A hun­dred mil­lion Cana­di­ans by 2100?

The Amherst News - - OPINION - Alan Wal­ter 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 alan­wal­ter@east­link.ca.

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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 award­win­ning 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 em­ploy­men­tre­lated 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.

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