The major difference between a Canadian province and a territory is that provinces receive their power and authority from the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly called the British North America Act, 1867), whereas territorial governments have powers delegated to them by the Parliament of Canada. The powers flowing from the Constitution Act are divided between the Government of Canada (the federal government) and the provincial governments to exercise exclusively. A change to the division of powers between the federal government and the provinces requires a constitutional amendment, whereas a similar change affecting the territories can be performed unilaterally by the Parliament of Canada or government.
In modern Canadian constitutional theory, the provinces are considered sovereign within certain areas based on the divisions of responsibility between the provincial and federal government within the Constitution Act 1867, and each province thus has its own representative of the Canadian "Crown", the lieutenant governor. The territories are not sovereign, but instead their authorities and responsibilities come directly from the federal level, and as a result, have a commissioner instead of a lieutenant governor.
There are three territories in Canada. Unlike the provinces, the territories of Canada have no inherent sovereignty and have only those powers delegated to them by the federal government. They include all of mainland Canada north of latitude 60° north and west of Hudson Bay and all islands north of the Canadian mainland (from those in James Bay to the Queen Elizabeth Islands). The following table lists the territories in order of precedence (each province has precedence over all the territories, regardless of the date each territory was created).
Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were the original provinces, formed when several British North American colonies federated on July 1, 1867, into the Dominion of Canada and by stages began accruing the indicia of sovereignty from the United Kingdom. Prior to this, Ontario and Quebec were united as the Province of Canada. Over the following years, Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871), and Prince Edward Island (1873) were added as provinces.
The British Crown had claimed two large areas north-west of the Canadian colony, known as Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory and assigned them to the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1870, the company relinquished its claims for £300,000 ($1.5 million), assigning the vast territory to the Government of Canada. Subsequently, the area was re-organized into the province of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories were vast at first, encompassing all of current northern and western Canada, except for the British holdings in the Arctic islands and the Colony of British Columbia; the Territories also included the northern two-thirds of Ontario and Quebec, and almost all of present Manitoba, with the 1870 province of Manitoba originally being confined to a small area in the south of today's province. The British claims to the Arctic islands were transferred to Canada in 1880, adding to the size of the Northwest Territories. The year of 1898 saw the Yukon Territory, later renamed simply as Yukon, carved from the parts of the Northwest Territories surrounding the Klondike gold fields. On September 1, 1905, a portion of the Northwest Territories south of the 60th parallel north became the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1912, the boundaries of Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba were expanded northward: Manitoba's to the 60° parallel, Ontario's to Hudson Bay and Quebec's to encompass the District of Ungava.
1905 German postcard depicting the coat of arms of the provinces and territories of Canada
In 1903, the Alaska Panhandle Dispute fixed British Columbia's northwestern boundary. This was one of only two provinces in Canadian history to have its size reduced. The second reduction, in 1927, occurred when a boundary dispute between Canada and the Dominion of Newfoundland saw Labrador increased at Quebec's expense – this land returned to Canada, as part of the province of Newfoundland, in 1949.In 1999, Nunavut was created from the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories. Yukon lies in the western portion of Northern Canada, while Nunavut is in the east.
All three territories combined are the most sparsely populated region in Canada, covering 3,921,739 km2 (1,514,192 sq mi) in land area. They are often referred to as a single region, The North, for organisational and economic purposes. For much of the Northwest Territories' early history it was divided into several districts for ease of administration. The District of Keewatin was created as a separate territory from 1876 to 1905, after which, as the Keewatin Region, it became an administrative district of the Northwest Territories. In 1999, it was dissolved when it became part of Nunavut.
Theoretically, provinces have a great deal of power relative to the federal government, with jurisdiction over many public goods such as health care, education, welfare, and intra-provincial transportation. They receive "transfer payments" from the federal government to pay for these, as well as exacting their own taxes. In practice, however, the federal government can use these transfer payments to influence these provincial areas. For instance, in order to receive healthcare funding under Medicare, provinces must agree to meet certain federal mandates, such as universal access to required medical treatment.
Provincial and territorial legislatures have no second chamber like the Canadian Senate. Originally, most provinces had such bodies, known as legislative councils, with members titled councillors. These upper houses were abolished one by one, Quebec's being the last in 1968. In most provinces, the single house of the legislature is known as the Legislative Assembly; the exceptions are Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, where the chamber is called the House of Assembly, and Quebec where it is called the National Assembly. Ontario has a Legislative Assembly but its members are called Members of the Provincial Parliament or MPPs. The legislative assemblies use a procedure similar to that of the House of Commons of Canada. 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 in each province is the Lieutenant Governor. In each of the territories there is an analogous Commissioner, but they represent the federal government rather than the monarch.
Federal, Provincial, and Territorial terminology compared
Members of lower house
Head of Government
House of Commons
Member of Parliament
Member of the Provincial Parliament*
Member of the National Assembly†
House of Assembly
Member of the Legislative Assembly§
Prince Edward Island
Newfoundland and Labrador
House of Assembly
Member of the House of Assembly
Member of the Legislative Assembly
* Members were previously titled "Member of the Legislative Assembly".
† Quebec's lower house was previously called the "Legislative Assembly" with members titled "Member of the Legislative Assembly". The name was changed at the same time Quebec's upper house was abolished.
§ Prince Edward Island's lower house was previously called the "House of Assembly" and its members were titled "Assemblyman". After abolition of its upper house, assemblymen and councillors both sat in the renamed "Legislative Assembly". Later, this practice was abolished so that all members would be titled "Member of the Legislative Assembly".
‖ In Northwest Territories and Yukon the head of government was previously titled "Government Leader".
Provincial political parties
The governing political party(s) in each Canadian province. Multicoloured provinces are governed by a coalition or minority government consisting of more than one party.
The governing political party(s) in each Canadian province by political position
Most provinces have rough provincial counterparts to major federal parties. However, these provincial parties are not usually formally linked to the federal parties that share the same name. For example, no provincial Conservative or Progressive Conservative Party shares an organizational link to the federal Conservative Party of Canada, and neither do provincial Green Parties to the Green Party of Canada. Provincial New Democratic Parties, on the other hand, are fully integrated with the federal New Democratic Party – meaning that provincial parties effectively operate as sections, with common membership, of the federal party. The Liberal Party of Canada shares such an organizational integration with the provincial Liberals in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Other provincial Liberal Parties are unaffiliated with their federal counterpart.
Since Confederation in 1867, there have been several proposals for new Canadian provinces and territories. The Constitution of Canada requires an amendment for the creation of a new province but the creation of a new territory requires only an act of Parliament, a legislatively simpler process.
In late 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin surprised some observers 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 ongoing need to assert sovereignty in the Arctic, particularly as global warming could make that region more open to exploitation leading to more complex international waters disputes.
^An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1)...notwithstanding any other law or practice, the establishment of new provinces.