What's the Difference Between a Province and a Territory?
Canada has a constitution - the Constitution Act of 1982. The constitution talks about all sorts of things, like what our official languages are
and what our individual rights are. The constitution works together with our system of laws to make up the rules of the country.
The constitution also indicates what provinces are a part of Canada and what the powers of those provinces are. For example, provinces
have jurisdiction over education and the environment.
Territories on the other hand are created by Federal Law.
That means the territories have a bit less power than the provinces. They still have representation in the federal government, but don't have
The biggest difference is that the provinces get to vote on changes to the constitution but the territories do not.
1982 -- Are you sure!?
That's right! Up until 1982, Canada didn't have a Constitution. Instead, we had something called the British North America Act.
This Act functioned the same way as the Constitution does, but reflected our continuing close ties to Great Britain. Up until 1982, most changes
to the British North America Act had to be passed by the parliament of Great Britain.
In 1982, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Constitution Act was passed. This act did two main things: it added a Charter of Rights
and Freedoms and it made the process of changing the constitution something that Canadians could do on their own.
Canada's Constitutional Documents
(including the British North America Act)
This is a bit detailed -- younger students will likely find it goes a bit over their head. I've tried to simplify things as much as possible.
Note: Up until 1982, everything was known as the British North America Act. The 1982 Constitution retroactively changed the names of
- Constitution Act, 1867 (Formerly known as the British North America Act, 1867)
- After the war with the colonists in the United States, Queen Victoria decided it would be in the best interests of everyone involved to
consent to the formation of a parliament within Canada. This parliament made decisions and laws for Canada. Like Great Britain,
it had a House of Commons and a Senate.
- However, the Crown's (the Queen's) representative, called the Governor General, had the 'Power of Disallowance'. This allowed him to
revoke any federal law within two years after it was enacted. He could also withhold assent from a bill for a period of two years
ultimately preventing it from becoming a law.
- The provinces of United Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were recognized as forming
the Dominion of Canada. The Crown's representatives for these provinces were called the Lieutenant
Governor (one per province). They could also withhold assent from bills and revoke laws but had a one year time limit.
- Rupert's Land Act, 1868
- the Queen to accepted all lands belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company (they 'owned' most of what we now call Canada).
- Temporary Government of Rupert's Land Act, 1869
- created a temporary government for 'Rupert's Land' (see the previous act)
- Manitoba Act, 1870
- Created the Province of Manitoba.
- Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory Order
- Relieved Hudson's Bay Company of any unsettled Indian Claims, effectively making it the responsibility of the Canadian Government.
- British Columbia Terms of Union
- Created the Province of British Columbia.
- Constitution Act, 1871 (Formerly British North America Act, 1871)
- Gave Parliament the power to create new provinces out of the Northwest Territories
- Prince Edward Island Terms of Union
- Created the Province of Prince Edward Island.
- Parliament of Canada Act, 1875
- gave parliament the power to regulate its members.
- Adjacent Territories Order
- Admitted all remaining territories of British North America surrounding Canada (except Newfoundland) into Canada. Although they
were now part of Canada, they didn't automatically become provinces at this point.
- Constitution Act, 1886 (Formerly British North America Act, 1886)
- Allowed parliamentary representation for citizens residing in the Territories.
- Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889
- Extended the boundaries of the Province of Ontario.
- Statute Law Revision Act, 1893
- repealed certain obsolete laws
- Canadian Speaker (Appointment of Deputy) Act, 1895, Session 2 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
- confirmed the rules around the Deputy Speaker of the Senate.
- Yukon Territory Act, 1898
- Separated the Yukon Territory from the Northwest Territory
- Alberta Act, 1905 (Formerly The Alberta Act, 1905)
- Created the province of Alberta
- Saskatchewan Act, 1905 (Formerly The Saskatchewan Act, 1905)
- Created the province of Saskatchewan
- Constitution Act, 1907 (Formerly British North America Act, 1907)
- Changed the way money was transferred between the federal and provincial governments.
- Constitution Act, 1915 (Formerly British North America Act, 1915)
- Changed the number of seats in the Senate from 72 to 96.
- British North America Act, 1916 (Repealed by Statute Law Revision Act, 1927)
- Extended the term of Parliament during World War I
- Statute Law Revision Act, 1927
- repealed the previous act (since the war had ended)
- Constitution Act, 1930
- Transferred all rights and interests of certain natural resources of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
- Statute of Westminster, 1931
- Removed legislative authority of Parliament in Great Britain over its Dominions
(Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and
- yes, at the time, Newfoundland was a separate Dominion from Canada at this point
- Constitution Act, 1940 (Formerly British North America Act, 1940)
- Gave the Federal Government the power to legislate laws repealing unemployment insurance.
- British North America Act, 1943 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
- Delayed the re-adjustment of the seats in the House of Commons until World War II was over.
- British North America Act, 1946 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
- Increased the number of members in the House of Commons to 255.
- Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General of Canada
- Clarified the role of the Governor General. (the Crown's representative in Canada)
- Newfoundland Act (Formerly British North America Act, 1949)
- Created the Province of Newfoundland.
