Transportation in Canada 2020 - Overview Report


Minister's Message
Omar Alghabra
The Honourable Omar Alghabra

I am pleased to present Transportation in Canada 2020, which provides Canadians with an overview of their transportation system at work. In 2020, it was an unprecedented year.

Transport Canada’s primary focus throughout most of 2020 was protecting Canadians from COVID-19. The Government of Canada worked with provinces, territories, industry, and communities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the transportation sector and communities; and the situation was often evolving as we all learned more about the virus and its variants. All orders of government in Canada took decisive action to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Canada’s economic success and Canadians’ wellbeing depend on the fluidity of our supply chains. Canada’s supply chain workers deserve special recognition for their coordinated efforts to continue moving Canadian commodities to market throughout the pandemic, as well as shipping and delivering essential goods like food and medical supplies.

When the Public Health Agency of Canada advised Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada, we knew we were in unprecedented times. A robust layered system of measures was put in place to protect Canadians, including those working in transportation and in shipping, and those who must travel for essential purposes. Those measures were informed by the latest science and data, and the guidance of local public health agencies.

In the aviation sector, these measures included mandatory face coverings, health checks, temperature screening, and restrictions on international travel, such as limiting international passenger flights to certain Canadian airports. Measures were also put in place for passengers using other modes of transportation, such as ferries or intercity rail. Restrictions were imposed for marine pleasure craft and cruise ships.

Despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic, important progress was achieved on important Transport Canada priorities in 2020. This includes improving trade corridors, working toward zero-emission vehicles targets, and taking steps to modernize laws, regulations, and departmental operations. For example, some important changes were put in place for the rail sector, including Ministerial Orders to improve rail safety and reduce derailments in Canada, as well as updates to the Duty/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees, to better reflect the latest science on fatigue management, and to better protect Canadians working or living near railways. To strengthen our trade corridors, Transport Canada worked with proponents to ensure that transportation infrastructure projects supported by the National Trade Corridors Fund could continue to advance, despite the challenges of the global pandemic.

Ongoing implementation of the Oceans Protection Plan – the largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways while growing the economy – has made marine shipping safer, increased protection for our marine species and coastal ecosystems, and improved Canada’s ability to prevent and respond to marine incidents. This has been accomplished in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and coastal communities, the marine industry, and academia.

Transport Canada was also part of coordinated efforts to protect marine mammals – including North Atlantic right whales and Southern Resident killer whales – in what has become an impressive multijurisdictional annual initiative that requires a great deal of collaboration and cooperation.

The National Seafarers’ Welfare Board was established in 2020, as part of Canada’s commitment to the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labour Convention. It will act as a forum for coordinating seafarer welfare in Canada; promote maritime workers’ access to recreational, cultural and medical services, as well as shore-based welfare facilities; and advise the Government of Canada on policy and regulatory issues such as shore leave and crew changes.

Canadians felt a deep and tragic sense of loss after Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down in Iran. People travelling from one part of the world to another should have confidence that they will not be exposed to safety and security risks that conflicts pose to civilian flight operations. That is why Canada took a lead role with the Safer Skies Initiative, committing to working with international partners to improve the safety and security of air travel worldwide, addressing gaps in how the civil aviation sector deals with conflict zones.

Transport Canada remains dedicated to creating a smarter, environmentally friendly, safe, and secure transportation system. Modernization continued to be a key theme for Transport Canada in 2020, led by evidence-based decision making and using insights from behavioural science to inform policy and guidance for safety and security efforts.

Each year, Transport Canada reports on the key policies it has implemented, along with performance indicators and major developments that have shaped the transportation landscape. This annual report, Transportation in Canada 2020, is intended to provide greater transparency and accountability to transportation partners, stakeholders and Canadians. I hope this report will provide you with useful information on Canada’s transportation system and the work Transport Canada is doing to continue improving it.

