Canada country brief


Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while following the British model of parliamentary democracy and retaining the British monarch as head of state. Ties the neighbouring United States (US) are now critical for Canada – particularly in terms of trade and investment.

Both English and French have official status, and French-speaking Quebec has constitutional autonomy in Canada. Indigenous people make up around 4% of the population.

Canada is the second-largest country in world (after Russia) approximately 90% of the population is concentrated within 160 km of the US border. Canada has more fresh water than any other country with at least 2 million natural lakes and almost 9% of Canadian territory is water. Located in northern North America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean on the east, North Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Arctic Ocean on the north (sitting strategically between the US and Russia via the North Polar route) it varies from temperate (south) to subarctic and arctic (north).

Canada's population is approximately 35,852 (1 July 2015 Statistics Canada). Canada is divided into 10 provinces and 3 territories*: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories*, Nova Scotia, Nunavut*, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon*.

Political Overview

Three branches work together to govern Canada: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

The executive branch is the decision-making branch comprising the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons.

The legislative branch is the law-making branch which is made up of the House of Commons and the appointed Senate. The House of Commons has 308 members, but will increase to 330 members at the next election scheduled for October 2019. General elections are held every four years. The Senate has 105 senators appointed on a regional basis to review proposed legislation and to provide a forum for debate. Senators are appointed by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party, secured a parliamentary majority in elections in October 2015.

The judicial branch is a series of independent courts that interpret the laws passed by the other two branches.

Foreign Policy

Canada's major foreign policy focus is its relationship with the US, which has complex economic, political and cultural dimensions.

Canada has been an active member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its inception in 1949. It is providing training to Iraqi forces to help counter ISIS, and increased humanitarian assistance for the region’s refugees. It deployed combat forces in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2011 and military trainers to support reconstruction and development until 2014.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a history of working together in the United Nations (UN) on issues ranging from security to development to human rights, including through an informal grouping known as CANZ.

Canada, like Australia, is an active member of the Commonwealth. Canada worked closely with Australia during Australia's chairmanship (2011-13) to revitalise the organisation, including through the conclusion of the Charter of the Commonwealth and implementation of recommendations of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

As export-oriented economies with strong interests in agriculture and resources, Australia and Canada have a common interest in a rules-based, open and non-discriminatory world trade system. Both countries were prominent players in the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947, and today both are active and influential members of its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO). When in force, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement will significantly improve the trading environment, creating opportunities for both goods and services. Canada and Australia have mutual interests in open markets which have seen us cooperation in a range of forums advocating freer trade, such as in APEC and in the Cairns Group in the WTO.

Australia and Canada work closely together to promote a coherent and robust system of global trade and economic cooperation in key international organisations such as the G20, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and in many United Nations agencies. Canada joined APEC in its inaugural year (1989) and Vancouver hosted APEC in 1997. Australia and Canada, together with 10 other countries signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement on 4 February 2016. Member countries are now working to complete their respective domestic processes to enable the agreement to enter into force.

Bilateral relations

The Australia-Canada relationship is mature, highly productive and broadly based. People to people contacts between our parliaments, government officials, private sectors, academics and communities are extensive and wide-ranging. We are both federal, large, geographically dispersed countries, with Westminster systems of government and a similar standard of living. Trade relations date from 1895, when the Government of Canada sent its first Trade Commissioner, John Short Larke to Sydney to establish an office. Diplomatic relations began formally in 1939 when, on the eve of the Second World War, Australia and Canada first agreed to exchange High Commissioners.

Australian and Canadian military forces fought side-by-side in the Sudan War, Boer War, both World Wars, the Korean War, the 1990-91 Gulf War and Afghanistan. They have cooperated on peacekeeping operations, including Canada's contribution of over 600 troops to the Australian-led mission in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in 1999. Australia and Canada were among the first countries to join the global coalition against terrorism, and both countries committed military and development resources to stabilise and help rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq. Australia and Canada work closely to counter potential global terrorist threats through technical cooperation, information-sharing, exchanges of personnel and joint training.

Today, both countries face comparable public policy challenges in areas such as health, transport, indigenous issues, regional development, and managing the effects of the global economic crisis. The Canada-Australia Public Policy Initiative (CAPPI), launched by Prime Ministers Howard and Harper in 2007, brings together Australian and Canadian senior officials biennially for wide-ranging public policy discussions. The next meeting will be held in Canada in 2016. At any time there are a number of public servants placed in Australian and Canadian ministries on exchange.

A comprehensive range of bilateral agreements cover issues such as trade, social security, air services, wildfire management, crisis management and consular services abroad, co-location of our missions overseas, mutual assistance in criminal matters and avoidance of double taxation. Consular cooperation is important, with Canada and Australia providing consular services to each other's nationals in around 30 countries where the other is not represented. During Foreign Minister Bishop’s visit to Canada in July 2015, she signed with her then Canadian counterpart Foreign Minister Nicholson the Glasgow-Burchell Declaration on diplomatic cooperation, with both Ministers characterised as symbolic of the closeness of our relationship. The agreement establishes a formal framework for existing cooperation and identifies areas in which Australia and Canada might collaborate and cooperate closely.

Development Cooperation

Australia has a close and productive development partnership with Canada. In April 2015, DFAT entered into a new Partnership Arrangement on International Development with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), which has subsequently been renamed Global Affairs Canada. The Partnership Arrangement reaffirms our commitment to work in a harmonised way when delivering programs together, and provides a renewed framework for dialogue and cooperation between the two Departments.

