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

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived information

Archived information is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact-us" to request a format other than those available.

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 1957, when the annual growth rate was 3.3%, growth rates have been decreasing, fluctuating between 1% 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 2006-2007, international migration accounted for 65% 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 major river basin. Table group 3.6 presents population by sub-drainage area. 1 


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 31% of GDP in 2007 and 24% of employment. Service-producing industries–from wholesale and retail trade to health care–made up the remaining 69% of GDP and 76% of employment (Tables 3.7 and 3.8).

Table 3.9 outlines the changes in the composition of exports and imports from 1972 to 2007. Over the period, agricultural and fishing products' share of total exports decreased from 12.6% to 7.4% and forestry products' share fell from 17.1% to 6.2%. With Canada becoming an important energy producer, energy exports took up the slack. Exports of energy products moved from 8.2% to 19.7% of total exports from 1972 to 2007. At the same time, the share of energy imports grew from 5.7% to 8.8%.


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 2004, 452.3 million tonnes of goods were moved by water compared to 374.1 million tonnes by rail, 306.1 million tonnes by truck, and 694.5 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 2.0 trillion tonne-kilometres in 2004, compared to 344 billion for rail, 193 billion for trucking and 2 billion for air.

Chart 3.1 Railroad freight shipped 1907 to 2001
Source(s):  Historical Statistics of Canada, M.C. Urquhart, Catalogue no. HA746 U7, Toronto; 1965, Historical Statistics of Canada, 1983, Second Edition, F.H. Leacy, Catalogue no. 11-516-X; Canada Year Book, Catalogue nos. CS11-202/1978, CS11-402E/1981, CS11-402E/1985, CS11-402E/1988 and CS11-402E/1990 and CANSIM tables 051-0001, 075-0001 and 404-0016.

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 61% from 1989 to 2004, while tonne-kilometres grew by 150% (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 2006, 51.9 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 121 billion in 2006. Trains carried 4.2 million passengers in 2006, while passenger-kilometers reached almost 1.5 billion (Table 3.11). In 2004, 38.7 million passengers were transported by ferry, 10% below a high of 43.2 million reached in 1994 (Table 3.10).

The number of road motor vehicle registrations increased by 14% between 2000 and 2007, reaching over 20 million vehicles. Since 2000, the number of vehicles weighing less than 4,500 kg has increased by 2.1 million to 19.2 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 Montreal, Ottawa-Hull and Toronto; more than 10% of people get to work by walking in Halifax, Kingston and Victoria; and 4.8% of workers bicycle to work in Victoria, more than any other census metropolitan area (CMA) (Table 3.16).

The majority (69%) of petroleum products used for transportation in 2006 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 59 thousand vehicles were in use by passenger bus and urban transit industries in 2005, 59% of which were used to transport students to school and employees to work. Urban transit vehicles made up a further 27%. 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 and 51% of gasoline (Table 3.18).

Chart 3.2 Road motor vehicles
Note(s):  In 1999, Statistics Canada changed the data collection methodology for road motor vehicles. Some of the difference in the vehicle trend may be attributable to this methodological change.
Source(s):  Canadian Political Science Association and Social Science Research Council of Canada, 1965, Historical Statistics of Canada, M.C. Urquhart, Catalogue no. HA746 U7, Toronto; 1983, Historical Statistics of Canada, Second Edition, F.H. Leacy (ed.), Catalogue no. 11-516-X; CANSIM tables 405-0001, 405-0004 and 051-0001.

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.


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 3.19). Chart 3.3 illustrates that while the total area of agricultural land remained stable at 68 million hectares, the area of cropland 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.

Chart 3.3 Number of farms, agricultural land and cropland1
The definition of a census farm changed over the years, affecting the comparability of data among censuses.
Data for 1901 and 1911 includes all improved land.
Source(s):  Statistics Canada, Selected Historical Data from the Census of Agriculture, Catalogue no. 95-632-X, table 1.1 and 1961 Census of Canada, Agriculture, Bulletin 5.1 – 1, Catalogue no.  96-530-X (Vol: V – Part:1).
Chart 3.4 Selected field crop production (five-year averages)
Data from 1908 to 2005 are used to create the five-year averages.
Source(s):  CANSIM table 001-0010.
Chart 3.5 Production of major small grains (five-year averages)
Data from 1908 to 2005 are used to create the five-year averages.
Source(s):  CANSIM table 001-0010.
Chart 3.6 Selected livestock populations
Source(s):  CANSIM tables 003-0032, 003-0031 and 003-0004.


