A Hundred Million Canadians

DG Stringer

The whole media world has fallen in love with the hype of 7 billion people. However, population demographics  have always been a long term problem, far worse than our debt crisis and perhaps rivaling our own health care issues in the West. Let us take a step back from the frenzy of 7 billion and think about our world when we have 100 million Canadians.  What will our Canada look like and what role will multiculturalism play in our international affairs?

Let our very own  International Affairs Columnist DG Stinger show you,


An excellent article was written by a Mind the Gap columnist entitled Multiculturalism: A Failed Policy? in which the subject of multiculturalism policies in some European states as well as Canada is analyzed and subsequently defended against the trend that has those countries departing from that idea. I would like to continue the discussion of multiculturalism, particularly in connection to immigration on the importance both policies have on the economic well being of one of the mentioned countries, Canada. I believe that such a stance to move away from state multiculturalism would only weaken Canada’s ability to compete in the global economy. Canada is a country that has, and continues to, depend on immigration and the effective integration of new Canadians into the work force for economic growth. As such Canada should be broadening its immigration policies, and by extension its multiculturalism policy, to best position itself in the reshaping world economy. In fact it is argued that if Canada is to be a player on the international level and having a greater say in determining its economic circumstance that it should make a concerted effort to becoming a country of 100 million people.

The notion of a Canada of 100 million originates with Mr. Irvin Studin, Assistant Professor and Program Director in the School of Public Policy and Governance, at the University of Toronto. Mr. Studin approaches the idea of increased population as an exercise in ‘strategic power’ development, the capacity of a country to shape international outcomes and to move other parties (state, non-state) to do something that they would otherwise not have done. However, more than simply positioning Canada as a great power on the world level, which he does advocate, is the idea of nation building. Mr. Studin argues that a greater population spread across the country encourages stronger links between East, West, North and South. National institutions are created and strengthened and there is an expansion of media, culture, sports and innovation that lead to a stronger idea of Canada. Pursuing the goal of 100 million would have a significant impact on Canada in many ways but, and what I will argue is, it would also play a critical role in allowing Canada to continue competing economically on the world stage. Briefly it must be said that such a policy would take place over the course of a number of decades not just over a number of years. The growth itself would be encouraged primarily through immigration, though it need only be a measured increase of the number of immigrants Canada currently accepts. This is a long term project whose goals and methods were chosen with intent to approach long term challenges that Canada faces. One of these challenges that is on the horizon for Canada is its aging population and the economic impact that will have in the coming years. Statistics Canada indicates that in 2011 14.4% of the Canadian population was over the retirement age of 65 and that percentage is estimated to increase to 22.8% by 2031. More telling is the ratio of people in the labour force to retiree. In 1981, the ratio was roughly 6:1, while by 2031 this ratio is projected to decline to less than 3:1. This clearly presents a challenge not only to the health of the labour force but also to governments funding social programs such as universal healthcare as well as government pension funds. Governments, both provincially and federally, will have to deal with the strain on public finances as a result of a smaller tax base and an aging population who on average lives 10 years longer than when universal healthcare and the government pension fund were first established in the 1960’s. The gradual decrease in the overall labour force participation rate, which is the proportion of the population aged 15 years and older that is in the labour force, over the coming years as a result of an aging population will only compound an already challenged situation. A 2010 Conference Board of Canada report placed Canada 14th out of 17 developed nations in the area of innovation and the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Competitiveness Report, by which it defines competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country, had Canada fall out of the top 10 countries to 12th place. The sky is not falling on Canada simply as a result of two reports, and the Canadian economy has weathered the economic storm of the past few years relatively well. However as it does indicate there are key areas that Canada struggles already in at this point in time, how then will the country fare with a limited labour market and financially strained governments?

No doubt these are longer term issues that Canada will face in the coming years. The idea of Canada at 100 million is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of Canada’s economic competitiveness now or in 20 years, however it can help in a number of ways. Aside form what was mentioned earlier, the strengthening of the idea of Canada and the incalculable benefits of people and ideas bouncing off of each other, such a policy can help mitigate the effects of reduced labour force participation. The Canadian immigration system based on its point system and the emphasis put on education and work experience as well as support services on a provincial and city level for new Canadians, allows for greater integration into the workforce.

Canada was built on immigration and it would not be the first time that the government engages in a policy of population growth as it did in the decade leading up to the 1st World War. It would help link and build stronger ties between Canada and other countries which in turn can help facilitate accessing markets and support international trade. Not every new Canadian will set up in Canada and start a new business. However, increased population growth also increases the number of Frank Stronachs, Terry Matthews and Mike Lazaridis who come to Canada, innovate, establish major companies and contribute to the economic development and strength of the country.

All countries need to find creative ways to remain competitive in the global economy and if they can develop policies that play to their strengths, all the better. Two of Canada’s strengths are its multicultural heritage and its history of immigration, being able to mold those policies into something bold such as Irvin Studin’s Canada of 100 million is important for facing the challenges, economic and other, that lie ahead.