The Honourable Omar Alghabra, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Transport

Transportation 2030

Transportation 2030 is the Government of Canada’s strategic plan for the future of transportation in Canada. Transport Canada continues to implement Transportation 2030, a strategic plan for a safe, secure, green, innovative and integrated transportation system that supports trade and economic growth, a cleaner environment and the well-being of Canadians.

Infographic - Transportation 2030
Image description - Transportation 2030 infographic

Transportation 2030 is based on 5 themes:

  • The traveller
  • Safer transportation
  • Green and innovative transportation
  • Waterways, coasts and the north
  • Trade corridors to global markets

Transport-related projects

This year, Transport Canada focused on a number of activities to support Transportation 2030.

The Oceans Protection Plan

$1.5 billion over 5 years to improve marine safety and responsible shipping, protect Canada’s marine environment, and creating stronger Indigenous partnerships and engage with coastal communities.

National Trade Corridors Fund

Investing $2.3 billion over 11 years (2017-18 to 2027-28) to strengthen Canada’s trade infrastructure (ports, waterways, airports, bridges, border crossings, and rail networks). Budget 2021 proposes an additional $1.9 billion over 4 years, starting in 2021-22, to recapitalize the fund.

Modernizing Canada’s transportation system

Developing strategies, regulations and pilot projects to safely use automated and connected vehicles and drones.

Canadian Centre on Transportation Data

Creating a single source for high-quality, timely and accessible transportation data and information. The Centre provides links to transportation data, information on how the transportation system is performing, and a map with links to information about Canada’s larger land border crossings, airports and ports. The Centre supports evidence-based decision-making by addressing transportation data gaps, strengthening partnerships, and increasing the transparency of strategic transportation information.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

Developing measures like the federal carbon pricing benchmark and clean fuel standard, and conducting research and testing on clean transportation technologies for all modes of transportation. Implementing Transport Canada’s transportation adaptation initiatives: the Northern Transportation Adaptation Initiative and the Transportation Assets Risk Assessment initiative.

Government of Canada actions

In 2020, Transport Canada continued to implement major key initiatives. This included measures under the national Oceans Protection Plan to protect Canada’s coasts for future generations, and the National Trade Corridors Fund, aimed at strengthening and increasing the efficiency of transportation corridors within Canada and to international markets. In 2020, under the National Trade Corridors Fund, Transport Canada committed nearly all of the fund’s initial $1.9 billion allocation to 89 transportation infrastructure projects across the country, leveraging more than $3.9 billion in total investments by all public and private sector partners. To date, strategic investments have been made to improve the fluidity of goods movements in all 4 regional transportation systems.

Efforts to increase the safety and security of the transportation system are of utmost importance. In August 2019, amendments the Navigation Protection Act, which restored lost protections for navigable waters and incorporated modern safeguards came into force. In the air sector, Transport Canada has continued their independent review of the Boeing 737 MAX accidents, while working extensively with the US, domestic, and international partners on implementing additional safety measures. Regarding rail safety, the Minister of Transport announced the publication of the final Locomotive Voice and Video Recorder Regulations that specify the technical requirements for rail companies to install these devices on board their locomotives.

The Government of Canada remained committed to addressing the environmental impacts of transportation. Canada continues to support the mandate of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), and throughout 2020 worked on newly proposed, broader regulations that embed the carbon offsetting obligations of CORSIA into Canadian law. In addition, the Government of Canada continued to take action to accelerate zero-emission vehicle adoption and make progress towards the federal zero-emission vehicles targets of 10% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.

Transportation volumes and performance

2020 brought unprecedented challenges to the transportation system including rail blockades, a pandemic, and a labour dispute at one of Canada’s major ports. Despite these challenges, the system was resilient and was able to swiftly recover and adjust to spike in demand as well as new safety protocols and operational procedures. By the end of the year, freight volume was back to 2019 levels in some regions of the country and for some modes.

Rail traffic decreased 4% from 2019, but recovered lost volumes over the summer and the fall allowing for a partial recovery. Petroleum and motor vehicle products declined considerably, while coal shipments dropped due to the pandemic and long term trends of phasing out coal fired power plants. Despite the global pandemic, total container traffic handled at West coast ports remained steady compared to 2019.