The Partnership Arrangement outlines Australia and Canada’s shared objectives in development and priorities for cooperation including sustainable economic growth (for example, through innovation, leveraging private sector finance, aid for trade and infrastructure development), global health issues, gender equality and coordination on global development policy agendas.

People to people links

People to people links are strong and diverse despite geographic distance. A working holiday program allows young people to travel and work for set periods in each other's country. Tourism links are strong and growing.

Of particular note, educational links continue to grow with Universities Australia's 2014 International links data identifying 310 agreements between Australian universities and vocational providers and Canadian institutions covering student and apprentice exchanges, and academic and research collaboration. There are more than 130 members of the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand. Canadian student enrolments remained steady in 2016, with 3,597 enrolments (to date) in educational institutions in Australia. The majority of Canadian students were enrolled in higher education programmes and were studying in the fields of medicine, health and the sciences. A number of Australian universities deliver Australian qualifications in Canada, including Charles Sturt University which has an in-market campus in Burlington, Ontario. During a visit to Canada in 2015, Foreign Minister Bishop and her then counterpart, Foreign Minister Nicholson witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Universities Australia and Canada’s that will allow Australian undergraduate students to participate in an elite research internship program in Canada for the first time.

Economic Overview

Like Australia, Canada has a low population density and a vast wealth of natural resources. The Canadian economy was the 10th biggest economy in the world by GDP in 2015 (according to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook, April 2016 database). Australia was ranked 13th. Canada is highly integrated with the US economy, with each being the other's major trading partner. Canada has improved its ranking to 13th (from 15th) most competitive nation economically among 144 countries ranked by the World Economic Forum (in the 2015-2016 WEF Global Competitiveness Report). Australia improved its ranking in the same period from 22nd to 21st.

Trade and investment

Total two-way trade in goods and services amounting to around A$6.2 billion in 2015.

In 2015, two-way trade in goods was $3.9 billion with Australia exporting $1.6 billion in goods to Canada. Top performing exports in 2015 included alcoholic beverages (Canada is Australia’s fourth largest overseas market for wine by value), beef, and non–ferrous waste and scrap. The top three merchandise imports from Canada in 2015 were non-electric engines and motors (e.g. turbo-jets, gas turbines, and turbo propellers), medicaments (including veterinary) and sulphur and iron pyrites.

Two-way services trade was valued at $2.3 billion in 2015, with Australia exporting $903 million in services to Canada. Services trade was mainly in personal and education-related travel. Though Canada's trade regime is generally liberal and transparent, tariff peaks and other distorting trade mechanisms apply to domestically sensitive agricultural sectors such as dairy and poultry. Tariff rates can be found on the APEC Tariff Database.

Investment ties are substantial. At the end of 2015, Australian investment in Canada was valued at $42.7 billion, an increase of 0.8 per cent over 2014 (ranked 11th destination abroad or 2.1 per cent of Australia’s total outwards investment). Over 80 Australian companies operate in Canada, including in the mining and resources sector, education, finance, travel services and retail. Canadian investment in Australia was valued at over $38.8 billion at the end of 2015, an increase of 7.7 per cent over 2014 (13th largest source of investment, or 1.3 per cent of Australia’s total inwards investment), mostly in resources and manufacturing.

Australia will host the next Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Sydney over the period 20-22 February, 2017. Previous Forums have been held in Sydney (November 2010), Toronto (July 2012),Melbourne (February 2014) and Vancouver (July 2015). The forum is an exercise in 'private sector diplomacy' bringing together business, academia and other non-government players to contribute to the development of the bilateral relationship. It is modelled on similar gatherings Australia has with its closest political and economic partners, notably the Australian American Leadership Dialogue.

Australian Trade and Investment Strategies

Australia and Canada grant each other preferential tariff rates on a limited range of products agreed under the Canada Australia Trade Agreement (CANATA), established in 1960 and amended in 1973. As CANATA pre-dates the multilateral trading system, most of its provisions have been superseded by tariff reductions achieved by negotiation in the WTO.

Austrade has offices in Toronto and Vancouver to pursue Australia's trade and investment priorities.

Information on doing business and opportunities in Canada

Chamber of Commerce

The Canadian Australian Chamber of Commerce (CACC) was launched on 20 October 2005. The Chamber is an independent, non-profit organisation that aims to contribute to increasing the level of trade and investment between Australia and Canada.  Membership is free of charge to interested parties.

High level visits

There have been frequent high level visits, including:

To Australia

2016: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

2014: Foreign Minister Baird and then Finance Minister Flaherty (for the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum, February); Trade Minister Fast (for the G20 Trade Ministers Meeting, July); Prime Minister Harper (for the G20 Summit, November).

2012:  Trade Minister Fast.

2011:  Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Minister Baird (for CHOGM).  Then Defence Minister MacKay.

2010:  Then Immigration Minister Kenney.

2007:  Prime Minister Harper (when he became the first Canadian prime minister to address the Australian parliament).

To Canada

July 2015: Foreign Minister Bishop (for the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Vancouver).

February-March 2015: Trade and Investment Minister Robb and mining-focused business delegation including indigenous representatives (for the 2015 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Convention). Mr Robb also attended the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival (Australia was the feature country).

June 2014:  Prime Minister Abbott and Trade and Investment Minister Robb and business delegation.

April 2013:  Then Governor General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce.

July 2012:  Then Minister for Resources, the Hon Martin Ferguson (for the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto).

June 2012:  Then Minister for Family and Community Services, the Hon Jenny Macklin and then Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Jason Clare.

September 2011:  Then Minister for Trade, the Hon Craig Emerson.

2010:  Then Treasurer, the Hon Wayne Swan (for the Toronto G20 Summit in 2010).

Last Updated: 23 June 2016