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Canada and the World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization that regulates global trade. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland. Canada is one of its 164 members. The country plays a central role in the WTO and was also a key member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that preceded it. In addition to helping craft the WTO’s dispute resolution systems, Canada is among those countries most directly involved in its trade dispute cases.

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General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was an international trade agreement. It was signed by 23 nations, including Canada, in 1947 and came into effect on 1 January 1948. It was refined over eight rounds of negotiations, which led to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It replaced the GATT on 1 January 1995. The GATT was focused on trade in goods. It aimed to liberalize trade by reducing tariffs and removing quotas among member countries. Each member of the GATT was expected to open its markets equally to other member nations, removing trade discrimination. The agreements negotiated through GATT reduced average tariffs on industrial goods from 40 per cent (1947) to less than five per cent (1993). It was an early step towards economic globalization.

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Prohibition in Canada

Prohibition in Canada came about as a result of the temperance movement. It called for moderation or total abstinence from alcohol, based on the belief that drinking was responsible for many of society’s ills. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) of 1878 gave local governments the “local option” to ban the sale of alcohol. Prohibition was first enacted on a provincial basis in Prince Edward Island in 1901. It became law in the remaining provinces, as well as in Yukon and Newfoundland, during the First World War. Liquor could be legally produced in Canada (but not sold there) and legally exported out of Canadian ports. Most provincial laws were repealed in the 1920s. PEI was the last to give up the “the noble experiment” in 1948.  

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Taxation in Canada

Taxes are mandatory payments by individuals and corporations to government. They are levied to finance government services, redistribute income, and influence the behaviour of consumers and investors. The Constitution Act, 1867 gave Parliament unlimited taxing powers and restricted those of the provinces to mainly direct taxation (taxes on income and property, rather than on activities such as trade). Personal income tax and corporate taxes were introduced in 1917 to help finance the First World War. The Canadian tax structure changed profoundly during the Second World War. By 1946, direct taxes accounted for more than 56 per cent of federal revenue. The federal government introduced a series of tax reforms between 1987 and 1991; this included the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). In 2009, the federal, provincial and municipal governments collected $585.8 billion in total tax revenues.