The Georgia Straight - - Fall Books - > CHAR­LIE SMITH

Au­thor and jour­nal­ist Doug Saun­ders likes bringing forth big ideas backed up by data and schol­arly re­search. This was ap­par­ent in his first two ti­tles, Ar­rival City: The Fi­nal Mi­gra­tion and Our Next World and The Myth of the Mus­lim Tide. And there are plenty of big ideas in his third and per­haps most am­bi­tious book, Maximum Canada: Why 35 Mil­lion Cana­di­ans Are Not Enough, which makes the case that the coun­try’s small pop­u­la­tion didn’t hap­pen by ac­ci­dent.

In Maximum Canada Saun­ders posits that from the War of 1812 to the end of the Sec­ond World War, there was a “min­i­miz­ing im­pulse” ad­vanced by the coun­try’s lead­ers to en­sure that Canada re­mained largely ru­ral, agri­cul­tural, and fo­cused on pro­vid­ing re­sources to Great Bri­tain, even if the mother coun­try didn’t re­ally want or need them. Ac­cord­ing to Saun­ders, this came at a tremen­dous eco­nomic, so­cial, and cul­tural cost.

“The im­mi­gra­tion agents em­ployed un­der Mac­don­ald, un­der Lau­rier, un­der Bor­den, un­der Macken­zie King were all in­structed that if peo­ple were ur­ban or they had ed­u­ca­tions or they had trades or they had am­bi­tions to start busi­nesses, they should be re­jected,” Saun­ders says on the line from Toronto. “They should be en­cour­aged to go to the United States in­stead. We only wanted farmers.”

It turned out that many of those “farmers” ended up mov­ing to the city and start­ing busi­nesses. And that re­sulted in Canada hav­ing an ur­ban, in­dus­trial econ­omy by the first decade of the 20th cen­tury. But ac­cord­ing to Saun­ders, the coun­try pre­tended that this wasn’t the case un­til the 1950s, main­tain­ing the myth of Canada as a largely agrar­ian and nat­u­ral-re­sources-ori­ented na­tion. And be­cause of high tar­iffs on goods im­ported from the United States in the 19th and 20th cen­turies, it was more ex­pen­sive to start busi­nesses in Canada than south of the bor­der.

“Our pol­icy dis­cour­aged peo­ple from going into busi­ness and em­ploy­ing peo­ple,” Saun­ders states. “There were very few mar­kets for the stuff you pro­duced be­cause of that.”

This led the more en­trepreneuri­ally minded to move south. He writes that be­tween 1851 and 1941, there were 6.7 mil­lion im­mi­grants who moved to Canada. But over the same pe­riod, al­most 6.3 mil­lion em­i­grated. This meant an an­nual net pop­u­la­tion in­take of just 4,400 per year. As a re­sult, Canada’s pop­u­la­tion was just 12 mil­lion by the end of the Sec­ond World War, com­pared to 140 mil­lion in the United States.

Even when there were Cana­dian im­mi­gra­tion drives, such as in the 1870s and 1920s, they “mostly failed”, Saun­ders says, be­cause the num­ber of peo­ple who left the coun­try on an an­nual ba­sis of­ten ex­ceeded the num­ber of ar­rivals. The only ex­cep­tion was in the pe­riod lead­ing up to the First World War, when im­mi­gra­tion peaked at over 400,000 in 1912. “The first half of Maximum Canada is sort of a cau­tion­ary les­son in say­ing ‘Let’s avoid clos­ing our­selves off to the point that peo­ple don’t want to be here,’ ” Saun­ders says.

In a chap­ter en­ti­tled “The Price of Un­der­pop­u­la­tion”, Saun­ders points out that this min­i­miz­ing im­pulse has led to a less vi­brant cul­tural life and the ex­o­dus of tal­ented mu­si­cians, ac­tors, ar­chi­tects, and writ­ers. Other down­sides from a low pop­u­la­tion in­clude less in­no­va­tion as a re­sult of less com­pe­ti­tion, greater risk of eco­nomic de­cline from ris­ing trade pro­tec­tion­ism abroad, lower per capita in­comes due to lower pro­duc­tiv­ity, and more en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems re­sult­ing from “less ef­fi­cient” cities.

He also ar­gues that an in­su­lar and Bri­tain-ori­ented national pol­icy had ter­ri­ble con­se­quences for racial mi­nori­ties, whose fam­ily mem­bers were kept out of the coun­try through re­stric­tive im­mi­gra­tion laws, and for the Québé­cois, whose econ­omy floun­dered. Saun­ders main­tains that this ap­proach was also a fac­tor in In­dige­nous peo­ple be­ing “treated as a prob­lem that had to be man­aged” through the cre­ation of re­serves and res­i­den­tial schools.

When Canada be­came more out­ward-look­ing—and started de­vel­op­ing a “max­i­miz­ing im­pulse” after the Sec­ond World War—things be­gan to change for mi­nori­ties. “It was only when we started to see our­selves as ex­pan­sive and open and di­verse and part of a North Amer­i­can econ­omy that we be­gan to break through and see our­selves as a part­ner­ship of dif­fer­ent na­tions in Con­fed­er­a­tion,” he says.

Canada’s pop­u­la­tion tripled be­tween the end of the Sec­ond World War and to­day. The lat­ter part of his book ex­plores what pol­i­cy­mak­ers must do to plan for an­other pos­si­ble tripling in the com­ing cen­tury. Even if the pop­u­la­tion only reaches 40 or 50 mil­lion, Saun­ders ar­gues that many of his pro­pos­als, such as im­prov­ing pub­lic tran­sit and re­strict­ing ur­ban sprawl, will still pay div­i­dends over the long term.

Many of his ideas ger­mi­nated dur­ing a 15-year pe­riod when he was work­ing out­side of Canada as the Globe and Mail’s bureau chief in Lon­don and Los Angeles. Saun­ders says that liv­ing abroad en­ables a per­son “to hold up your coun­try like a gem­stone and then ex­am­ine its dif­fer­ent facets in that way”.

“You start to see what you ap­pre­ci­ate about your coun­try when you live from afar, and you also start to see its odd­i­ties,” he sug­gests. “Why did it de­velop and grow dif­fer­ently than other for­mer colonies? Why did it end up with such a small pop­u­la­tion? You start to see those macro things be­cause you’re not caught up in the day-to-day pol­icy de­bates that catch peo­ple up.” Doug Saun­ders will speak at the Whistler Writ­ers Festival on Sun­day (Oc­to­ber 15) and at the Van­cou­ver Writ­ers Fest on Wednesday (Oc­to­ber 18). See whistler­writ­ers­ and writ­ers­ for de­tails.

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