- British North America (No. 2) Act, 1949 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
- Gave the Parliament of Canada limited powers to amend the Constitution of Canada.
- Statute Law Revision Act, 1950
- repealed some out of date laws
- British North America Act, 1951 (Partially repealed by the Constitution Act, 1964, Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
- Gave the Federal government the power to enact laws regarding old age pensions.
- British North America Act, 1952 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
- Increased the number of members in the House of Commons to 263.
- Constitution Act, 1960 (Formerly British North America Act, 1960)
- Changed the length of term of office for superior court judges to 75 years of age instead of for-life.
- Constitution Act, 1964 (Formerly British North America Act, 1964)
- Gave Parliament the power to legislate laws regarding old age pensions.
- Constitution Act, 1965 (Formerly British North America Act, 1965)
- Changed the length of term of office for Senators to 75 years of age instead of for-life.
- Constitution Act, 1974 (Formerly British North America Act, 1974)
- Changed the rules for calculating the number of MPs to sit in the next Parliament.
- Constitution Act (No. 1), 1975 (Formerly British North America Act (No. 1), 1975)
- Gave the Yukon and Northwest Territories representation in the House of Commons.
- Constitution Act (No. 2), 1975 (Formerly British North America Act (No. 2), 1975)
- Changed the number of Senators from 110 to 112.
- Gave the Yukon and Northwest Territories each one seat on
- Miscellaneous Statue Law Revision Act, 1977
- A law which made some technical corrections and name
changes to previous acts.
- Canada Act, 1982
- Last act requiring the sign off of the Parliament of Great
- From that time on, the British Parliament relinquished the power to affect any
Canadian laws, including the Constitution.
- Constitution Act, 1982 (Part of the Canada Act, 1982)
- Includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Includes the "Notwithstanding clause". This allows
the governments to suspend parts of the Charter of Rights for a period
of 5 years (at which time it must review the
- In December 1988, Quebec invoked the
Notwithstanding clause related to Bill 178 (its language
- Bill 178 required signage outside stores to
be French only even thought that violated Canada's Charter of
Rights. (You could not have an English sign in Quebec).
- In 1993, a report that Bill 178 violated the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights was released by a United Nations human-rights committee.
- Since then Quebec has allowed French/English
signs as long as the French is predominant.
- The Act was signed by 9 of the 10 provinces. The Quebec
government has never signed it. Despite this, the Act is
legally binding in Canada.
- Why didn't Quebec sign?
There is a strong, 'separatist' movement in
Quebec, including a strong
provincial party that usually makes up the majority of the government members.
At the time, this party was in power and did not wish to sign the
constitution of Canada (because they don't want to be part of Canada).
- Why do they want to separate? This
movement wishes to be their own country, apart from Canada. The
main issue is language and culture. They are concerned their
French speaking culture is being overshadowed by the majority English
speaking culture of Canada. In 1995, there was even a 'referendum'
(vote of all the people) in Quebec about whether the people wished to
separate. The vote to stay part of Canada won by a very small
majority (50.56%). No one knows what would have happened if the
majority had wanted to separate -- the vote simply reflected the wishes
of the people and was not legally binding. However, in a
democratic country like Canada, the wishes of the people have great
- Proclamation, bringing into force the Constitution Act, 1982 (Can.)
- The Document that the Queen signed at Parliament Hill making the Constitution Act, 1982,
- Constitution Amendment Proclamation, 1983
- recognition of rights obtained under aboriginal land claims agreements.
- Committed all governments to invite aboriginal and territorial government
representatives to conferences on issues related to them.
- Constitution Act, 1985 (Representation)
- changed the formula for figuring out the House of Commons seats
- Constitution Amendment, 1987 (Newfoundland Act)
- included rights and privileges of more denominational schools in
- Constitution Amendment Proclamation, 1993 (New Brunswick Act)
- Amended the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the equality of the French and
English communities in New Brunswick.
- Constitution Amendment Proclamation, 1993 (Prince Edward Island)
- Amends the Prince Edward Island Terms of Union to recognize that the province can levy
tolls for the use of a, "fixed crossing joining the Island to the mainland." (Specifically,
the Confederation Bridge.)
- Constitution Amendment Proclamation, 1997 (Newfoundland Act)
- Allows the government of Newfoundland to take control of establishing and continuing
denominational and nondenominational schools.
- Constitution Amendment, 1997 (Quebec)
- Gave Quebec the sole power to determine the system of education used
there -- this allowed them to reorganize the school boards for separate
French and English schools.
- Constitution Act, 1998 (Newfoundland Act)
- There is no mention of denominational schools, so a single school system can be established.
- Courses in religion are guaranteed, including religious observances at the request of parents.
- Constitution Act, 1999 (Nunavut)
- Allow Nunavut to be represented by one Senator and one member of Parliament.
- Constitution Amendment, 2001 (Newfoundland and Labrador)
- Changed the name of the Province of Newfoundland to the "Province of Newfoundland and Labrador".
Click here for the Government's official website about the constitution.