Tuesday, August 2, 2011

100 Million Canadians?

On June 14 an article appeared in Global Brief, a global affairs magazine published in Canada that focuses on international relations. One article in that issue highlighted an interesting idea from a recent study, What if Canada had a population of 100 million people?

I saw an interview with Irvin Studin, the author of the above article on The Agenda with Steve Paikin on TVO. The interview can be seen here, and is about 15 minutes long.

Studin argues the following: Canada is stuck in the middle on a global level. We are not a great power but we are not a small power either. Much of the time we behave as though we are Belgium, perhaps a slightly tougher Belgium, so the Netherlands. We can’t provide the type of military support we should, or may like without severely overtaxing our resources. We cannot even keep control over our own territory. Issues of Arctic Sovereignty consistently come up because we have very little population there! If Canadians lived on the Arctic Ocean it would tougher for the Russians, Danes, Norwegians and Americans to push us around.

I don’t know how much of an effect a larger population would have. Canada has 34 million people in a world of 6.5 billion, would Canada of 100 million in a world of 9 billion make a dramatically different impact?

To be honest, I don’t know much about international relations, I just haven’t taken much time to educate myself on them. What’s fascinating to me is the domestic potential. Canada’s population is about 34 million today. That means to get to 100 million would be tripling our population. Studin argues for the 100 million goal to be set for the year 2100. Strangely enough to reach that goal means increasing immigration from 260,000 per year to about 325,000 per year. I don’t know if the study realized that a country with 80 million can take more immigration than a country of 34 million.

I think it’s pretty clear Canada needs more people. Russia, a country of comparable size and resources to Canada has a population of 140 million and is pushing for more people. It’s not as though we have a deficit in space, here in the second largest country in the world. Today immigration mostly centres in our urban centres, but that’s not where people are needed. As mentioned above in the North, in the Maritimes, and in the Prairies. Studin puts it better than I could:

The Canada of 100 million has a far larger national market and the attendant economies of scale and scope – for ideas, for debate, for books, for newspapers, for magazines (print and online), for all species of goods and services. It poses a far more impressive cultural counterweight to the US – now only three or four times larger, instead of ten or eleven times. It has many large, dynamic, global cities – more than just Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, or perhaps even Calgary – that, superior division of labour oblige, serve as incubators and competitive arenas for innovation, productivity and creative ambition – all derivatives, as it were, of humans rubbing up against humans. Provided that there is proactive distribution of this increased population (the province principally of the federal government, and an area in which it is currently underperforming) – meaning more people and larger cities everywhere, but particularly in the Maritimes (the East), the Prairies (the Midwest) and, indeed, the Canadian North, all grossly underpopulated regions – the Canada of 100 million also has increased, highly productive inter-civic rivalry between these complex metropolises, and more social and economic experimentation and invention at the local level (sub-state units as laboratories, as it were) to drive overall national performance. There are sufficient numbers across the country to populate large applied research institutions (partisan and non-partisan) to aid the generation of policy ideas; to create bona fide national institutions of higher culture in the musical, visual and theatrical arts; to justify national sports leagues where today, in Canada, there is, to many outside observers’ surprise, perhaps one at most. At 100 million, Canada has cutting-edge, world-beating companies that are far larger and more numerous across the sectors; and, to be sure, it has far more aggregate wealth – profit-seeking and philanthropic alike – to regularly provide the said institutions and structures with liquidity; this, manifestly, on top of the public liquidity that over time comes with a far more substantial tax base. In short, at 100 million, the internal energy of Canadian society is transformed.

In short, Canada would not have to depend on exports as much, our national institutions would be stronger, and our economy would be far larger, more powerful and more resilient. Perhaps most interesting – our culture would be stronger. Canada could produce more of its own art, music and film and have a real market in Canada to make it survive.

Canada will likely reach 100 million people inevitably, even if it takes another 100 years, it’ll happen. Studin’s argument was not just that Canada should have a 100 million people, but that we should have a national vision of our future. A journalist at the Globe and Mail suggest that this might be a way for the Liberal Party to move forward. The first person to suggest a 100-million Canada was Liberal Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The opportunity to strengthen Canada as a cultural power, as an economic power, as a military power and a growing voice in the world is awfully tempting. The vision of bustling million-person cities in Atlantic Canada, the Prairies and even the North is quite attractive. If the world needs more Canada, maybe we should start building a bigger, more effective Canada.

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