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 2007 (Table 3.20) and they employed nearly forty-nine thousand people, 0.29% of total employment in Canada in 2007 (Table 3.21).

Exports and imports of fish and fish products are presented in Table 3.22. Canada continues to be a net exporter of these products, with exports of $4.5 billion and imports of $1.8 billion in 2006.

After a steady decline throughout the early 1990s, the total catch of fish and shellfish has remained relatively stable, with slightly over 1.0 million tonnes, worth almost $1.9 billion, caught in 2006 (Table 3.23). Aquaculture production increased to almost 171 thousand tonnes in 2006, worth almost $903 million, a 28% increase in value from the previous year (Table 3.24).


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 3.25). British Columbia continued to dominate the forest industry in 2005, harvesting 46% of the total volume of wood cut. Quebec, Alberta and Ontario harvested an additional 47% of the total. (Table 3.26).

Gross domestic product (GDP) for the forest products industries fell to $21.1 billion dollars or 1.7% of total GDP in 2007 (Table 3.27).

Dampened by the lingering impact of the softwood lumber dispute with the United States and further impacted by the recent rapid appreciation of the Canadian dollar, employment in the forest products industries declined for a seventh consecutive year in 2007, falling to 178 thousand (Table 3.28).

Forest products exports made continuous gains from 1987 to 2000, but have since trended downward, reaching a level of $34 billion in 2006. As a share of total exports, forest products declined from 16.7% in 1987 to 7.7% in 2006 (Table 3.29).


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 2007, mining and oil and gas extraction industries contributed 4.8% to GDP while petroleum and coal products and selected primary mineral manufacturing contributed another 1.0% (Tables 3.30 and 3.32).

In 2006, total employment in the mining and oil and gas extraction industries reached 182,564 (Table 3.31). Since 1992, Alberta's share of total employment in the mining and oil and gas extraction industries has risen from 43% to 59%.

In 2006, crude petroleum production in Canada reached over $54 billion. In the same year, nearly $55 billion worth of natural gas was extracted, with the majority coming from the western provinces. Metal production totalled $21.2 billion (Table 3.33). Tables 3.34 and 3.35 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. Growing an average of 1% per year during the previous two decades, energy consumption in Canada reached 344 gigajoules per person by 2006. By contrast, energy consumption per dollar of inflation-adjusted (real) gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen since the 1974 oil crisis (Table 3.36).

Since 1980, primary energy production has more than doubled to 16.8 million TJ in 2006, driven by increases in the production of natural gas and crude oil (Table 3.37). Energy products have become an increasingly large component of Canadian exports. By 2004, energy exports rose to 8,814 PJ, up from 2,068 PJ in 1980 (Chart 3.8). Meanwhile, record-high crude oil prices provide further incentive for energy producers to ramp up production (Chart 3.7).

Chart 3.7 Crude oil prices, 1974 to 2005
Chart 3.8 Primary energy production, exports and imports
Source(s):  CANSIM tables 128-0002 and 128-0009.

Table 3.38 outlines Canadian energy resource reserves of coal, crude oil, crude bitumen, natural gas and uranium. Established crude oil reserves declined by 30% from 1976 to 2006. As a result of the decline, the reserve life of crude oil fell from about 14 years in 1976 to 9 years in 2006. In contrast, established reserves of crude bitumen increased twenty-two fold from 1976 to 2006.

In 2005, 604.5 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 Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Ontario. Alberta and Ontario were the leading generators of thermal-electric energy, while Ontario generated 90% of Canada's nuclear power. Most wind energy was generated in Pincher Creek, Alberta and in the Gaspé region of Quebec (Table 3.39).

