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The uneven stability of Canada

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

(Feature Shoot)

1. Widely appreciated stability

Although Canada is closely linked historically to the United Kingdom and economically to the United States, it has sound economic and political institutions. Over the years, it has concluded free trade agreements with several nations and it is currently negotiating new treaties, for example, the post-Brexit deal with the United Kingdom.[1] Canada shares with London, as a realm of the British Commonwealth,[2] the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.

On the other hand, in terms of commercial transactions, the United States are Canada’s main trading partner, with a trade volume of roughly 750 billion Canadian dollars (about 485 billion euros) in 2019, the European Union ranks second with about 125 billion Canadian dollars (almost 80 billion euros). Furthermore, Canada is a net exporter with respect to the USA with a difference on the trade balance of approximately +142 billion Canadian dollars (approximately 92 billion euros), instead Canada is a net importer to the EU with a result of approximately -29 billion Canadian dollars (-18 billion euros).[3]

Canada is one of the most stable countries in the world, and it can offer investors solid economic fundamentals and great political stability,[4] based on a system of parliamentary democracy. According to the ranking of the International Monetary Fund, Canada is the tenth largest country by gross domestic product (nominal), ahead of South Korea and Russia.

Like other developed countries, a large part of Canada’s economic system revolves around the service sector. Albeit variations on a local basis, the main industries of the country include the management of energy resources (oil and natural gas), fishing, wood processing, automobile and aircraft manufacturing, tourism, the high-tech sector and the film and television industry related to entertainment.[5] Lastly, the province of Québec[6] is responsible for 70% of the world’s maple syrup production.[7]

Canada’s stability is valued not only by international investors, but it is also a very important geopoliticalasset at regional level, as it allows the first military power in the world, the United States, to act as a real island power that doesn’t need to worry about keeping dangerous neighbors under control. A quite strong neighboring country could indeed appear more threatening than a very strong but distant country.[8]

The United States of America borders to the North and to the South with two countries (Canada and Mexico) which do not represent a threat, the East and the West coast give the United States direct access to two oceans (the Atlantic and the Pacific). Therefore, throughout history, without having to maintain an active defense line at borders, the USA has been able to concentrate its resources on building a navy capable of controlling, through six fleets, almost all the world’s oceans and thus ensuring freedom of trade flows.[9]

2. Territorial Diversity

Canada is a federal state, its vast territory – second largest in the world after Russia – is divided into ten provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Alberta , Newfoundland and Labrador) and three territories, all located north of the 60th parallel (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut).

Political map of Canada (NAPPO 2016 Canada Report)

In addition to geographical differences, provinces and territories have different levels of autonomy, the former exercise constitutional powers in their own right, while the latter exercise delegated powers under the authority of the Parliament of Canada.

Anyway, Canada is a vast and sparsely inhabited country (about 37 million people live in an area twice the size of the EU) and the differences within the country are numerous and varied. The main language is English (56% of the population), followed by French (20%), the rest of the population speaks non‑official languages. In the territory of Nunavut, the percentage of Canadians who speak non-official languages reaches 65.5%, even if the population amounts to only 38,000 inhabitants.

Canadian provinces and territories have different, often competing interests. To the east, differences between the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) stem from the provenance of the first English and Scottish settlers. Newfoundland andLabrador – a British colony until the end of the Second World War – is the last province of the geographical region of Atlantic Canada, today it is, except for the Arctic regions, the poorest and most isolated part of the country.

Central Canada, on the other hand, comprises Québec and Ontario. The first, an ancient French colony where 77% of the population is still Francophone today, might perhaps represent the greatest threat to Canada’s stability because of the resurface of separatist demands in the 1990s. The second is, instead, the real cornerstone of the Canadian federation, profoundly English even if inhabited by many immigrants.

In western Canada, the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba resemble more to American states south of their borders than to other Canadian provinces. The same goes for British Columbia's cultural heritage, which bears some similarities with the US West Coast. Multiculturalism is also fueled by the different points of view on issues such as immigration, indigenous rights, global warming and the role of hydrocarbons.[10]

While Northern Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) comprises a large area of the country, it is home to only 1% of the population, about 113,000 inhabitants, mainly FirstNations[11] (near north) and Inuit (far north).

3. Disputes on energy and the environment

Certain issues can sometimes easily become a battleground – not only a purely ideological one – especially when relevant economic interests are at stake. This is the case for the dispute over the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which began in 2013 despite the opposition from environmental groups and representatives of the First Nations and escalated in 2018, turning into a trade dispute between Alberta and British Columbia.

The project aims to triple the capacity of the pipeline and meets the interests of the big oil industry of Alberta, a landlocked province, which thanks to this infrastructure has been able to transport the oil produced to the Pacific Ocean for about 67 years where it is later sold.[12]

Despite British Columbia's opposition, the 2020 pandemic and the drop in the price of crude oil, the expansion of the pipeline still seems to remain on schedule.[13] In February 2020, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeals finally rejected the appeal of environmental groups, ruling that the federal government held, as required by law, "adequate and meaningful consultations with indigenous peoples". Prime Minister JustinTrudeau himself said that it is a work of national economic interest[14].

Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project

More recently, a further crisis has broken out due to the opposition from First Nations (namely Wet'suwet'en people) and environmental groups to the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline in British Columbia. In this case, the blockade by protesters of transport links has sparked outrage not only in Alberta, but also in Québec, which depends on propane for heating. Both provinces have asked Ottawa to intervene to end the blockade.[15]

Coastal Gaslink pipeline construction project (

4. Secessionism and risks to stability

Therefore, the provinces of Alberta, Québec and Saskatchewan have expressed a common interest on the issue of transport and energy supply, a key sector for their economies. The presence of conflicting interests could therefore fuel internal divisions or even rekindle the separatist instances of the past, according to the idea that some local interests could be better served outside Canada.

