Section 3: Annual statistics: Pressures on Canada's environment

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Driving forces

Driving forces are the conditions and activities that shape the relationship between human activities and the environment. Topics covered in this section include population, economic conditions, transportation, natural resources and ecosystems.


Population growth, distribution and density are major factors in determining the impacts that human activities have on the environment. Canada's population has expanded considerably since 1901, when there were 5.4 million Canadians (Table 3.1). By 2006, the population had grown six-fold, reaching over 32 million people. However, growth rates have not been consistent over time. Two historical periods were characterized by high annual population growth rates. The first was from 1901 to 1911, when massive immigration resulted in annual growth rates of up to 3%. The second period of high growth followed the end of the Second World War and is generally referred to as the 'baby boom'. In contrast to these two periods of population growth, two periods of slow economic activity (1891 to 1901 and 1931 to 1941) coincided with a slump in population growth rates. Since 1956, when the annual growth rate was 3.3%, growth rates have been decreasing, fluctuating between 0.8% and 1.8% from 1970 to 2006.

The growth of Canada's population is the result of two factors: natural increase and international migration. Since 1995/1996, international migration has become a more important component of population growth than natural increase. In 2007/2008, international migration accounted for 67% of the annual increase (Table 3.2).

Tables 3.3 and 3.4 present population by ecozone, illustrating the unevenness of Canada's population distribution. In 2006, the average population density for Canada was 359 persons per 100 km2, ranging from 0.2 persons per 100 km2 in the Taiga Cordillera to 15,522.4 persons per 100 km2 in the Mixed Wood Plains. (Table 3.3).

Table 3.5 presents population characteristics by drainage region. Table group 3.6 presents population by sub-drainage area.


The economy is a strong driving force for changes in the environment. Gross domestic product (GDP) measures the total value of goods and services produced in Canada. Goods-producing industries—such as manufacturing, construction and resource industries—accounted for 30% of GDP in 2008 and 23.5% of employment. Service-producing industries—from wholesale and retail trade to health care—made up the remaining 70% of GDP and 76.5% of employment (Tables 3.7 and 3.8).

Table 3.9 outlines the changes in the composition of exports and imports from 1973 to 2008. Over the period, agricultural and fishing products' share of total exports decreased from 13.9% to 8.3% and forestry products' share fell from 17.2% to 5.2%. With Canada becoming an important energy producer, energy exports took up the slack. Exports of energy products moved from 9.4% to 25.7% of total exports from 1973 to 2008. At the same time, the share of energy imports grew from 5.7% to 12.0%.


Transportation fulfils an essential role in maintaining Canada's economic and social well-being. Bringing goods to market and getting people from place to place, transportation refers to the transport of goods and commercial passengers, as well as private transport.

The Tables 3.10, 3.11, 3.12 and 3.13 and Chart 3.1 outline the tonnage of goods transported by water, rail, truck and air transport. In 2006, 466.3 million tonnes of goods were moved by water compared to 365.8 million tonnes by rail, 300.6 million tonnes by truck, and 790 thousand tonnes by air. Water transport also led other modes on a tonne-kilometre basis—which takes into account weight of shipment and distance transported—at 2.3 trillion tonne-kilometres in 2006, compared to 357 billion for rail, 189 billion for trucking and 2 billion for air.

While the majority of freight is indeed moved by water and rail, the importance of trucking to freight transport has grown substantially. A contributing factor to increasing truck traffic on roads is the concept of 'just-in-time' delivery of freight, where parts and products are scheduled to arrive as they are needed. For the for-hire trucking industry, tonnes of freight carried grew by 59% from 1989 to 2006, while tonne-kilometres grew by 144% (Table 3.12).

Since the early 20th century, the amount of freight shipped by rail has grown steadily, with the exception of the depression years (Chart 3.1). While rail freight per person has fluctuated greatly, its overall trend has been flat over the whole of this period.

The most recent published data show that in 2007, 55.1 million passengers were transported by Canadian air transport carriers (Table 3.13). Passenger-kilometers—derived by multiplying the number of passengers by the distance travelled—for air transport grew to 130 billion in 2007. Trains carried 4.3 million passengers in 2007, while passenger-kilometers reached more than 1.4 billion (Table 3.11). In 2006, 38.4 million passengers were transported by ferry, 11% below a high of 43.2 million reached in 1994 (Table 3.10).

