The big­ger pic­ture

The Globe and Mail (Atlantic Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS - Doug Saun­ders is the Globe and Mail’s in­ter­na­tional-af­fairs colum­nist.

tween $21-bil­lion and $43-bil­lion a year by the 2050s (with a onein-20 chance that those costs could rise as high as $91-bil­lion a year). Economies of scale are cru­cial here: Only the biggest cities will be able to af­ford, and or­ga­nize, cli­mate de­fences and en­ergy re­duc­tion. And only a sus­tain­ably large pop­u­la­tion will pro­vide us with the fis­cal base and eco­nomic scale needed to shift to a zero-car­bon econ­omy in the next four decades. The risks of 100 mil­lion What does a sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion look like? It is enough peo­ple, in the right con­cen­tra­tions, to over­come the bar­ri­ers of un­der­pop­u­la­tion in the long term. It is enough clus­ters of peo­ple, across mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions, with the right skills and ca­pac­i­ties to sup­port the public in­sti­tu­tions, the cul­tural and me­dia and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and the forms of ex­pres­sion and mar­kets that be­fit a lead­ing na­tion.

It is the abil­ity to shift fur­ther from re­source ex­trac­tion to a more sus­tain­able, value-added econ­omy, to be­come more self­sup­port­ing should ma­jor trad­ing part­ners be­come un­re­li­able.

A sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion does not mean spread­ing peo­ple across the land, as we did in our first cen­tury. It means cre­at­ing strong and tight-knit ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties that flour­ish within ex­ist­ing green­belts, where towns par­tic­i­pate in clus­ters of knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion, where thriv­ing cen­tres of higher learn­ing, tech­nol­ogy and spe­cial­iza­tion take shape, and where smart growth pro­vides bet­ter stew­ard­ship and pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment, al­low­ing, even, for an ex­pan­sion of wild and agri­cul­tural lands.

It has be­come pop­u­lar re­cently, in gov­ern­ment and aca­demic cir­cles, to speak of a pop­u­la­tion tar­get of 100 mil­lion by 2100. And on a ba­sic level, such a pop­u­la­tion would not be dif­fi­cult to ob­tain: If we wanted to do it through im­mi­gra­tion alone, a mod­est in­crease in the im­mi­gra­tion rate, from the cur­rent 0.8 per cent to 1.2 per cent, to a to­tal of about 408,000 peo­ple a year (that’s be­low the rate of coun­tries such as Nor­way and Switzer­land) would get us there. And those in­creases could be con­sid­er­ably smaller if we made use of bet­ter fam­ily pol­icy – child­care, flex­i­ble-work poli­cies and fam­ily in­cen­tives – to nar­row Canada’s fer­til­ity gap.

But there seems to be an as­sump­tion, among some of to­day’s pop­u­la­tion-growth ad­vo­cates, that the tripling of Canada’s cur­rent pop­u­la­tion will be as easy as the last tripling – which took place be­tween the Sec­ond World War and ap­prox­i­mately 2015, when Canada grew from 12 mil­lion to 35 mil­lion peo­ple. That tripling vastly boosted Canada’s econ­omy, raised its stan­dard of liv­ing, and, be­cause for­eign-born Cana­di­ans com­mit far fewer crim­i­nal of­fences, helped re­duce crime rates to his­toric lows.

To a large ex­tent that was all a matter of luck: We hap­pened to have the right sort of cities with the right hous­ing at the right prices and with the right jobs and en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­ni­ties in the right places. New­com­ers ar­rived, and new gen­er­a­tions were born into, sit­u­a­tions that were some­times chal­leng­ing but in many ways al­most ideal.

The next seven decades of Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion growth are not go­ing to be as easy or as in­ex­pen­sive.

In­deed, it is worth tak­ing a se­ri­ous look at the costs, risks and haz­ards in­volved in an­other tripling. And if our an­swers aren’t good enough – if we don’t have the com­mit­ment to make the ma­jor in­vest­ments and re­forms that a larger pop­u­la­tion en­tails – we should be will­ing to em­brace the case against growth. Without prepa­ra­tion and plan­ning, the ben­e­fits of a more sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion could turn into the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial risk of an un­sup­ported, seg­re­gated, un­equal and un­pro­duc­tive one. Wanted: jobs that work Dur­ing the past cen­tury, the steady full-time in­dus­trial job and the small-but-thriv­ing lo­cal busi­ness were cru­cial in­stru­ments of up­ward mo­bil­ity and fam­ily suc­cess for mil­lions of new Cana­di­ans. Un­til about 1990, im­mi­grant in­comes con­verged with av­er­age Cana­dian in­comes within about 15 years of ar­rival. That’s no longer the case. To­day, im­mi­grants who have been in Canada for 15 years, de­spite far higher skill and ed­u­ca­tion lev­els than their pre­de­ces­sors, are about twice as likely as Cana­di­ans in gen­eral to earn af­ter-tax in­comes be­low $30,000 a year, and al­most 1.5 times as likely to live in poverty. Gen­uine eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion does not hap­pen un­til the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion comes of age.

