In a new book, titled ‘Maximum Canada’, author Doug Saunders accounts for how a ‘population deficit’ threatens Canada’s social programs, cities, and environment. Saunders argues that a goal of 100 million Canadians may be worth striving for, but we must start planning now to get it right. This goal is shared by the Century Initiative, a group of prominent Canadians focused on responsibly and thoughtfully growing the population of Canada to 100 million by 2100.
Though Saunders is unlikely to appear on any five-dollar bills anytime soon, his vision echoes that of Wilfried Laurier, who served as Prime Minister between 1896 and 1911. Laurier had a vision for Canada’s place in the twentieth century: grow the country. It was Laurier — who Justin Trudeau quotes frequently, even during his victory speech in 2015 — who governed Canada during a period of rapid growth, industrialization and immigration, unsurpassed to this day.
In 1902, Laurier told an audience that, “We are a nation of six million people already; we expect soon to be 25, yes, 40 millions. There are men in this audience who, before they die, if they live to old age, will see this country with at least 60 millions of people.”
Regrettably, two World Wars, a decline in fertility rates, and a series of more nativist governments means that 115 years later Canada’s population is not much more than half of what Laurier projected it might be by the middle of the twentieth century, leaving the country dependent on international markets.
When the United States sneezes, Canada catches a cold. For better or worse, we are currently dependent on our superpower neighbour, which receives more than three-quarters of our total exports.
Now, I am not suggesting that Canada adopts a protectionist economic outlook. Like a company that builds in redundancy by not placing the potential for the success of the whole enterprise on the shoulders of one employee, Canada cannot rely on one export market for its own economic viability — especially when that market is governed as it is today. Rather, Canada needs to build economies of scale within its own borders in order to reduce its dependence on other nations’ economies and needs.
This is especially the case when one looks at the impending impact of economic and fiscal challenges that face Canada as the baby boomers march into retirement. A new study from the Conference Board of Canada — well researched and presented, as always — looks at the medium- and long-term effects of varying levels of immigration. Although the Conference Board does not advocate for one model over any other (that is not it’s role), the report surmises that 450,000 immigrants per year could boost Canada’s economy if newcomers have better job outcomes. The point is that the numbers are one thing, integration is quite another; and for that to succeed, the country needs the public and private sectors to get on board with making newcomers’ lives easier, for example by recognizing international credentials, or at least allowing quicker access to the skilled labour market through training and up-skilling schemes.
Like Australia, Canada’s economic success is driven by a couple of factors. In addition to having an educated, hard-working population and strong institutions, both countries also benefit from being rich in resources and located in regions of the world that are, relatively speaking, not threatened from an international security standpoint. But it is imperative for Canada not to rely on good fortune forever.