The number of road motor vehicle registrations increased by 20% between 1999 and 2008, reaching over 21 million vehicles. Since 1999, the number of vehicles weighing less than 4,500 kg has increased by 3.1 million to 19.6 million, accounting for 93% of all registered road motor vehicles (Table 3.14). As the number of vehicles on the road increased over the course of the twentieth century, the number of persons per vehicle declined. There were 8.6 persons for each vehicle registered in 1931; by the mid-1980's this number had fallen to about 1.7 persons per vehicle (Chart 3.2).

Across the country, driving to work is by far the most popular commuting method (Table 3.15). However, some regional differences exist: for example, public transportation is most popular in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa-Hull; more than 10% of people get to work by walking in Halifax and Victoria; and 5.6% of workers bicycle to work in Victoria, more than any other census metropolitan area (Table 3.16).

The majority (69%) of petroleum products used for transportation in 2007 were sold through retail pump sales. While most retail pump sales are made to individuals, some commercial vehicles including taxis and fleet vehicles also purchase retail fuel. The road transport and urban transit industries used another 13% of petroleum products, compared to 10% for airlines, 4% for marine and 4% for railways (Table 3.17).

Almost 62,000 vehicles were in use by passenger bus and urban transit industries in 2006, 61% of which were used to transport students to school and employees to work. Urban transit vehicles made up a further 26%. Urban transit vehicles used 52% of the diesel fuel consumed by passenger bus and urban transit industries in 2005. School and employee buses consumed 28% of diesel fuel (Table 3.18).

Natural resources

This section examines one of the main sources of impacts on the environment—natural resource consumption. The statistics presented here on agriculture, fisheries, forestry, minerals and energy, provide an indication of the role that Canada's environment plays as a source of natural resources.


Crop and animal production contributed 1.6% or $20 billion to total GDP in 2008 (Table 3.19). The number of farms in Canada increased between 1871 and 1941 from 367,862 to 732,832. Since then the number has been declining. In 2006 there were 229,373 farms in Canada (Table 3.20). Chart 3.3 illustrates that while total farm area remained stable at 68 million hectares, the area of land in crops increased to 36 million hectares. The average farm size increased from 113 hectares in 1951 to 295 hectares in 2006.

Charts 3.4 and 3.5 present the production of selected field crops and small grains, while Chart 3.6 presents livestock inventories.


Despite declines in fish stocks during the last part of the twentieth century, Canadian fisheries continue to play an important role in communities in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia. Fishing industries contributed 0.17% or $2.1 billion to total GDP in 2008 (Table 3.21) and they employed more than forty-six thousand people, 0.27% of total employment in Canada in 2008 (Table 3.22).

Exports and imports of fish and fish products are presented in Table 3.23. Canada continues to be a net exporter of these products, with exports of $4.2 billion and imports of $1.9 billion in 2008.

After a steady decline throughout the early 1990s, the total catch by seafisheries has remained relatively stable, with almost 1.0 million tonnes, worth almost $1.9 billion, caught in 2007 (Table 3.24). Aquaculture production was 170 thousand tonnes in 2007, worth more than $837 million (Table 3.25).


Logs and bolts—the raw material from which lumber, plywood and other wood products are produced—account for the bulk of wood harvested from forests each year, with pulpwood making up most of the remainder (Table 3.26). British Columbia continued to dominate the forest industry in 2006, harvesting 44% of the total volume of wood cut. Quebec, Alberta and Ontario harvested an additional 43% of the total (Table 3.27).

Gross domestic product (GDP) for the forest products industries fell to $18.5 billion dollars or 1.5% of total GDP in 2008 (Table 3.28).

Employment in the forest products industries declined for an eighth consecutive year in 2008, falling to 162 thousand (Table 3.29).

Forest products exports made continuous gains from 1991 to 2000, but have since trended downward, reaching a level of $26 billion in 2008. As a share of total exports, forest products declined from 16.1% in 1989 to 5.4% in 2008 (Table 3.30).


The mineral industries include the extraction and production of metallic minerals such as copper, gold, iron, nickel, silver and zinc; mineral fuels including coal, crude petroleum and natural gas; and other minerals including potash, sand, and gravel. In 2008, mining and oil and gas extraction industries contributed 4.6% to GDP while petroleum and coal products and selected primary mineral manufacturing contributed another 1.0% (Tables 3.31 and 3.33).

In 2008, total employment in the mining and oil and gas extraction industries reached 202,225 (Table 3.32). Since 1994, Alberta's share of total employment in the mining and oil and gas extraction industries has risen from 47% to 55%.

In 2007, crude petroleum production in Canada reached $57 billion. In the same year, $52 billion worth of natural gas was extracted, with the majority coming from the western provinces. Metal production totalled over $26 billion (Table 3.34). Tables 3.35 and 3.36 detail reserves and production of selected minerals.


