Environment in Canada Essay

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Canada is the world’s second-largest country with a population of 33 million (July 2006 estimate). On July 1, 1867, the Constitution Act created the Canadian federation, which originally consisted of four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Canada today is a parliamentary democracy with elected legislatures at the federal, provincial, and territorial level. The federal government is made up of an executive branch, consisting of the governor general, prime minister and cabinet.

Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories, each with its own legislature and administration. The central government maintains jurisdiction over such areas as national defense, banking, navigation, fisheries, commerce, indigenous peoples’ affairs, and international relations. The provinces have jurisdiction over social services such as education and health, land and natural resources, and the regulation of economic activity. Both levels of government have extensive taxation powers. Each territory has legislative powers similar to those of the provinces, although the federal government retains controls over most of the territories’ land and natural resources.

Canada’s economy is dominated by the services sector (68.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP), followed by industry (29.1 percent) and agriculture (2.2 percent). Its key industries reflect the country’s rich natural resource base and include transportation equipment, chemicals, processed and unprocessed minerals, food products, wood and paper products, fish products, and petroleum and natural gas. Canada’s GDP reached U.S. $934 billion in 2002, positioning it as the world’s 12th largest economy. Canada’s GDP per capita of $29,300 is the 9th highest in the world, and its GDP growth rate of 3.3 percent compares well to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Canada’s labor force comprises 16.3 million people (49 percent of the total population) and is distributed among occupations in the services (75 percent), manufacturing (14 percent), construction (5 percent), agriculture (2 percent), and other sectors (3 percent). Canada is highly integrated into the global economy through trade, with 33.6 percent of its GDP dedicated to exports. Despite Canada’s strong ties to both Britain and France, Canadian culture and its economy are heavily influenced by the United States, the destination for over 85 percent of Canada’s exports and with trade arrangements that include the 1989 United States-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Canada’s human development index (HDI), which is a comparative, worldwide measure of poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, childbirth, and other factors, is 0.949. While this gives Canada the 5th highest HDI in the world, its world ranking has slipped relative to other countries over the past decade. High cultural diversity is evidenced by the 71.1 percent of its population in 2001with ethnic origins other than English, French, or Canadian. Although its rural population is declining, Canada’s total rural population was 20.6 percent in 2001. Those residing in rural and small town regions are greatest in the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Canada compares favorably to other countries with respect to violent crime, as evidenced by its relatively low homicide rate of 1.6 per 100,000 (vs. 9.9 in the United States and 17.2 in Mexico).

With a geographical space of over 2.1 million square kilometers, Canada accounts for a relatively large share of the planet’s natural resources, including about 10 percent of the world’s forests and renewable fresh water supply. Most of the forestland is owned and managed by the provincial and federal governments (about 71 percent and 23 percent, respectively). While the limits to resource availability have generally not been reached (key exceptions include the Atlantic cod fisheries which collapsed in the early 1990s), resource sustainability remains a serious concern in the long run. Its proximity to the United States also means that both countries must work collaboratively in addressing cross-border environmental issues, such as air and water pollution, and the management of shared wildlife species.

Canada has made significant progress toward achieving its environmental domestic objectives and international commitments since 1995. For example, Canada is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. As an Annex I country, Canada has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The Canadian government plans to spend over CA $6 billion to meet the Kyoto requirements, chiefly by purchasing over CA $1 billion worth of emissions credits, greater investment in green technologies, and tax credits for industrial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

On the other side, Canada faces some significant environmental challenges. Industrial emissions to air, water, and land represent significant sources of pollution in spite of pollution control advances. Canada is the worst among OECD countries for scaling back on emissions of carbon dioxide, a contributor to global climate change. Over the period from 1990 to 2000, Canada’s carbon emissions for each citizen rose by 10.1 percent, more than double the OECD average of 4.8 percent. Expanding urban environments and industrial development are encroaching on wildlands and contributing to increases in energy use and air and water pollution. Urban and agricultural runoff also threatens water quality in several areas. Three provincial capitals Victoria, Halifax, and St. John’s continue to pump raw sewage directly into the ocean. Currently 487 plant and animal species are classified as being at risk in Canada.

Canada also has the third-largest ecological footprint per person in the world after the United Arab Emirates and the United States. If everyone in the world consumed at Canada’s rate, it would take four more earths to support humanity. It takes 7.25 hectares of land and sea to support each Canadian. Municipal footprints range from as low as 6.87 hectares/person in Greater Sudbury to a high of 9.86 for Calgary. In addition, Canada has the second-highest rate of energy consumption per person in the world, behind only the United States.

While many of its environment challenges need to be seriously addressed, Canada is still considered a world leader in many ways-for example, in global security, social service programs, and human rights.


  1. Thomas I. Gunton, The Maple Leaf in the OECD: Comparing Progress toward Sustainability (David Suzuki Foundation, 2005);
  2. Dianne Kinnon, Improving Population Health, Health Promotion, Disease Prevention, and Health Protection Services for Aboriginal People, National Aboriginal Health Organization, (National Aboriginal Health Organization, 2002);
  3. Marianne Sorensen and Jennifer de Peuter, Rural Alberta Profile: A Ten-Year Census Analysis (1991-2001) (Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2005);
  4. Stratos , Canada Case Study: Analysis of National Strategies for Sustainable Development (June 2004);
  5. Ann Vourc’h, OECD, Encouraging Environmentally Sustainable Growth in Canada: Economics Department Working Papers No. 290, ECO/WKP (v.16, 2001);
  6. Jeffrey Wilson and Mark Anielski, Ecological Footprints of Canadian Municipalities and Regions (Canadian Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2005).

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