The British North America Act (BNA Act)

The act that created Canada

Conference at Québec in 1864
Conference at Québec in 1864.

Google Images/Creative Commons/CC BY2.0

The British North America Act or BNA Act created the Dominion of Canada in 1867. It is now referred to as the Constitution Act, 1867, as it is the basis of the country's constitution.

History of the BNA Act

The BNA Act was drafted by Canadians at the Quebec Conference on Canadian Confederation in 1864 and passed without amendment by the British Parliament in 1867. The BNA Act was signed by Queen Victoria on March 29, 1867, and came into effect on July 1, 1867. It solidified Canada West (Ontario), Canada East (Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as the four provinces of the confederation.

The BNA Act serves as a base document for the Canadian Constitution, which is not a single document but rather a set of documents known as Constitution Acts and, just as importantly, a set of unwritten laws and conventions.

The BNA Act set out the rules for the government of the new federal nation. It established a British style parliament with an elected House of Commons and an appointed Senate and set out the division of powers between the federal government and provincial governments. The written text of the division of powers in the BNA Act can be misleading, however, as case law plays a significant part in the division of powers between governments in Canada.

The BNA Act Today

Since the first act forming the Dominion of Canada in 1867, 19 other acts were passed, until some of them were amended or repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982. Until 1949, only the British Parliament could make amendments to the acts, but Canada assumed full control over its constitution with the passage of the Canada Act in 1982. Also in 1982, the BNA Act was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.

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Munroe, Susan. "The British North America Act (BNA Act)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Munroe, Susan. (2020, August 27). The British North America Act (BNA Act). Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "The British North America Act (BNA Act)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 11, 2023).