Energy resources such as coal, crude oil, natural gas, hydro power and uranium have transformed society, fuelling economic growth and industrial activity. They have provided the means to heat and light our homes, travel and transport goods with ease.

Canadians are consuming more energy than ever before. Energy consumption in Canada grew 18% since 1986, reaching 354 gigajoules per person by 2007. By contrast, energy consumption per dollar of inflation-adjusted (real) gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen since the 1974 oil crisis (Table 3.37).

Since 1980, primary energy production has doubled to 17 million TJ in 2007, driven by increases in the production of natural gas and crude oil (Table 3.38). Energy products have become an increasingly large component of Canadian exports. By 2007, energy exports rose to 9,270 PJ, up from 2,068 PJ in 1980 (Chart 3.7). Meanwhile, record-high crude oil prices provide further incentive for energy producers to ramp up production (Chart 3.8).

Table 3.39 outlines Canadian energy resource reserves of coal, crude oil, crude bitumen, natural gas and uranium. Established crude oil reserves declined by 29% from 1976 to 2007. As a result of the decline, the reserve life of crude oil fell from about 14 years in 1976 to 9 years in 2007. In contrast, established reserves of crude bitumen increased twenty-three fold from 1976 to 2007.

In 2006, 592 million MWh of electricity was generated at hydro-electric, thermal-electric, nuclear, and wind and tidal generating stations. Quebec and British Columbia were the largest hydro-electric power generators, followed by Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba. Ontario and Alberta were the leading generators of thermal-electric energy, while Ontario generated 90% of Canada's nuclear power. (Table 3.40).

Hydro-electric facilities generated 372,884 GWh of electricity in 2008, accounting for 62% of total electric power generation in Canada (Table 3.41). Coal, the predominant source of fuel for thermal-electric power production in Canada (Table 3.42), accounted for 68% of electricity generated at thermal-electric power stations in 2006 (Table 3.43). Across Canada, the efficiency of thermal electric power plants ranged from 20% to 35%, depending on the type of fuel consumed (Table 3.44).


Human activity has had a profound impact on the structure and function of many ecosystems. Natural areas are altered by human activities which contributes to loss of habitats and extinction of animal and plant species. This section focuses on the impacts human activities have on air, land, water and wildlife.


The atmosphere, an envelope of gases surrounding the earth, is made up of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%) argon (0.9%) and other gases. The atmosphere provides the air we breathe, shields us from ultraviolet radiation, affects air circulation and weather patterns and keeps the earth warm.

Human activities can affect both the air and the atmosphere. Traffic emissions affect urban air quality; industrial emissions of sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides can lead to acid rain; chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons and other substances deplete the ozone layer; and carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide contribute to climate change.

Air pollutants have a negative impact on the air we breathe and also have an effect on soil and water systems through acid deposition and other means. Effects can be local or global, as pollution travels with prevailing winds. Criteria air contaminants are those for which ambient air quality standards have been established by government. In 2007, criteria air contaminants including sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter made up 97% of pollutants released by industrial facilities to air (Table 3.45).

Table 3.46 breaks down criteria air contaminant emissions for 2006, by source. Industrial sources were responsible for the highest emissons of sulphur oxides and volatile organic compounds and were the second highest emitters of particulate matter, after open sources. The majority of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emissions came from transportation.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) help regulate the planet's climate by trapping solar energy as it is radiated back from the Earth. Emissions of GHGs from human activities over the past 200 years have amplified this natural process and could impact global climate conditions. While criteria air contaminants persist in the environment for a relatively short time (from less than a day to a few weeks), the effects of greenhouse gases may not be realised for much longer periods of time.

Table 3.47 compares emissions of common GHGs: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by source for 1990 and 2006. Greenhouse gas emissions reached 721 megatonnes in 2006, 22% higher than in 1990. The increase was driven by growth in emissions from electricity and heat generation, the fossil fuel industries, transportation and mining. GHG emissions declined for the chemical, manufacturing and construction industries.

Table 3.48 shows the direct energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, by sector for 1990 to 2004. In 2005, households were directly responsible for 22% of energy use and 15% of GHG emissions.

Table group 3.49 shows energy intensity, measured as gigajoules per thousand dollars of production, and GHG intensity measured as tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per thousand dollars of production, in 2004 for 117 industries in Canada. In Table group 3.50 energy intensity and GHG intensity are indexed to 1990 and data are presented for the same industries. In 2004, of the 117 industries tracked, 73% had increased their energy efficiency and 78% had lowered their GHG emissions relative to 1990 levels.