That is in part be­cause of a chang­ing labour mar­ket: Be­tween 1997 and 2012, the num­ber of tem­po­rary jobs in Canada in­creased by 57 per cent, com­pared to an in­crease of only 28 per cent for all forms of em­ploy­ment. In 2016, Canada’s econ­omy saw a net em­ploy­ment in­crease of 153,300 new part-time po­si­tions – but only 60,400 full-time jobs. And a num­ber of stud­ies have pointed to in­creas­ing job in­se­cu­rity and pre­car­i­ous­ness in the work­place.

To­day, “work” means some­thing very dif­fer­ent for many new Cana­di­ans – and for an in­creas­ing num­ber of young Cana­di­ans as well.

If Canada’s pop­u­la­tion growth, fu­elled in good part by im­mi­gra­tion, is built upon in­se­cure, pre­car­i­ous or in­for­mal forms of em­ploy­ment – lives propped up by thin webs of “shar­ing econ­omy” con­tracts, hap­haz­ardly sched­uled part-time shifts, and po­si­tions lack­ing pen­sions, ben­e­fits or salaries ca­pa­ble of putting one’s chil­dren through univer­sity – then the project might not be worth it. We need to build a sys­tem of pen­sions, ben­e­fits, guar­an­teed in­comes, un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and labour con­tracts to make this new, less rigid – but also less se­cure – work­place a launch­pad for cre­ativ­ity and richer lives rather than a cause of anx­i­ety and in­se­cu­rity. Own­ing a piece of Canada More than any other fac­tor, what has made im­mi­grants in­te­grate so quickly and suc­cess­fully in Canada has been their high propen­sity – and abil­ity – to buy the houses and con­do­minium apart­ments they live in, of­ten soon af­ter land­ing.

But the tra­di­tional new-Cana­dian prac­tice of buy­ing a home in a lower-cost ur­ban im­mi­grant district, then us­ing its rise in value to fi­nance so­cial and eco­nomic mo­bil­ity, has be­come more dif­fi­cult. Since 2000, house prices have risen dra­mat­i­cally in Cana­dian cities – es­pe­cially in and around Van­cou­ver and Toronto, the metropoli­tan ar­eas where more than half of Canada’s im­mi­grants set­tle.

Home own­er­ship re­mains im­por­tant enough that more than half of im­mi­grants con­tinue to buy homes within four years of ar­rival, de­spite their com­par­a­tively lower in­comes, by mak­ing greater sac­ri­fices and bor­row­ing much more heav­ily than did ear­lier gen­er­a­tions. But the places they are able to rent, and buy, have changed: The great ma­jor­ity of im­mi­grant set­tle­ment now takes place in low-den­sity out­skirts that are poorly served by public tran­sit. Some of these places, without bet­ter re­sources and con­nec­tions, are at risk of iso­la­tion, eco­nomic and eth­nic seg­re­ga­tion.

If we want to raise the pop­u­la­tions of our ma­jor cities, we will need to en­sure that the right sort of neigh­bour­hoods, with the right sort of den­sity, tran­sit and prox­im­ity, take shape. We need to look at fill­ing in sprawl­ing sin­gle-fam­ily neigh­bour­hoods with apart­ment hous­ing; in­ten­si­fy­ing ex­ist­ing in­ner-city neigh­bour­hoods to turn them into walk­a­ble, tight-knit places, keep­ing growth within their green-belt bound­aries; and in­vest­ing in high-speed trans­porta­tion links to turn the sub­urbs into new and thriv­ing hubs. Time to rec­og­nize tal­ent We’re no longer im­port­ing farm­ers, fish­ers, lum­ber­jacks and assem­bly-line work­ers. The peo­ple who come to Canada tend to be, on av­er­age, more tal­ented and knowl­edge­able than the peo­ple who were born here: Im­mi­grants, de­spite start­ing out poor, are twice as likely as the Cana­di­an­born to have a univer­sity de­gree.

But that tal­ent is of­ten wasted. A 2012 study by the Li­brary of Par­lia­ment found that a mere 24 per cent of im­mi­grants (in­clud­ing long-term im­mi­grants) ed­u­cated in a reg­u­lated pro­fes­sion were work­ing in the field for which they had been trained, com­pared to 62 per cent of sim­i­larly ed­u­cated Cana­di­ans.

That’s partly be­cause Canada has sig­nif­i­cant labour short­ages in un­skilled and semi-skilled fields, which re­quire less lin­guis­tic flu­ency than do the pro­fes­sions. But it’s also be­cause many for­eign pro­fes­sional cre­den­tials, li­cences, ad­vanced de­grees – not to men­tion trade ex­pe­ri­ence – are not rec­og­nized by our pro­fes­sional col­leges, li­cens­ing boards, gov­ern­ment author­i­ties, unions and trade or­ga­ni­za­tions. There have been small steps to re­form the cre­den­tial-up­grad­ing and recog­ni­tion sys­tem, but Canada’s ap­prox­i­mately 500 cre­den­tialling bod­ies re­main woe­fully behind their in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts in rec­og­niz­ing for­eign skills.

