Strong economic arguments are being made in government and academic circles to triple Canada’s population from its current 34 million to 100 million by the year 2100. This kind of growth is seen as essential to avert a “crisis of under-population” that some say threatens our future economic health.
In his new book “Maximum Canada”, Doug Saunders, the award-winning writer for the Globe and Mail, describes how our population deficit also threatens Canada's social programs, the maintenance of liveable cities, and a cleaner environment.
He argues that while our existing population is world-class, in terms of skills and education, there are limits to what can be accomplished given Canada's low population density, and its small markets spread across five time-zones, two official languages and 13 political jurisdictions.
The key thought is that if Canada were to pursue a more aggressive growth strategy through modest increases in immigration targets, and incentives to produce larger families, projected economic growth would over time rise to 2.6 per cent annually, compared to our currently projected 1.5 per cent. And, because of a larger and younger population, government expenditures on health care, pensions and other social obligations, would proportionally drop dramatically, while employment-related tax revenues would rebound during the crunch years of the 2030s and 2040s.
As it stands, because of our abundance of land, we have inherited cities that sprawl rather than efficiently concentrate wealth-generating activities; begging the question as to whether we currently have the right people, in the right numbers, concentrated closely enough together in the right places, to do the things that we need to have done?
By way of example of concentration on a smaller scale, the deliberate and successful bringing together of creative talent, in the village of Parrsboro and the adjacent communities along the Fundy shore, have created the beginnings of a critical mass of artistic and cultural experiences that in time will sustain a growing and lucrative tourism industry.
So, Saunders is arguing that simply increasing population alone will not do the job. Just like our Parrsboro example, he says we need to facilitate, on a city-sized scale, the creation of tightly connected clusters of expertise – groups of skilled and educated people who live and work closely together in related fields, sharing knowledge, opportunities, and funding, in order to create new wealth-generating products and services.
It is hard to picture such centres of activity emerging in the excessively large suburban dormitories of GTA’s Mississauga and Montreal’s West Island.
As for the impact of population growth and concentration in larger centres on climate change, research has found that the largest cities in North America have the lowest per capita carbon-dioxide emissions. This is a by-product of energy-efficient public versus private transportation over shorter distances, and simple walking instead of driving.
As for the challenge of tripling our population by 2100, we did achieve that feat over a similar period from World War II to 2015, albeit fuelled by the post-war “baby boom”, and aggressive immigration programs that brought fortunate people like myself to this country.
Looking ahead, to reach the 100 million population target through immigration alone, a modest increase in the annual immigration rate, from the current 0.8 per cent of our population to 1.2 per cent, would get us there.
We also know that readily available and affordable child-care programs measurably increase the fertility rate, and thus the population. In 1997, Quebec introduced a low-cost universal childcare program that offered spaces for preschoolers at five dollars, now seven dollars a day.
By 2011, the program was serving almost half the province's preschoolers, and allowing 70,000 additional women to enter or return to the work force. And the program paid for itself. The additional income-tax revenues from women entering the labour force exceeded the total cost of the program.
So much for the Doug Saunders treatise. What has all this got to do with our part of the world? I will offer up some thoughts in my next article.
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org