In­flux and in­te­gra­tion key

Canada’s pop­u­la­tion growth trends di­vided be­tween east and west

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Chan­tal Hébert Chan­tal He­bert is a colum­nist with Torstar Me­dia Ser­vices.

The pop­u­la­tion of ev­ery prov­ince west of On­tario is grow­ing at a faster rate than the na­tional aver­age. The re­verse is true of the five prov­inces east of On­tario. In the case of At­lantic Canada, the de­mo­graphic short­fall is acute. New Brunswick’s pop­u­la­tion shrank be­tween 2011 and 2016 and the pop­u­la­tion of Nova Sco­tia’s in­creased by a mere frac­tion of a per­cent­age point.

The re­gion is in the eye of a per­fect storm. Its pop­u­la­tion is aging; it is los­ing peo­ple to more pros­per­ous prov­inces; it does not at­tract nearly enough im­mi­grants to make up the dif­fer­ence. This is not a trend that will be re­versed overnight, if ever. It is not hap­pen­ing in iso­la­tion from the coun­try’s fed­eral dy­nam­ics.

For the first time this year, the tra­di­tion of giv­ing one of the nine seats on the Supreme Court to a judge from At­lantic Canada was called into ques­tion. It will not be the last time. The re­gion is down to less than 10 per cent of the seats in the House of Com­mons. That pro­por­tion will con­tinue to di­min­ish as new seats are added to re­flect de­mo­graphic growth else­where in the coun­try.

Go­ing for­ward there might be a temp­ta­tion to fight At­lantic Canada’s bat­tles in the Se­nate, the house of Par­lia­ment where its weight is ar­ti­fi­cially main­tained. With less than seven per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, the re­gion is guar­an­teed 24 seats in the up­per house.

Ditto for the West, whose four prov­inces are now home to one in three Cana­di­ans. A makeup that so dis­torts the de­mo­graph­ics of mod­ern Canada does lit­tle to en­hance the moral le­git­i­macy of the un­elected Se­nate to act as a cham­ber of sober sec­ond thought.

That is not the only po­lit­i­cally re­lated take­away from the 2016 cen­sus num­bers re­leased on Wed­nes­day.

Over the past five years, im­mi­gra­tion has ac­counted for two thirds of Canada’s pop­u­la­tion growth. Based on cur­rent trends, it will ac­count for 80 per cent in less than 20 years. It will be hard for a po­lit­i­cal party to win gov­ern­ment with­out poli­cies and a lineup that re­flect the coun­try’s diver­sity.

Flirt­ing with anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment may be a win­ning for­mula within par­ties whose mem­ber­ship is rem­i­nis­cent of a less di­verse fed­er­a­tion but it stands to be a recipe for dis­as­ter in 21st-cen­tury Canada. There is no turn­ing back the clock on the coun­try’s diver­sity.

That is par­tic­u­larly, if not ex­clu­sively, true for Que­bec’s na­tion­al­ist op­po­si­tion par­ties. The fail­ure to make in­roads in the al­lo­phone com­mu­ni­ties that ac­count for most of the prov­ince’s de­mo­graphic growth could give the Lib­eral party a quasi-per­ma­nent lease on power. That fail­ure – com­pounded by a decade of tone-deaf pol­i­tics on the is­sue of re­li­gious ac­com­mo­da­tion – dooms any hope the Parti Que­be­cois might have of hold­ing a win­ning ref­er­en­dum on Que­bec in­de­pen­dence.

As long as the al­lo­phone vote was con­cen­trated on the is­land of Mon­treal, a Que­bec party could re­al­is­ti­cally hope to win an elec­tion with­out reach­ing out to newer Que­be­cers. But now the mix of sub­ur­ban Que­bec, which holds the key to elec­toral suc­cess, is chang­ing.

Que­bec’s pop­u­la­tion has grown at a slower rate than the Cana­dian aver­age for four decades. At three per cent, it is still at a rel­a­tively healthy level. Que­bec is home to al­most twice as many peo­ple as Bri­tish Columbia. It is not about to lose its place as Canada’s sec­ond­most-pop­u­lous prov­ince. Nor, for that mat­ter, is On­tario’s de­mo­graphic edge on its sis­ter prov­inces about to dis­ap­pear. Cen­tral Canada will con­tinue to be the fed­er­a­tion’s po­lit­i­cal pow­er­house.

That be­ing said, only a steady in­flux of im­mi­grants stands be­tween Que­bec and the ane­mic de­mo­graphic growth of the At­lantic re­gion. The prov­ince’s fu­ture as a French-speak­ing so­ci­ety rests on its suc­cess at keep­ing and in­te­grat­ing those im­mi­grants into its main­stream.

Que­bec’s col­lec­tive pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with en­sur­ing that French en­dures and thrives on the North Amer­i­can land­scape will con­tinue to dis­tin­guish the prov­ince’s pol­i­tics from those in the rest of the coun­try.

But on just about ev­ery­thing else the is­sues that mat­ter to an in­creas­ingly ur­ban, in­creas­ingly di­verse Que­bec are more sim­i­lar to those that pre­oc­cupy the ma­jor­ity of vot­ers in On­tario and in west­ern Canada than at any other time in the fed­er­a­tion’s mod­ern his­tory.

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