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ABOUT CANADA

GENERAL INFORMATION
Canada is a unique country, comprised of a special mixture of limitless natural beauty and infinite economic opportunity. Becoming a part of Canada is an exciting, life changing opportunity. Most potential immigrants conception of Canada goes little beyond appreciating its vastness, recognizing its flag and identifying a few well-known physical features. And while it's true that the majority of travelers are attracted by the opportunity to explore Canada's wilderness areas, natural wonders and low-key rural charm, there is a lot more to Canada than maple trees, Niagara Falls and wide-open spaces.

Full country name: Canada
Area: 9,976,000 sq km (3.9 million sq miles)
Population: 31,280,000
Capital city: Ottawa (pop: 1,010,500)
People: British descent (28%), French descent (23%), Italian descent (3%), aboriginal peoples (2%), plus significant minorities of German, Ukrainian, Dutch, Greek, Polish and Chinese descent
Languages: English, French and 53 native languages
Religion: Catholic (45%), Protestant (36%) and minorities from most of the world's major religions
Government: Parliamentary democracy
GDP: US$774 billion
GDP per head: US$25,000
Annual growth: 3%
Inflation: 3%
Major products/industries: processed and unprocessed minerals, food products, wood and paper products, transportation equipment, chemicals, fish products, petroleum and natural gas.
Major trading partners: USA, Japan, EU, China and South Korea.



GEOGRAPHY
Situated north of the USA, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Canada is the world's second largest country. It extends some 7700km east to west and 4600km north to south. Nearly 90% of Canadians huddle along the 6379km southern border with the USA. Though much of the land is lake and river-filled forest, there are mountains, plains and even a small desert. The Great Plains, or prairies, cover Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta. These former grasslands are now responsible for Canada's abundant wheat crop. Western Canada is known for its Rocky Mountains, while the east has the country's major cities and also its most visited geographic feature, Niagara Falls. The Canadian Shield, an ancient, rocky and glacially-sanded region, formed more than 2.5 billion years ago, covers most of the north of the country. The Arctic region, in the far north, is where you'll find frozen tundra merging into islands that are ice-bound for most of the year.

Canada has an incredible mix of native flora and fauna. It comprises eight vegetation zones, most of which are dominated by forest. Some of the common tree species include white and black spruce, balsam and Douglas fir, western red cedar, white pine and the sugar maple, one of Canada's best-known symbols - the maple leaf appears on the country's flag. Endemic animals include the grizzly, black, brown and polar bears, beaver, buffalo, wolf, coyote, lynx, cougar, deer, caribou, elk and moose. There are also 500 species of birds, such as the great blue heron, Canada geese and many varieties of duck. Moves are afoot to ensure protection for endangered species like the beluga whale, burrowing owl whooping crane and eastern wolf. Canada has 39 national parks, 145 parks-administered national historic sites and 13 areas of such natural significance that they are on the UN World Heritage list.

Canada has four distinct seasons, although their arrival times vary across the country. The single most significant factor in climate is latitude. As a rule of thumb, it gets colder the further north you go, so it's no accident that the warmest areas in the south are also the most populated. The western and eastern coasts are both very wet, though much of the rain falls during winter. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba and eastern Alberta the prairies are fairly dry all year. Canadian winters are long and hard: in more than two-thirds of the country, the average January temperature is a shivering -18°C . July and August are the warmest months, when temperatures in the south are usually in the upper 20°Cs.

HISTORY
Well before Columbus 'discovered' America in 1492, prehistoric tribes from Asia had come across the Bering Strait; and around AD 1000, the Vikings, the first European visitors, had tried to settle in northern Newfoundland. By the time subsequent Europeans arrived, Canada's Indian tribes had already developed a multitude of languages, customs, religious beliefs, trading patterns, arts and crafts, laws and governments. Although a number of European countries were interested in establishing settlements in the Americas, it was French explorer Jacques Cartier who made the first claim on the area surrounding the St Lawrence River in 1534.

Another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, founded Quebec City in the early 1600s. In 1663 Canada, now home to about 3000 French settlers, became a province of France. Just as the French started to thrive on the fur trade, the British entered the scene, founding the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 to add a bit of 'friendly' competition. For a while, the two European cultures coexisted peacefully. Then, in 1745, British troops captured a French fort in Nova Scotia - the struggle for control of the new land was on. The turning point in what became known as the Seven Years' War arrived when the British defeated the French at Quebec City in 1759. At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France handed Canada over to Britain.

