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Provinces and territories of Canada

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Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories. The major difference between a Canadian province and a Canadian territory is that a province is a creation of the Constitution Act, while a territory is created by federal law. Thus, the federal government has more direct control over the territories, while provincial governments have many more competences and rights.

Provinces have a great deal of power relative to the federal government, having a large measure of control over spending on social programs such as medicare, education, welfare, and the like. They receive "transfer payments" from the federal government to pay for these, as well as exacting their own taxes.

Prime Minister Paul Martin surprised some observers in late 2004 by expressing his personal support for all three territories gaining provincial status 'eventually'. He cited their importance to the country as a whole and the need to assert sovereignty in the Arctic, particularly as global warming could make that region more open to exploitation. [1]

Provincial and territorial legislatures are unicameral, having no second chamber equivalent to the Canadian Senate. Originally a few provinces did have such bodies, known as legislative councils, but these were subsequently abolished, Quebec's being the last in 1968. In most provinces, the single house of the legislature is known as the Legislative Assembly except in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, where it is called the House of Assembly, and Quebec where it is called the National Assembly. Ontario has a Legislative Assembly but its members are Members of the Provincial Parliament or MPPs. The legislative assemblies use a procedure similar to that of the Canadian House of Commons. The head of government of each province, called the premier, is generally the head of the party with the most seats. This is also the case in Yukon, but the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have no political parties at the territorial level. The Queen's representative to each province is the lieutenant-governor. Each of the territories has a commissioner in the place of a lieutenant-governor. These terminological differences are summarized below.


Provincial and territorial terminology compared with federal

Canada Governor General Prime Minister Parliament House of Commons Member of Parliament
Quebec Lieutenant Governor Premier Legislature National Assembly Member of the National Assembly
Ontario Legislative Assembly Member of the Provincial Parliament
Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly Member of the House of Assembly
Nova Scotia Member of the Legislative Assembly
Other provinces Legislative Assembly
Territories Commissioner

Provinces of Canada

This table follows Canadian custom by listing the provinces in geographical rather than alphabetical order. (This may run east to west, as here, or the other way. As Prince Edward Island is north of Nova Scotia, they may be listed in either order.) Population figures are from 2004 except as noted.

Province Postal abbreviation Other abbreviations Capital Entered Confederation Population Area (km²)
Newfoundland and Labrador¹ NL (was NF) Nfld. St. John's March 31, 1949 533,800 (in 2001) 405,212
Nova Scotia¹ NS N.S. Halifax July 1, 1867 938,134 55,284
Prince Edward Island¹ PE P.E.I., PEI Charlottetown July 1, 1873 137,900 5,660
New Brunswick¹ NB N.B. Fredericton July 1, 1867 757,100 (in 2001) 72,908
Quebec² QC (was PQ) Que., P.Q. Quebec City July 1, 1867 7,560,592 1,542,056
Ontario² ON Ont. Toronto July 1, 1867 12,439,755 1,076,395
Manitoba³ MB Man. Winnipeg July 15, 1870 1,162,800 (in 2003) 647,797
Saskatchewan³ SK Sask. Regina September 1, 1905 996,194 651,036
Alberta³ AB Alta. Edmonton September 1, 1905 3,183,312 661,848
British Columbia¹ BC B.C. Victoria July 20, 1871 4,168,123 944,735


  1. Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and British Columbia were separate colonies at the time of joining Canada.
  2. Ontario and Quebec joined as part of the Dominion of Canada.
  3. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta were all created later out of land that was already Canada.


There are three territories in Canada. They include all of mainland Canada north of latitude 60° North and west of Hudson Bay, as well as essentially all islands north of the Canadian mainland (from those in James Bay to the Arctic Archipelago) that are not politically part of Greenland.

Territory Postal abbreviation Other abbreviations Capital Entered Confederation Population Area (km²)
Nunavut NU   Iqaluit April 1, 1999 29,300 2,093,190
Northwest Territories NT N.W.T., NWT Yellowknife July 15, 1870 40,900 (in 2001) 1,346,106
Yukon YT Y.T., YK Whitehorse June 13, 1898 29,900 (in 2001) 482,443

Note: Canada did not acquire any new land to create Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Nunavut. All of these originally formed part of the Northwest Territories.

British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island were separate colonies before joining Canada. Ontario and Quebec were united before Confederation as the Province of Canada.

Manitoba and the Northwest Territories were created in 1870 from Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory. The land of the Northwest Territories at that time was all of current western Canada, except British Columbia and southern Manitoba, and the northern three-quarters of Ontario and Quebec. In 1999 Nunavut was created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories. The Yukon Territory lies in the western portion of the north, while Nunavut is in the east.

Nunavut's population is about 85% Inuit, while the population of the Northwest Territories is only about 10% Inuit, 40% First Nations and Métis, and 50% non-aboriginal.

The combined territories are the most sparsely populated region in Canada, with about 100,000 people spread across a huge area. They are often referred to as a single region for organizational purposes.

See also

Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:12:19
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