Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia. However, its population is only about one-fifth of Russia's.
Nearly 90% of Canadians live within 200km of the border with the United States, which means that Canada contains vast expanses of wilderness to the north.
The relationship to its powerful neighbour is a defining factor for Canada. The US and Canada are both each other's largest trading partner.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, involving Canada, the US and Mexico, has brought a trade boom for Canada. But thorny issues abound. American moves which impact on Canadian exports, in the form of tariffs on Canadian timber and increased subsidies for US farmers, have created particular tension.
- Politics: Canada gradually emerged as a federation of former British colonies, and the provinces retain extensive powers. It follows the British pattern of parliamentary democracy, and the UK monarch is head of state, represented by a largely ceremonial governor-general. French-speaking Quebec has wide-ranging cultural and linguistic autonomy.
- Economics: Canada punches well above its population size in economic terms, and is one of the world's top trading nations. While the service sector dominates, Canada also has vast oil reserves and is a major exporter of energy, food and minerals. Close economic integration exists with the US, but Asian markets are growing in importance.
- International: Canada often cooperates closely with the US, but does go its own way sometimes. Strong historical ties to the UK remain, while Quebec looks towards France. Canada often plays a major role in UN peacekeeping missions.
Canada pursues a foreign policy that is distinct from that of the US. The country has committed troops to the American-led war on terror, but does not back the US trade embargo on Cuba. Canada did not send troops to join the US-led war in Iraq.
After the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, the challenge of securing the 9,000-km Canada-US border from possible terrorist infiltration prompted both countries to look at ways of sharing information.
Immigration has helped to make Canada one of the world's richest nations. Challenges related to discrimination and integration are gaining increasing attention. Many recent newcomers hail from Asia.
Canada's indigenous peoples make up around 1,5 million, more than 4% of the population. The way in which provincial governments share land and natural resources with native groups is an ongoing issue.
Separatist aspirations in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec have been a major domestic issue. A referendum in 1995 saw advocates of an independent Quebec only narrowly defeated.
Subsequent opinion polls indicated a fall in support for independence and the pro-independence Parti Quebecois was defeated in 2003's provincial election, but regained power in 2012. In a largely symbolic move, parliament in 2006 agreed that the Quebecois should be considered a "nation" within a united Canada.
Canada has been asserting its sovereignty in the Arctic with growing vigour and has become embroiled in territorial spats with the US and Denmark. At stake is the possible bounty from previously-untapped reserves of oil and gas.