By the end of the American Revolution (1775-83), a migration of about 50,000 British 'Loyalists' from the USA created a more even balance between the French and British populations. After the War of 1812 - the last war between Canada and the USA, in which Canada was victorious - Britain, fearful of losing Canada as it had the American Colonies, proclaimed the British North America Act (BNA Act) in 1867. The Act established the Dominion of Canada and became Canada's equivalent of a constitution. By 1885 the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway - one of Canada's great historical sagas - joined the country's east and west coasts. By 1912 all provinces had become part of the central government except Newfoundland, which finally joined in 1949.

After WWI Canada grew slowly in stature and prosperity, becoming a voluntary member of the Commonwealth in 1931. With the onset of WWII, Canada once again fought alongside Britain against Germany, though this time it also entered into defense agreements with the USA, declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the years after WWII, Canada experienced a huge wave of European immigration, with a further influx of Asians, Arabs, Indians, Italians, Hispanics and Caribbeans arriving in the 1960s. The postwar era was a period of economic expansion and prosperity. In 1967 Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary with Expo, the World's Fair in Montreal, as one of the highlights. Since 1975, a series of land rights agreements has been signed with Canada's native peoples, giving them some control over vast swathes of the northern portion of the country.

The social upheavals of the 1960s brought to the surface the festering resentments that French-speaking Quebec had with English-speaking Canada. In 1976 the Parti Quebecois (PQ), advocating separatism, won the provincial election in Quebec, though sentiments on the issue have since waxed and waned. In the 1980 sovereignty referendum, the separatists were defeated by 60% of the vote. In October 1995, the vote was extremely close, with Canada coming within a few thousand votes of breaking up. The prime minister, Jean Chrétien, has since attempted to appease the Quebeckers by recognizing the province as a 'distinct society'. In 2000, Chrétien held an early election and secured his third consecutive term. Meanwhile, the passing of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau continues to be mourned, and disappointment over the nation's failed bid to hold the 2008 Olympics (losing to Beijing) is only slowly waning.

CLIMATE
In most parts of the world, Canada is associated with snow and extremely cold weather. In fact, the Canadian climate varies greatly from one region to another and from one season to another. Even in mid-winter, a good sweater is all you need to keep you warm when you visit Victoria. But go to Churchill in the same season and you'll need to dress like a real Inuit. Return to this corner of the Far North in mid-summer and you'll find that the afternoons are as mild as they are long.

Spring, summer and autumn are all ideal for touring, though if you want to ski you'll naturally have to come in winter or early spring. For campers, and those who want to visit the far north, the summer months of July and August are best. Note that the peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September. Although spring and autumn have less crowds, lower prices and a more relaxed pace than the summer months, some visitor-oriented facilities and attractions may be closed during these shoulder seasons. The Quebec City Winter Carnival, which takes place during the last two weeks of February, features parades, ice sculptures, a snow slide, dances and music. Ottawa's three-week Winterlude fetes all things snowy in February.

GOVERNMENT
Canada is an independent constitutional monarchy and has three tiers of government: federal, provincial, and municipal (for towns and cities).

Federal Government
Canada's head of state is the Queen of England. She is represented by the Governor general in Canada and has a mainly symbolic role.

The federal government is responsible for such national matters as foreign affairs, national defense, trade and commerce. It also shares many powers with the provincial governments.

The political party with the most elected members forms the federal government and its leader becomes the Prime Minister. The party with the second largest number of elected members becomes the Official Opposition, and its role is to offer constructive criticism to the government. The four best known political parties are:

  1. The Progressive Conservative Party
  2. The Liberal Party
  3. The New Democratic Party
  4. The Conservative Alliance

The federal government is based in the capital city of Ottawa, Ontario and derives its power from three bodies

  1. The Cabinet, consisting of individuals or "Minister's appointed by the Prime Minister, each responsible for a government department (such as Finance or Immigration).
  2. The House of Commons, composed of 295 publicly elected representatives or "Members of Parliament" (MPs) from different areas of the country.
  3. The Senate, consisting of 104 individuals appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

Provincial Government
The Queen is represented in each province by the Lieutenant-Governor.

The provincial governments are responsible for such matters as education, transportation, health, and social services.

