The bulk of this post is an excerpt from an article The Case For 100 Million Canadians by Doug Sanders in the ongoing series published in the Globe and Mail newspaper about immigration and the need for more immigrants in Canada, to save our nation.  I am using part of this article because it explained so many things to me.

For instance, in a nation that is so proud of its freedoms and its tolerance for differences amongst us (religious and cultural), it is amazing to me that there is so little political engagement and awareness among its citizens, as demonstrated by the low turnout in elections everywhere, with the exception of first generation immigrants among Canadians.  Would it not be worthwhile to get the people you believe in instated in office, or at least established in a governing coalition, and have the satisfaction to see some of your favourite ideas translated and implemented as policies by our government?

As well, with its economic strengths and high education level of its citizens, why is this nation such a minor player on the global stage?

In a democratic society labour rights to protect employees from unfair treatment and the principles of fair bargaining are established practices. In some provinces such as BC those democratic principles are also curtailed, in the name of expediency and economic welfare. Union busting is happening; the government just devises a law to “legislate” the striking workers back to work. In other scenarios people are laid off and then hired back on at a lower wage. How un-democratic. How come there are no major demonstrations in BC to protest this democratic hollowing out of rights sanctioned or initiated by our government? Why is there so little understanding of those principles and no tolerance for its consequences if employees do strike? Everyone hates Air Canada.

In a free society, one of the democratic rights is to demonstrate (the right to associate), especially when a government does not act in the interest of a relatively significant group of its citizens. I always wondered about what appears to me to be political apathy in Canada. Everybody seems so satisfied with the current state of affairs. There is no public outcry about a lot of things that should have more opposition; people appear to just be grumbling their discontent, keeping it between themselves. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. Why are people so afraid that their nation will end up in chaos, if some citizens misbehave (use civil disobedience), to make a point? Is is the lack of historical insight and lack of experience that something good might come out of chaos and revolt?

The Quebec ongoing demonstrations are the first expression of political awareness that I have seen in thirty years, apart from short lived incidental protests at G20 meetings.  Quebec students are now hotly debated because the nightly routine of battles with police and demonstrators did not blow over; the accusations and words such as fascist and communist are flying. I hope that it will become clear to more Canadians that the students and their adherents are fighting for principles and feel not heard, and yes, they might not be reasonable—the argument that has killed much opposition to badly thought out measures in Canada: be reasonable. The movement is becoming broader beyond the tuition fees issue, now  that civic freedoms are more curtailed by an act to make wearing masks in demonstrations illegal, so that police can continue to video tape their faces and later prosecute them.

Those kind of strange micro management decisions in a reasonable society makes me think the nation still sees itself as  a small town, with smallish-thinking, possibly with exception of the larger urban centres, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The rest of the cities are really provincial towns, and governing bodies are rather parochial and conservative thinking, in my view.

The arts and music world is very, very little: if the CBC doesn’t know about you as an artist, musician, or an entertainer, you don’t exist: one has to go to the US to make a living. That is sad with all the talent that is here.

It made no sense to me, until now: the reason is that there just aren’t enough people, for Canada to develop into a nation that has its house in order, do what it should do and live up to its potential as the democratic powerhouse it could be.

Of course I am comparing Canada to the nation where I am from, the Netherlands–not a fair comparison. All of the Dutch citizens (about half of Canada’s population) live in a space the size of moderate sized Great Bear Lake in the NWT: within  traveling by car for two to three hours in either direction, you will have left the country.  Its density of population is 1050 (a number classifying world populations by nation). Everybody lives very close, literally on top of each other. Society needs to be well organized to survive that closeness and people must be very tolerant, with rights protected for its minorities and governments must enforce tolerance for differences–it’s not an option. All citizens have to become assertive to survive the peer pressure. Bullying of members of minorities by the majorities in their direct environment is not acceptable, regardless of what group that is. A terrible political uproar followed two murders some years back in the Muslims versus non Muslim debate.

Since the second world war, the various Dutch national governments have been coalitions of many political parties: in a multiparty system many different voices and nuances get a voice; opponents have to work together if they happen to govern together. In Canada the physical distance between people allows for voluntary  segregation of those various ethnic and religious groups. Its size in landmass is more than 240 times that of the Netherlands and its density number is 9. There are only 3 major political groups that have a chance to govern, four with Bloc Quebecois.

THE FOLLOWING IS QOUTED FROM Doug Saunders,  Globe and Mail correspondent based in London and the author of Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World, winner of the 2010 Donner Prize for writing on public policy.

Today we need to recognize the fact that, despite what Laurier did a century ago, Canada remains a victim of underpopulation. We do not have enough people, given our dispersed geography, to form the cultural, educational and political institutions, the consumer markets, the technological, administrative and political talent pool, the infrastructure-building tax base, the creative and artistic mass necessary to have a leading role in the world.

Because our immigration rates have remained modest and our birth rate is low, our population will grow only slightly – to perhaps 50 million by mid-century. By that point, the world’s population will almost have stopped growing and it will be difficult to attract large numbers of immigrants. At current rates, Canada will have lost its chance to be a fully formed nation.

It is time to act. Canada should build its population to a size – at least 100 million – that will allow it to determine its own future, maintain its standard of living against the coming challenges and have a large enough body of talent and revenue to solve its largest problems. All it takes is a sustained and determined increase in immigration, to at least 400,000 permanent immigrants per year.

This will not be free: Immigration requires support and assistance. But it will become much more expensive in the future, when shrinking world populations make immigrants scarce, and Canada’s crisis of underpopulation becomes expensive.