Canada is the second largest country in the world, with over 9.9 million square kilometres of land. 1  This land supports many uses, from agriculture and forestry to urban development, parks and recreation.

Table 3.51 shows the distribution of forest land by province and territory. Table 3.52 presents the area of forest harvested from 1975 to 2007, while Table 3.53 shows the area of timber-productive forest land burned from 1980 to 2007.

Fertilizers and manure supply the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and other nutrients that are essential for plant growth. The application of manure also adds needed organic matter to soil. Care must be taken to ensure that fertilizers and manure are applied correctly, in a way that minimizes the risk of runoff. In 2006, Canadian farmers applied fertilizer to over 253 thousand km2 of land to improve crop yield, an increase of 6% compared to 2001 (Table 3.54). Livestock produced an estimated 181 million tonnes of manure in 2006 (Table 3.55).

Pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are used to control weeds, insects and crop diseases. The risk to the environment is determined by the mobility, persistence and toxicity of the pesticide to organisms other than its target, as well as the amount used. The area of farmland treated with pesticides is illustrated in Charts 3.9 and 3.10.

The National Pollutant Release Inventory Database measures the volume of pollutants released on-site by over 8 thousand industrial facilities. In 2007, hydrogen sulphide made up 63% of the tonnage of substances released to land (Table 3.56).


With 20% of the world's fresh water resources and 7% of the world's total renewable water flow, water remains a precious part of Canada's natural wealth. 2  Used for power generation, transportation, recreation, irrigation, manufacturing, agriculture and drinking water, Canadian water use per capita is the second highest in the world. 2  We also use our rivers, lakes and marine areas to dispose of municipal wastewater and wastes from industry. Some activities for which water is used can make it unfit for use by humans or wildlife.

Map 3.1 illustrates the proportion of surface fresh water that is used by Canadians within each of Canada's major drainage regions. Although responsible for only 14% of total water intake, the South Saskatchewan, Missouri and Assiniboine-Red and the North Saskatchewan drainage regions have the highest ratios of water intake to streamflow (Table 3.57).

The Great Lakes - Ottawa - St. Lawrence drainage region also stands out with water intake of 30.6 billion m3, used mainly for industrial (89%) and municipal (10%) purposes. In contrast, 71% of total surface fresh water intake in the South Saskatchewan, Missouri and Assiniboine-Red drainage regions, 2.9 billion m3, was for agricultural use (Table 3.57).

In 2007, ammonia and nitrate made up 90% of the total tonnage of substances released into water (Table 3.58). Water contaminated with high levels of nitrate cannot be used as drinking water and ammonia is toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.


Canada is home to over 70,000 wild species including, but by no means limited to, birds, fishes, vascular plants, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, worms, mosses and mushrooms. These species, and other aspects of nature, are highly valued by Canadians. Despite the importance of wildlife to Canadians, our activities have significantly reduced certain wildlife populations. Hunting by early European settlers was unregulated and in some cases, excessive. Habitats have been disrupted and fragmented as land has been drained and cleared to make way for agriculture, forestry, urbanization, transportation corridors and industrial development. Habitats have also been polluted, creating conditions under which a number of species can no longer live or reproduce.

The first step in preventing the loss of species is to know which species we have, where they occur and how they are doing. The aim of the Wild Species series is to provide this overview. Wild Species 2005: The General Status of Species in Canada presents the results of general status assessments for 7,732 species. General status assessments integrate the best available information to create a snapshot of each species' status; their population size and distribution, the threats that each species faces in Canada, and any trends in these factors. The Canada ranks for these species are summarised in Table 3.59.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada. As of 2008, 36 animal and plant species in Canada were either extinct or extirpated, while 238 were considered to be endangered and another 146 were classified as threatened (Table 3.60).

The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) is a key tool for conserving and protecting Canada's biological diversity. Its purposes are to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity, and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. Once a species is added to Schedule 1 of SARA, it benefits from all the legal protection afforded, and the mandatory recovery planning required, under SARA. The legal protection of wildlife species in Canada under the Species at Risk Act is summarized in Table 3.61.

Table 3.62 lists extinct and extirpated species in Canada, including date of extinction or extirpation and the probable cause(s).

While many prefer to simply view wildlife in a natural setting, hunting remains a popular recreational activity. Some continue to hunt and trap for their livelihood. At the same time, farming of furbearing animals continues to contribute to the Canadian economy. Table 3.63 shows harvest estimates for selected waterfowl species including Canada Goose, American Black Ducks and Mallards. Tables 3.64 and 3.65 and Charts 3.11 and 3.12 show the number and value of wild and farmed pelts harvested.

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