The provincial political party with the most elected members forms the government and its leader becomes the Premier. The number and names of parties vary according to province. Each provincial capital city has a parliament (called the Legislature everywhere except Quebec, which calls it the National assembly), which functions similarly to the federal House of Commons.

Each elected member represents an area of his or her province and is called an MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) except in Ontario (MPP - Member of Provincial Parliament) and Quebec (MNA - Member de l'Assemblee nationale). Although the number varies, most provinces average about 75 members.

Municipal Government
A municipal government controls such local matters as police, schools, garbage collection, and property taxes. Officials are elected for the City Council, and various other boards such as Education and Parks and Recreation. The leader of a municipal government is called a mayor, and other representatives are called councilors.

The Court System
In Canada, federal, provincial, and municipal governments pass laws. The courts interpret and enforce the laws, but are separate from the government. There are different types of courts dealing with different areas of the law (Family Court, for example). The Canadian court system consists of three levels: trial courts, appeal courts, and the Supreme Court of Canada, which is the court of final appeal.

Interpreters who speak your language are available upon request to assist you in court.

POPULATION
Canada has experienced one of the smallest census-to-census growth rates in its population. Between 1996 and 2001, the nation's population increased by 1,160,333 people, a gain of 4%. The Census counted 30,007,094 people in Canada on May 15, 2001, compared with 28,846,761 in 1996. Growth rates decelerated in every province except Alberta, compared with the early 1990s.

Only three provinces and one territory registered growth rates above the national average of 4%. Alberta's population surged by 10.3%, compared with 5.9% between 1991 and 1996. Ontario gained 6.1%, British Columbia 4.9% and Nunavut 8.1%.

Six provinces experienced small changes in population (less than 1.5% in either direction): Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The population of Newfoundland and Labrador declined for the second consecutive census period. Between 1996 and 2001, the province's population decreased 7%, more than double the 2.9% rate of decline during the previous five years. Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories also showed declines of more than 5%.

For Canada as a whole, immigration was the main source of growth in population between 1996 and 2001, as the nation experienced a decline of about one-third in natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) compared with the previous 5-year period.

The trend in urbanization continued. In 2001, 79.4% of Canadians lived in an urban area with a population of 10,000 people or more, compared with 78.5% in 1996.

Seven of 27 census metropolitan areas had a growth rate at least double that of the national average of 4%; the largest growth rates were in Calgary, Oshawa and Toronto.

From 1996 to 2001, the nation's population has continued to concentrate further in four broad urban regions: the extended Golden Horseshoe in southern Ontario; Montréal and its adjacent region; the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and southern Vancouver Island; and the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. Between 1996 and 2001, these four regions combined grew 7.6% compared with virtually no growth (+0.5%) in the rest of the country. In 2001, 51% of Canada's population lived in these regions compared with 49% in 1996.

ECONOMY
Canada has come a long way from the economic revolution sparked by the railway and the telegraph in the early 1800s. Over the years, a steady tide of technological progress has profoundly reshaped our economy, making possible the combustion engine, the assembly line, computer networks and professional consultants. Today, economic progress rides an electronic expressway of automation, information and instant communication. Advances in technology, the increased globalization of markets and the emergence of liberal trading regimes are fundamentally changing the way Canadians conduct their business. Long removed from an economy based almost exclusively on natural resources, Canada is rapidly moving toward a knowledge-based economy built on innovation and technology. The new economy is also a 'smarter' economy: Canada's knowledge-intensive industries are generating advances in our ability to produce high-tech machinery and equipment, and encouraging industrial innovation as a result.

Canadian businesses are 'getting connected' more than ever before, exploiting advances in communications technology to reach out into the global marketplace in search of buyers for their products. Though it have always been a nation looking outward for markets, Canadian trade continues to grow beyond our borders. Indeed, with a small domestic market, the steady expansion of multilateral trade is critical to the structure of the economy and the continued prosperity of Canada.

COST OF LIVING
The cost of living in Canada is very reasonable. 'Ordinary' people with average jobs can have a pretty reasonable lifestyle with housing, transport, the usual appliances and normal holidays (vacations). The cost of living in Canada is moderate, relative to other industrialized countries. It may differ significantly, however, depending on the region of Canada and size of town. In cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, the cost of housing is high.

For most visitors, the largest expense will be accommodation. Food prices are generally much lower than those in Western Europe, but are a little higher than those in the USA. If you stay in budget accommodation and eat in cafes, expect to spend around US$45 a day, not including long-distance transport. If you stay in motels and eat at restaurants occasionally, you're looking at around US$80 a day.

It's best to change money at companies such as Thomas Cook, which specializes in international transactions. If you can't find a money exchange office or booth, try a bank. American Express and Thomas Cook are the best travelers' checks to have, and you should make sure they are either in US or Canadian dollar denominations. Credit cards are widely accepted, especially Visa, Master Card and American Express.

A 7% Goods & Services Tax (GST) is applicable to all transport, accommodation, restaurant meals and just about anything else you're likely to purchase, including newspapers. On top of this, in most of Canada, a provincial sales tax also must be paid. This can, in some provinces, add 15% to the quoted price, so factor it into your expenses so you don't get a nasty surprise at the cash register.

It's considered normal to tip 15% of the bill. Tips are usually given to waiters, cab drivers, hairdressers, hotel attendants and, by savvy drinkers, bar staff.

EDUCATION
Introduction
Canada is a confederation of ten provinces and three territories - a vast country stretching across North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and north to the Arctic Ocean. In Canada, the provinces and territories are responsible for elementary, secondary and post secondary education. As a result, Canada has no national or federal department of education. Although there are a great many similarities in the 13 education systems across Canada, each reflects the diversity of its own regional history, culture, and geography.

Although primary responsibility for education rests with the provinces and territories, the Government of Canada plays an important support role in education. The mandates of several federal government departments intersect with education - in areas such as official languages, post secondary education funding, and human resource development. In addition, the federal government has responsibilities relating to the elementary and secondary education of Registered Indian children attending First Nations-administered or federal schools on reserves, or provincially-administered schools off reserves, and provides financial assistance to these students at the post secondary level.

In 1967, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) was formed to act as the national voice of education in Canada. CMEC is the forum in which the provincial and territorial ministers meet to discuss matters of mutual interest. CMEC is also the body that represents the education interests of the provinces and territories in working with national education organizations, the federal government, foreign governments, and international organizations.

Canada has two official languages - English and French. English is the primary language for approximately three-quarters of the population, with French the primary language for the remainder. Most French speakers (francophones) live in Quebec where they form a majority. There are also French minority groups in all parts of Canada, the largest concentrations being in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba. Minority language education in Canada (English or French) is guaranteed wherever numbers warrant.

Public Education
Kindergarten to Grade 12 education is publicly funded and free to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents until the end of secondary school - normally, age 18. In Quebec, college level education in the Cégeps (collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel) is also free to Quebec residents, but tuition is charged for university education. All other Canadian students pay tuition fees to attend colleges and universities.

Mandatory school age, or compulsory schooling, varies across Canada, but is generally between ages 5-7 and 16-18. The school year for schools is normally September to June.

At the local level, public education comes under the authority of school boards. These local school authorities operate under various names - school boards, school districts, school divisions, and, in the case of New Brunswick, District Education Councils. The powers and duties of these school authorities are defined in provincial or territorial statutes and are generally consistent throughout Canada. The governing body of these school authorities consists of school trustees who are elected to office in public elections.

Elementary / Secondary Education
Preschool programs or kindergartens, operated by local school authorities, provide pre-elementary education for 4-5 year-olds. Kindergarten programs are offered in elementary schools in all provinces and territories. Elementary education in most provinces and territories covers the first 6 or 8 years of compulsory schooling. Grade organization varies among the ministries / departments of education. In some areas, it involves kindergarten to grade 8 (elementary grades) and grades 9 to 12 (secondary level). Most school systems have an intermediate level of schooling - junior, high school or middle school.

Following elementary or middle school, children proceed to secondary school (also called high school or senior high school) where they continue to grade 12 (grade 11 in Quebec). Curriculum programs at the secondary level include both academic and vocational programs. The academic program provides students with the credits necessary to meet the entrance requirements of universities and colleges. The vocational program prepares students with the credits necessary to continue their studies at a post secondary college, or to enter the job market. Secondary school diplomas are granted to students who pass the compulsory and optional courses of their programs - academic or vocational.

Post secondary Education (Colleges & Universities)
Post secondary education in Canada, both university and college levels, is also the responsibility of the provincial and territorial governments. Those governments provide most of the funding for their public post secondary institutions. Additional funding comes from the federal government, research grants, and student tuition fees.

