen a drop in the percentage of eligible voters that do vote (although not as significantly as some countries). In safe seats part of the strategy of parties became to let the electorate know that if they voted for a party that the party would receive benefits (i.e., funding). Often the amount was explained to the voters. It was therefore pointed out that even if the seat was clearly safe that their voting would have a greater impact than it had in the past. If they had not voted because they saw no point in a safe seat this could be used to encourage this group of the population to vote regardless of how safe a seat was. In the future their vote would make a difference regardless of whether they lived in a safe seat or not. It is likely that this strategy was used by all of the parties to try to increase their percentage of the vote but it likely had the most impact for smaller parties which have much smaller votes. One could argue for example that in a safe seat a supporter of the party should still make sure they vote for the party that is safe, if they are a supporter, since it made more of a difference to party funding, whereas before they may not have voted since they may not have felt their vote was needed to secure the seat for the party that traditionally won the seat. The same arguments could be made in seats that were not safe, however more strategic voting goes on in seats that are not safe, where people might vote for one party which they think has a chance of winning and which they prefer over a second instead of for a small party that has little chance of winning the seat. The smaller the party though the best it would be able to convince voters that had not voted in the past to vote in this election. It is likely this factor which increased the Green Party's share of the national vote.

Two national debates receive countrywide coverage during an election. There is a debate in French and a debate in English, with one following the other (although it is not known if how it is decided language is debated in first). The debates do receive translation, especially on some cable channels so it is possible to watch either debate without a working knowledge of the language although part of the meaning can be lost. People who are bilingual enough to understand both the English and the French debate in their original language will get a better idea of the substances of the two debates and the differences between them if they decide to watch both debates. The Green Party of Canada has argued during this election that it should have a place on the public debates that are aired in Canada during an election. Currently on the parties with seats have been asked to be in the debates (there are many parties that never win seats in Canada but since their vote is often negligible they are not included in the debates). The Green Party has argued that part of its difficulty in becoming a larger party is that it has not been allowed to participate in the debates. Participating in the debates gives a party visibility and will give voters and idea of what a party stands for ideologically. The percentage of the vote for the Green party, as stated before, increased greatly, likely partly in fact of the new funding formula but also because of increased interest and because the party ran members in more ridings than previously. Having received 6% of the vote in British Columbia they will likely have a much stronger case for being included in the debates during the elections in the future. It is likely that impact in one area of the country will help more because it means that a part of the country is definitely supports a party. The Bloc Quebecois does not run people in any province other than Quebec. However since it wins seats in Quebec and gets a significant portion of the vote its participation is allowed in the federal debates. Past party performance or number of seats is not how participants are chosen. The Bloc Quebecois was allowed to participate in debates before it had elected any members in a general election in Canada. The members it had were mostly from MP's that had changed to their party or won in by-elections. Similarly the Reform Party of Canada was included in the debates when it had one member in the House of Commons due to the fact that it was clearly a party that would be prominent in the election.

How funding for the 2004 election was decided

Because the new funding was based on percentage of the vote gained, an estimate was made towards how much each federal party would receive. All federal parties that had seats in the House of Commons were given funding. Because the Canadian Conservative party was new, estimates were attempted based on the votes for the old Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance party as the Conservative Party of Canada was a merger of the two parties. The amount the Conservative Party of Canada was given was above the amount it was estimated to receive and is expected to return the money. The Liberal party of Canada also received less votes than expected and is in the same situation. However some parties benefited from the new system. The NDP received less funding than the number of votes it received (it increased its share of the vote) and will receive additional funds to reflect this. For the first time the Green Party of Canada will receive direct federal funding in the next election as it was able to achieve the 2% vote threshold required (in British Columbia where the party was the most successful it garnered 6% of the vote). Impact on the Bloc Quebecois funding (if they will need to return funds) is not yet clear but since it increased its share of the vote in Quebec (the only province it runs in – it is expected to be in a surplus position as well). In the future these numbers will be known ahead of time as they will be based on the previous electoral results.

Effect of language on federal politics

One of the interesting effects of Canada being bilingual comes from the fact that the Prime Minister is usually able to speak in their second language and for many years they have been bilingual.

The most striking example of what this can result in was when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister. He often said one thing to reporters in English and something that was different and actually contradictory in French. Even those that were not bilingual (and 17% of the country is considered bilingual and many more would be able to follow a simple conversation with reporters) were made aware of this in news coverage. However for those who could actually understand the difference it was quite striking. While Brian Mulroney was best known for doing this other Prime Ministers have also made contradictory statements at times between their French and English comments.

Federal-provincial relations

Federal-provincial relations is a regular issue in 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 its manufacturing base, and the Atlantic provinces strive to escape from being less affluent than the rest of the country.

In order to ensure that social programs such as health care and education are funded consistently throughout Canada, the poorer provinces receive a proportionately greater share of federal transfer payments than the richer provinces do. This has been controversial. The richer provinces often favour freezing transfer payments, or rebalancing the system in their favour, based on the claim that they already pay more in taxes than they receive in federal government services, and the poorer provinces often favour an increase on the basis that the amount of money they receive is not sufficient for their existing needs.

Particularly in the past decade, this has been one of Canada's dominant political conflicts, and a contributing factor to the rise of the Reform Party and the Bloc Québécois in 1993.

National unity

National unity has been a major issue in Canada since its very beginning with the forced union of the Canadas in 1840. In recent years some residents of the conservative oil-rich province of Alberta have threatened separation from Canada if the Kyoto Protocol was applied in the country (which has been ratified). However, the predominant issue concerning Canadian national unity is the ongoing conflict between the French-speaking majority of Québec and the English-speaking majority of Canada.

See Constitutional debate of Canada

Current issues

In March 2001 Bernard Landry succeeded Lucien Bouchard as premier of Quebec (see List of Quebec Premiers) and pledged to promote independence for Quebec and to hold another referendum on separation from Canada. In the 2003 Quebec election, Quebecers elected the Quebec Liberal Party, and Jean Charest became premier, the first solidly federalist premier since the 1960s.

Advertising efforts by the federal government following the 1995 referendum led to alleged excesses by government officials; while the issue broke in the press in 2002, it came to full prominence after the Auditor's Report, causing the 2004 Canadian sponsorship scandal.

Currently, such issues as medicare, unemployment, housing, education, taxes, trade and the environment preoccupy many Canadians more urgently than national unity. In October 2004 there was a health care summit where all the provincial premiers and territorial leaders participated which has resulted in a change in federal funding towards health care.

See also

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