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How Canada Is Not the United States

Canada is very much like the U.S., but is also very different. Wild animals don’t care about political boundaries, and many problems they face are assuredly bi-national in nature. The issues faced by domestic animals are universal.

Canada is considerably larger than the U.S., in sheer land mass, but has about one tenth the human population, some 31,000,000, creating some interesting challenges in animal protection. The entire population of Canada is about the same as can be found in the state of California.

Most Canadian citizens live and work in what is called the Windsor-to-Montreal corridor, with the City of Toronto, near the middle, being the country’s largest city, with just under 3,000,000 residents (but many more in the rapidly expanding “Greater Toronto Area” (GTA) surrounding the city). Approximately one third of all Canadians live in Ontario. The other major population center is Vancouver and the surrounding region, on the west coast. There is a scattering of cities across the land, all medium to small by international standards.

The country has a multi-party system, although dominated by two federal parties, with strong influence from a third, left-wing party, plus the Bloc, which only represents ridings in the province of Quebec. Canadians elect members to the 308 “seats” in the House of Parliament. Each seat represents a specific riding, none of which are identical in size or population.

Canadians don’t elect their Prime Minister; he or she (once!) is chosen by the party who wins the most seats. If a party (historically either the Conservative Party, formerly known as the Progressive Conservative Party, or the Liberal party) is able to have members of its own party elected to more than half the seats — 154 — it can form what is called a “majority” government, and can pass legislation that the other parties may not support. If no one party gains a majority, it is called a “minority” government, although the party with the most seats gets to choose, from among its elected members, the country’s Prime Minister. A party with a minority government risks defeat if outvoted on certain kinds of legislative proposals, thus triggering an election. It can also be defeated if the other parties gang up and pass a motion of non-confidence.

This is an important distinction that helps to explain why parties are reluctant to challenge practices that have strong regional support. It helps to explain why, although it does not have much support, the notorious Canadian seal hunt (not to mention excessive over-fishing, and the development of the ecologically disastrous “tar sands” oil-extraction, or grizzly bear hunting out west, or clear-cutting of major forests) can be opposed by so many Canadians, and yet still supported, tacitly or overtly, by the major federal parties (the Green Party being something of an exception, but to date it has yet to have a representative elected as a Member of Parliament).

It is made more complicated by an “Upper House,” or “Senate,” which is made up of non-elected officials who can and have defeated legislation passed by the “Lower House,” thus effectively thwarting what is essentially the will of the people. There is also an appointed “Governor General” who represents the Queen and who has the power to either call an election or ask the minority governments to try to form a government in the event of the passage of a vote of non-confidence, or defeat of certain (monetary or budget) proposals. If it sounds confusing, it is, even to many Canadians. At the time of writing, the current Minority government has passed legislation limiting terms to four years, but ignored his own law on the basis that, it claimed, it was not meant to apply to minority governments. Otherwise elections are called when the party in power deems it most auspicious.

Provincial governments are run along similar lines. As is true in the U.S., municipal governments tend to be the most responsive to citizen concerns.

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