Hydro-electric facilities generated 364,504 GWh of electricity in 2007, accounting for 60% of total electric power generation in Canada (Table 3.40). Coal, the predominant source of fuel for thermal-electric power production in Canada (Table 3.41), accounted for 68% of electricity generated at thermal-electric power stations in 2005 (Table 3.42). Across Canada, the efficiency of thermal electric power plants ranged from 24% to 36%, depending on the type of fuel consumed (Table 3.43).


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 2005, criteria air contaminants including sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter made up nearly 94% of pollutants released by industrial facilities to air (Table 3.44).

Table 3.45 breaks down criteria air contaminant emissions for 2005, 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 3.46 compares emissions of common GHGs: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by source for 1990 and 2005. Greenhouse gas emissions reached 747 megatonnes in 2005, 25% 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, pulp & paper and construction industries.


Canada is the second largest country in the world, with over 9.9 million square kilometres of land. 2  This land supports many uses, from agriculture and forestry to urban development, parks and recreation.

Table 3.48 presents the area of forest harvested by province and territory from 1975 to 2006, while Table 3.49 shows the area of timber-productive forest land burned from 1980 to 2006.

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 3.50). Livestock produced an estimated 178 million tonnes of manure in 2001 (Table 3.51).

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 2005, hydrogen sulphide made up more than 83% of the tonnage of substances released to land (Table 3.52).

Chart 3.9 Area of farmland treated with herbicides by province
Note(s):  As in previous censuses, the area of land on which herbicides, insecticides and fungicides were applied is under-reported. However, the data are comparable with previous censuses.
Source(s):  Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, special tabulation, unpublished data and 2006 Census of Agriculture, Selected Historical Data from the Census of Agriculture Catalogue no. 95-632-X.
Chart 3.10 Area of farmland treated with insecticides by province
Note(s):  For 1970, fungicides were also included. As in previous censuses, the area of land on which herbicides, insecticides and fungicides were applied is under-reported. However, the data are comparable with previous censuses.
Source(s):  Statistics Canada, Census of Agriculture, special tabulation, unpublished data and 2006 Census of Agriculture, Selected Historical Data from the Census of Agriculture Catalogue no. 95-632-X.


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. 3  Used for power generation, transportation, recreation, irrigation, manufacturing, agriculture and drinking water, Canadian water use per capita is the second highest in the world. 4  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 areas. Although responsible for only 14% of total water intake, the South Saskatchewan, Missouri and Assiniboine-Red and the North Saskatchewan river basins have the highest ratios of water intake to streamflow (Table 3.53).

Map 3.1 Water use and availability by major river basin

The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence river basin 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 river basin, 2.9 billion m3, was for agricultural use (Table 3.53).

In 2005, ammonia and nitrate made up 90% of the total tonnage of substances released—to by into water (Table 3.54). Water contaminated with high levels of nitrate cannot be used as drinking water and ammonia is toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.


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.

As of 2007, 35 animal and plant species in Canada were either extinct or extirpated, while 225 were considered to be endangered and another 141 were classified as threatened (Table 3.56). Table 3.55 lists extinct and extirpated species in Canada, including date of extinction/extirpation and probable cause(s).

Human activity has affected the structure and function of many ecosystems through the introduction of invasive species. Invasive species include animals, microbes and plants that enter new areas when humans carry them across natural barriers, such as bodies of water that normally limit their dispersal. Invasive species can displace native species or alter native habitats in a significant fashion as they become established in an ecosystem.

Invasive species in Canada considered to be of highest threat to our ecosystems are presented in Table 3.57. Information on the origin of these species, their invasive range in Canada and major impacts on ecosystems as well as background on when and how they were introduced is also included.

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 3.58 shows harvest estimates for selected waterfowl species including Canada geese, American black ducks and mallards. Tables 3.59 and 3.60 and Charts 3.11 and 3.12 show the number and value of wild and farmed pelts harvested.

Chart 3.11 Number of pelts harvested
Source(s):  CANSIM table 003-0013.
Chart 3.12 Value of pelts harvested
Source(s):  CANSIM table 003-0013.


Report a problem on this page

Is something not working? Is there information outdated? Can't find what you're looking for?

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you.

Privacy notice

Date modified: