Canada is a federation and not a confederate association of sovereign states, which "confederation" means in contemporary political theory. It is nevertheless often considered to be among the world's more decentralized federations. The use of the term Confederation arose in the Province of Canada to refer to proposals beginning in the 1850s to federate all of the British North American colonies, as opposed to only Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec). To contemporaries of Confederation the con- prefix indicated a strengthening of the centrist principle compared to the American federation.
In this Canadian context, confederation generally describes the political process that united the colonies in the 1860s, related events and the subsequent incorporation of other colonies and territories. The term is now often used to describe Canada in an abstract way, such as in "the Fathers of Confederation". Provinces and territories that became part of Canada after 1867 are also said to have joined, or entered into, confederation (but not the Confederation). The term is also used to divide Canadian history into pre-Confederation (i.e. pre-1867) and post-Confederation (i.e. post-1867) periods.