An increasingly multicultural population largely free from racial tension
Canada is, after Russia, the world's second largest country, though much is barren and sparsely populated. The more remote areas include the icy wastes of the Arctic archipelago in the north, the splendour of the Rocky Mountains in the west, and the stormy Newfoundland coast in the east. The largest region, around Hudson Bay, is the flat, rocky Canadian Shield which is studded with thousands of lakes. To the west are the lowlands of the interior plains, and to the south-east the Great Lakes-St Lawrence region that borders on the USA. Around 85% of Canadians live within 350 kilometres of the border with the US.
Canada's original population, the ‘first nations’, now make up less than 2% of the population, and are among the poorest people. Many are now claiming land and other rights from provincial governments. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the government has ‘a moral, if not legal, duty’ to settle their claims.
Everyone else is of immigrant descent, and Canada remains a country of immigration. In 2006, 22% of the population were foreign-born. Immigration is strictly limited to around 250,000 per year, but the pattern of arrivals altered dramatically from the 1960s, following changes that removed the privileges of European immigrants. Now more than half of immigrants come from Asia, many of them of Chinese origin who settled on the Pacific coast. Despite this influx, Canada remains relatively free of racial tension.
The wealth of natural resources and a dynamic immigrant population have made Canada one of the world's richest countries. It also has strong health and education services. Nevertheless there have been some economic problems in recent years, notably unemployment, which in 2009 was around 9%.
Three-quarters of Canadians are employed in service industries, with the most dynamic growth in larger cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Manufacturing, particularly in high-technology goods, has also expanded, boosted by exports to the US.
Mining now employs only around 1% of the workforce but still makes a vital contribution to the economy. Canada is the world's largest producer of uranium and potash and is an important source of many other metals, including nickel, zinc, platinum, copper, and titanium. It also has the world's second largest oil reserves, 95% of which are in the form of ‘tar sands’ in Alberta, and is a major producer of natural gas.
The Canadian prairies produce vast quantities of wheat, oats, barley, and many other crops, as well as livestock. But agriculture employs only 2% of the workforce. With vast forests Canada is the world's leading exporter of wood pulp and newsprint. And its rich fishing grounds on both Pacific and Atlantic coasts also make it a leading fish exporter.
Trade is mainly with the USA
Primary products account for around one third of export earnings but these are being overtaken by manufactured exports. Around 80% of exports go to the USA, and 70% of imports come from the USA—trade which was boosted by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the USA and Mexico. Trade relations with the USA, have however been strained notably over exports of timber, and Canada wants to increase trade with China and the EU.