Virtually all post secondary institutions in Canada have the authority, by charter or local legislation, to grant academic credentials. Generally speaking, universities are the degree-granting institutions - offering undergraduate degrees (bachelor's and honors) and graduate degrees (master's degrees and doctorates). Colleges offer vocationally-oriented programs of study leading to certificates and diplomas, although a few applied arts degrees are granted that are equivalent to, or lead to the university level. In general, the post secondary school year begins in September and continues to the end of April or early May, although some institutions operate on a year-round semester system.

Post secondary education in Quebec begins with the Cégep system (collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel), following graduation from grade 11. Students take a 2- or 3-year general program (leading to university admission), or a professional program in preparation for the labour force.

Private Schools & Career Colleges
Canada has a large number of private or independent schools (some of which are religious in orientation) and private career colleges. Private schools and colleges may operate in any province or territory if they meet the general standards prescribed by that government authority. Although they may closely follow the curriculum and diploma requirements of the department or ministry of education, they function independently of the public school system and charge fees. Five provinces - Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Saskatchewan - provide some form of financial assistance to those schools. Private colleges do not receive funding support from provincial or territorial governments unless they are affiliated with a public institution.

Home Schooling
Home schooling is allowed in all provinces and territories of Canada under similar restrictions as those for independent schools. Parents who wish to educate their own children throughout, or for part of, their compulsory school years, must meet the general standards, curriculum, and diploma requirements prescribed by the relevant provincial or territorial authority.

Special Needs Students

Special-needs students, such as the physically or mentally disabled, the gifted, etc., are accommodated in the public schools in various ways. In some cases, separate programs are available to meet their needs; in others, these students are integrated into the regular classroom and, to the extent possible, follow the regular program of instruction.

HEALTH
Health Canada is the federal department responsible for helping the people of Canada maintain and improve their health.

As you probably know Canada has a national health system in place. Taxes are definitely higher in order to pay for this and the general standard of health care is the highest in the world.

Registering for Health Insurance - please note, the rules for this vary depending on which province you go to. You can find below the details for Manitoba and Ontafio.

Manitoba
Here you are eligible for health insurance from day one. This covers all basic medical care including doctors visits, hospital treatments and the like. You have to pay for drugs up to a certain financial limit - this varies depending on income. After that medication is free. Pregnancy and childbirth are covered. Hospitals are clean and safe.

Ontario
In Ontario, the health insurance is known as OHIP (pronounced Oh-Hip). OHIP stands for Ontario Health Insurance Plan. This plan covers the cost of medically necessary services (doctors visits, tests, surgery, etc.). In general, costs are covered 100%. All permanent residents of Ontario who spend at least 183 days a year in Ontario are eligible. You must be a Canadian Citizen, Landed Immigrant or have refugee status to qualify. There are no premiums or fees to pay for OHIP. The plan is funded through income and payroll taxes. Each person covered by OHIP will be issued a green Ontario Health card. The card contains your name, birth date, health number and address. If you are over age 15 1/2 it also has your photo. As of April 1998 any doctor you visit will have to see and validate your OHIP number each time that you receive medical service. If you cannot present your OHIP card you will have to pay for the service, although you can apply to the Ministry of Health for a refund. Doctors and hospitals are not permitted to refuse emergency treatment regardless of whether you have a health card or not. New residents of Ontario, whether they're from another part of Canada, or another country, must wait three months from the time that they establish residence in Ontario until their health coverage begins. However, if you have coverage in another Canadian province, it will cover you during those three months (just as OHIP will cover you for three months after you move from Ontario to another province). Persons without coverage (including newly arrived Landed Immigrants) should purchase private health insurance to cover them during the waiting period. Don't wait three months before applying for coverage. It will take some time to process your application and you should apply as soon as possible after landing. Your health card will arrive around the time that your coverage takes effect . As in other provinces you can buy (or many employers provide) additional health insurance to cover the cost of items not covered by OHIP. For instance, OHIP only covers the cost of a hospital stay in a ward room. If you want a semi-private room you must pay out of pocket, or have private coverage. Additionally, you or your employer can obtain additional coverage to cover the cost of prescription drugs. OHIP does not normally cover the cost of prescription medicines, but Ontario does have a drug benefit plan for persons with low income and/or high drug costs.

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