In fact, other issues, such as fiscal equalization policies implemented by the federal government, are another a point of friction between Alberta and Québec. Ottawa could therefore risk embarking on difficult negotiations to meet the interests of individual provinces.[16]

In Québec, two independence referenda have been held relatively recently. In 1980 (Yes 40.44% and No 59.56%) and in 1995, when the province got close to secession,[17] in the end the anti-secessionists prevailed (Yes 49.42% and No 50.58%), even if with only 60,000 votes.

In Alberta too there are movements that invoke secession for different purposes; these movements want to establish either an independent nation or a new nation with other provinces of western Canada, or they even want to be annexed to the United States – request of the Western Canadian separatist movement Wexit (today called Maverick Party). Separatist sentiment in Alberta mainly derives from demands of more independence from federal government, tax disparities and the interests of the energy industry.

5. Conclusions

Therefore, question remains whether the famous Canadian stability will be able to withstand the weight of possible new tensions, especially in a new year loaded with uncertainties, such as the management of the pandemic and vaccination plans as well as the inauguration of a new administration at the White House, right beyond the southern border.

Realistically, though valid and heartfelt, the autonomist demands will hardly lead to real secessions in the short term. On the one hand, if the weak economic situation makes new separationist attempts more unlikely in Québec; on the other hand, the annexation of Alberta by the U.S. is even less likely.

As already pointed out, the United States needs politically safe land borders. In this sense, even just encouraging the annexation of Alberta would drastically destabilize relations with Canada and would call into question several joint activities (such as NORAD)[18] with a neighboring country, a member of NATO and a major trading partner.[19] In general, a scenario of high uncertainty in Canada would therefore be directly detrimental to U.S. national security interests.[20]

The stability of two countries at the antipodes such as Canada (stable, although uneven) and Mexico (generally a stable country, although some internal instability problems related to the influence of cartels, crime, drug trafficking and corruption) is therefore a guarantee for the geopolitical security of the United States of America. An insular power even though it is not an island.


La disomogenea stabilità canadese
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[1] Canada and U.K. make stopgap deal to avert tariffs after Brexit, CBC, December 23, 2020. [2] There are 16 Commonwealth realms, loyal to the English monarchy, spread over 3 continents: the United Kingdom, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Australia, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu. The Commonwealth of Nations is, instead, a broader intergovernmental organization, which includes the 16 realms plus 38 other countries with different forms of government, for a total of 54 member states, united because they were part of the British Empire in the past (Mozambique and Rwanda are the only two exceptions). [3] Annual Merchandise Trade, Global Affairs Canada, Statistics Canada, February 6, 2020. [4] Canada: Political Stability, The Global [5] Canadian Economy & Political Stability, in Study Nova Scotia. [6] Lo sciroppo d’acero: l’oro liquido canadese, Centro Studi Italia Canada, April 23, 2019. [7] The maple leaf, featured in the center of the flag, is Canada’s national symbol. [8] K. N. Waltz, Teoria della politica internazionale, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1987. [9] A. T. Mahan, The influence of sea power upon history, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1890. [10] G. Friedman, The Canadian Geopolitical Dynamic, Geopolitical Futures, February 25, 2020. [11] Indigenous or autochthonous peoples who are neither Inuit nor Métis. In fact, in Canada the term “Native Americans” generally refers to American Indians living in the United States. [12] R. Schmunk, Supreme Court of Canada will not hear B.C. groups' challenges against Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, CBS News, March 5, 2020. [13] D Healing, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on schedule, on budget: CEO, The Canadian Press, September 15, 2020. [14] Editorial Staff, Court victory for disputed Trans Mountain pipeline project, BBC News, February 4, 2020. [15] G. Friedman, The Canadian Geopolitical Dynamic, op. cit. [16] Ibid. [17] The text of the referendum actually proposed to transform Québec into an independent nation although through a political and economic process agreed with the central government. [18] The North American Aerospace Defense Command is a joint organization between Canada and the United States, which provides an overview of the situation (nature, position, direction and speed) of every flying object in the aerospace of North America. [19] Canada is the second largest trading partner by volume of trade of the U.S, after China and the first importer of U.S. goods in the world. [20] G. Friedman, The Canadian Geopolitical Dynamic, op. cit.


· Editorial Staff, Annual Merchandise Trade, Global Affairs Canada, Statisctics Canada, February 6, 2020.

· Editorial Staff, Canada and U.K. make stopgap deal to avert tariffs after Brexit, CBC, December 23, 2020.

· Editorial Staff, Canada: Political Stability, The Global

· Editorial Staff, Canadian Economy & Political Stability, in Study Nova Scotia.

· Editorial Staff, Court victory for disputed Trans Mountain pipeline project, BBC News, February 4, 2020.

· Editorial Staff, Lo sciroppo d’acero: l’oro liquido canadese, Centro Studi Italia Canada, Apriel 23, 2019.

· G. Friedman, The Canadian Geopolitical Dynamic, Geopolitical Futures, February 25, 2020.

· D. Healing, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on schedule, on budget: CEO, The Canadian Press, September 15, 2020.

· A. T. Mahan, The influence of sea power upon history, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1890.

· K. N. Waltz, Teoria della politica internazionale, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1987.

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