Canada can’t af­ford to waste en­tire gen­er­a­tions of tal­ent as it ex­pands its pop­u­la­tion. Aside from driv­ing up the costs of so­cial ser­vices (thus mak­ing im­mi­gra­tion more ex­pen­sive), the wasted-gen­er­a­tion ef­fect is de­priv­ing Canada of the ex­per­tise and knowl­edge it needs right now. The Con­fer­ence Board fore­casts that by 2020 Canada will have a skilled-labour short­age of close to a mil­lion peo­ple.

There is no point tripling the pop­u­la­tion if, in the process, we greatly in­crease the pro­por­tion of Cana­di­ans in poverty, de­pen­dent on so­cial as­sis­tance, or forced to give up their life’s am­bi­tion. We need to de­velop a much more co­or­di­nated im­mi­gra­tion and set­tle­ment sys­tem aimed at con­nect­ing peo­ple and their skills to the con­sid­er­able – and evolv­ing – needs of Canada’s econ­omy. Mak­ing new Cana­di­ans, at home Solv­ing Canada’s un­der­pop­u­la­tion prob­lem is not sim­ply, or even mainly, a matter of bring­ing in more im­mi­grants. A large part of it can be ad­dressed by bring­ing new cit­i­zens into the world the more fa­mil­iar way. Cana­di­ans cur­rently don’t have as many chil­dren as they’d like. Statis­ti­cians call this the “fer­til­ity gap” – some­thing they cal­cu­late by ask­ing cou­ples in their 20s how many chil­dren they’d like to have, then ask­ing cou­ples in their 40s how many chil­dren they were able to have.

In Canada, an Ip­sos Reid study found that, on av­er­age, cou­ples say they’d ideally have 2.4 chil­dren – a num­ber well above the 2.1 chil­dren per fam­ily needed to sus­tain a non-shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion. In fact, the av­er­age Cana­dian cou­ple has 1.6 chil­dren – which, sub­tracted from the 2.4 they’d wanted to have, leaves a real-life gap of 0.8 chil­dren per fam­ily. If that gap were mag­i­cally filled and ex­ist­ing fam­i­lies man­aged to at­tain the wished-for av­er­age of 2.4 chil­dren, there would be 7.5 mil­lion more Cana­di­ans.

Of course, it’s not that easy: When asked why they’d had fewer chil­dren than they wanted, 72 per cent of cou­ples iden­ti­fied the very real bar­rier of “fi­nances.”

We do know, from Cana­dian ex­pe­ri­ence, 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 a day (the price was later raised to seven). 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 it nar­rowed the fer­til­ity gap. In the 1990s, Que­bec’s fer­til­ity rate had plum­meted to a Cana­dian low of 1.35 chil­dren per fam­ily; the new scheme helped push the rate above the Cana­dian av­er­age – to 1.7 chil­dren per fam­ily by 2010. (It has slid slightly to match the Cana­dian av­er­age of 1.6 – still a con­sid­er­able pop­u­la­tion boost.) And the program paid for it­self: The ex­tra in­cometax rev­enues from women en­ter­ing the labour force ex­ceeded the to­tal cost of the program. The chal­lenges of fam­ily pol­icy, like most of the ob­sta­cles ex­am­ined here, are al­ready be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by Cana­di­ans, and will be grow­ing prob­lems, re­gard­less of what hap­pens to the pop­u­la­tion. The changes in the struc­ture of the work force, in the cost and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of hous­ing, in the ge­o­graphic iso­la­tion of ma­jor cities; the ob­sta­cles to get­ting cre­den­tials rec­og­nized, and of lost ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties – all these bar­ri­ers to equality and so­cial mo­bil­ity need to be con­fronted by Cana­di­ans and their govern­ments, whether we triple our pop­u­la­tion or not.

It is there­fore worth ask­ing: If the time has come for Canada to train its sights on in­sti­tu­tional re­form, in­fra­struc­ture ex­pan­sion and pol­icy re­assess­ment, why shouldn’t we also make plans to build a pop­u­la­tion com­men­su­rate with those am­bi­tions and re­sources? The changes we need to un­der­take in or­der to main­tain and em­power a Canada of 35 mil­lion will be far eas­ier to bring about, and yield far greater ben­e­fits, if they are ap­plied to a pop­u­la­tion that is grad­u­ally grow­ing to a larger and more self-suf­fi­cient scale by the end of the cen­tury.

With that pop­u­la­tion – and by in­sti­tut­ing the re­forms needed to create it – Canada prom­ises to be­come a place with the tools and re­sources to do many things bet­ter, more fairly, more cleanly and more co-op­er­a­tively: a more com­fort­able, and more in­tensely Cana­dian ver­sion of the Canada we know.

If you’re work­ing in a busi­ness that op­er­ates at a na­tional or in­ter­na­tional level, you prob­a­bly al­ready know this: Canada’s de­sire to build a more di­ver­si­fied, in­no­va­tion-based econ­omy of­ten hits the brick wall of a lim­ited do­mes­tic mar­ket.


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