The Port of Vancouver recorded an increase in total container volumes (+2.0%), while volumes at the Port of Prince Rupert increased by 9%. Truck border crossings between Canada and the US decreased compared to the previous year by more than 7%. Air cargo traffic at major airports saw an overall decline, however, the import of pharmaceuticals and textiles saw large increases.

In 2020, all modes of passenger transportation faced challenges leading to reductions of passenger flows. The pandemic, and subsequent restrictions placed to limit its spread, have altered travel patterns. Air transportation was the most impacted sector, along with the cruise industry which suffered from a ban in 2020.

Environment, safety and security

From 2005 to 2018, greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector increased by 16% to 186 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Emissions from road transportation, which represents 84% of total transportation sector emissions, and 21% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions, have increased by 19% from over this same period, largely due to an increase in the number of vehicles on the road, a shift towards personal light trucks and greater reliance on medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

However, there have been some notable improvements in the sector. For instance, the emissions intensity of Canadian air carriers has decreased by 18% between 2008 and 2018. Moreover, the rail sector’s growth in emissions was contained to 3% while their freight traffic increased by 19% over the 2011-2017 period.

The Government of Canada released its Strengthened Climate Plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, in December 2020. This plan announced a number of concrete actions and commitments the Government will pursue in order to meet and exceed its 2030 Paris Agreement emissions reduction target and move to a prosperous net-zero emissions future by 2050. In addition to broader regulatory measures such as carbon pollution pricing and new clean fuel regulations, which will encourage low carbon choices throughout the economy, the plan includes a suite of new commitments to reduce emissions from the transportation sector and accelerate new clean transportation technology deployment across all modes.   

Canada continues to have one of the safest and most secure transportation systems in the world. Road casualty collisions decreased steadily over the last ten years to another low in 2018, even as more vehicles were on the road. In marine transportation, the number of accidents involving at least 1 Canadian-registered vessel was significantly lower than the ten-year average, similarly, the number of aviation accidents was down 28% from the ten-year average. The number of railway accidents was down 23.2% from 2019.

Purpose of this Report

Transportation is a major contributor to the economy and plays an important role in the wellness of Canadians. It is key to supporting the activity and the economic development of many industries such as the manufacturing and tourism sectors. Transportation not only enables the movement of finished Canadian goods to domestic and international markets, it also allows the movement of inputs needed for Canadian businesses to produce. Likewise, transportation facilitates the movement of people within and between different communities, major urban centres, provinces and countries, by overcoming distances and geographical barriers.

However, considering that Canada is characterized by a vast and sparsely populated territory, with extreme weather conditions, ensuring the safe, secure and efficient movement of goods and passenger in Canada can represent a challenge. In this context, Transport Canada plays a central role in monitoring and reporting on the state of the Canadian transportation system by sharing data and information with the public through its main vehicle, the annual Transportation in Canada report.

As mandated by the Canada Transportation Act of 2007, subsection 52, each year the Minister of Transport must table in both Houses of Parliament an overview of the state of transportation in Canada. This report, submitted by the Minister under the Act, provides an overview of transportation in Canada based on the most current information for all modes of transportation at the time of publication.

The report highlights the role of transportation in the economy and offers an overview of the national and regional transportation networks in terms of infrastructure. It describes major industry and policy developments in the transportation sector during 2020 from an efficiency, safety and security, and environmental perspectives. The report also presents an overall assessment of the Canadian transportation system’s performance in 2020, looking at the use and capacity of the system. It concludes with an outlook on expected trends in the transportation sector.

A statistical addendum to this report is also available. It has information on freight and passenger traffic for each mode, as well as infrastructure statistics. The transportation and economy section shows economic indicators, statistics on labour in the transportation industry, price and productivity indicators, and data on freight trade by mode and country. It also details reported accidents and greenhouse gas emissions.

More data and analysis are also available online through the Canadian Centre on Transportation Data and its Transportation Data and Information Hub .