If you have the (dis)pleasure of being my friend IRL or on Facebook, you know that I have a love for trivia. I once joked that I'm a horrible dinner guest because I can't stop passing on random trivia that no one cares about. Welcome to Trivia Tuesday, my weekly internet dinner party.
Canada has 10 provinces and three territories. But what makes provinces and territories different? Many people believe it has something to do with population density, but it's actually a political distinction.*
Provinces have certain powers and responsibilities which were set out in the Constitution Act, 1867 (depending on when you went to school, you may have been taught the act by the name British North American Act, 1867, often shortened to BNA Act**). Because of the level of power granted to provinces, they are often referred to as co-sovereigns with the federal government, or as equals to each other.
Health care, welfare, education and provincial transportation (i.e. roads) all fall under the jurisdiction of a provincial government. While provinces set and collect their own taxes to fund their budget, many of the provincial programs also receive transfer payments from the federal government. It is possible (and very common) for the federal government to attach conditions to the transfer payments thereby exerting influence on provincial politics.
(Aside: The Constitution Act, 1867 was also very vague about a lot of things. The provincial and federal governments still squabble over exactly where one's control ends and the other's start in many areas of government. But hey, isn't that the fun of drafting vague, non-committal, government-forming documents?)
Territories hold no jurisdiction except what is granted or delegated to them by the federal government. They cannot collect taxes and their budgets are set by the federal House of Commons. They are essentially, although I hate using this term, dependents of the federal government.
*Population and population density, however, is used to help determine if an area can be converted to a province, e.g. they were factors in the creation of Saskatchewan and Alberta from a portion of the Northwest Territories.
**I'm not saying that sometimes schools can be behind the times, but I was taught BNA even though the name had changed 10 years earlier in 1982.