The case for 100 million

The moment when the United States stopped being dependent on the ideas, imports and expressions of other countries was exactly when it passed the 100-million mark, shortly before 1920. It was at this point that the U.S. developed the world’s first conservation program, the first progressive taxation system and the first great national infrastructure program. It was this population level that turned America into the capital of the modern world.

Whenever Canada’s ideal population is studied, the 100-million figure comes up. In 1968, a group of scholars, policy advocates and business leaders formed the Mid-Canada Development Corridor Foundation, which argued that a population of at least 100 million was needed to have a sustainable and independent economy. In 1975, a study by Canada’s Department of Manpower found that economies of scale leading to “significant benefits to Canadian industry” would occur only after the population had reached 100 million. And more recently, in 2010, the journal Global Brief argued in detail that Canada needs that much population for geostrategic, defence and diplomatic reasons. This population level would give Canada “new domestic structures coupled with growing international impact and prestige,” the journal argued, that would turn it into “a serious force to be reckoned with.”

What would a Canada of 100 million feel like? Much like today’s Canada, but more comfortable, better-served and better defended against ecological and human threats.

If just the narrow strip of land upon which most Canadians live were to develop the population density of the Netherlands or England, then the overall population would be more than 400 million. A quarter of that density would give Canada’s southern strip the population density of Spain or Romania, two big countries noted for their huge, unspoiled tracts of nature. The remaining 90 per cent of Canada would remain largely untouched – modern immigration takes place in already urbanized areas.

It would turn our major cities into places of intense and world-leading culture – and it would greatly improve their quality of life, as they’d finally have a critical mass of ratepayers large enough to support top-quality public transit, parks, museums, universities and property developments. It would put an end to the low population density that plagues large sections of Toronto and Calgary. It would turn the less-large cities, including Edmonton, Regina and Ottawa, into truly important centres.

Canada’s environment would probably be far better protected: Densely populated places like California and France tend to do better at conservation than empty zones like the Asian steppe, which produced such ecological catastrophes as the Aral Sea disaster unobserved. The threats of global warming – notably ocean-level rises – will require large-scale infrastructure projects that must rely on a large tax base. And it’s no coincidence that the most progressive climate-change policies are found in the countries with the most dense populations.

The price of underpopulation

Canadians cannot build the institutions of nationhood and the tools of global participation using the skills, markets and tax revenues of somewhere between 21 and 24 million English speakers and eight million francophones scattered more or less sparsely over a area of land encompassing five time zones, several geographic and cultural regions, a dozen political jurisdictions and the second largest land mass on Earth. Underpopulation has been part of the dialogue in Quebec for decades, but English-speaking Canadians too often fail to recognize the banana peel that keeps tripping up their nation’s ambitions.

The challenge is not simply economic. The greatest price of underpopulation is loneliness: We are often unable to talk intelligently to each other, not to mention the world, because we just don’t have enough people to support the institutions of dialogue and culture – whether they’re universities, magazines, movie industries, think tanks or publishing houses. Unlike the tightly packed countries of Europe, Canada has multiple, dispersed audiences with different regional cultures – and therefore needs a larger base population, especially in its cities.

Anyone who has tried to do culture, scholarship, public thought, entertainment or political thinking on the national level will recognize the brick wall of underpopulation. There isn’t a large enough audience, or market, to support such institutions at a minimal level of quality or scope. That’s why all of Canada’s major publishing houses are branches of foreign firms. It’s the reason why our TV and movies are either foreign- or government-funded and regulated. It’s the reason why such important institutions as McClelland and Stewart and Saturday Night magazine failed, even after repeated government bailouts and tax protection. Just not enough audience. It’s the reason why our only English-language national newsmagazine, Maclean’s, manages to survive (and then just barely) only through as much as $3-million a year in federal grants and laws preventing U.S. titles from publishing north of the border. In online media, where such protections don’t work, the isolation is more dire.

Our institutions of public thought are badly constrained. Canada could never have small magazines, such as The New Republic (54,000 subscribers) or the Weekly Standard (81,000) or Britain’s Prospect (40,000), because once you divide those numbers by 12 (the population difference between English Canada and the U.S.), you don’t have enough subscription revenue to support even a single staff member. And even those magazines rely on volunteers and low freelance rates; a world-class weekly like The New Yorker or the Times Literary Supplement would be inconceivable. We’re stuck reading theirs. It’s the reason we have only one think tank with more than 100 people on staff, while the United States and Britain have scores of them.

Much of the influence of larger countries flows from their institutes and think tanks. Volumes of vital research and political development spring from such places as the Urban institute (450 full-time thinkers), the Brookings Institution (250), the Hoover Institution (320), or the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (220). Canada has only one institute with more than 100 staff – the Conference Board of Canada. The next largest is the right-wing Fraser Institute, with 64 staff, followed by the C.D. Howe Institute, with only 21 – and then a whole bunch with a handful of people stuffed into a single office. Too many of our institutions are too small to matter – and so is our talent pool.

Even if you don’t care about culture, politics and thought, you’ll pay the price. The economic and fiscal cost of underpopulation was measured last September by Ottawa’s Parliamentary Budget Officer. It makes for grim reading.

At current rates of immigration and population growth, the average age of Canadians will soar. Canada’s old-age dependency ratio – that is, the proportion of the population dependent on government pension and health-care spending (i.e., those over 65) will more than double from 20 per cent today to 45 per cent of the population in the 2080s.

This will cause GDP growth to plummet, from 2.6 per cent annually to 1.8 and below. Government debt will increase by 3 per cent annually, and Ottawa will either have to raise taxes or cut its spending by a dramatic amount, which estimates show would be comparable to the emergency cutbacks of the mid-1990s. A decent social safety net, world-class foreign-policy and military spending, infrastructure, universities and ecological programs will become unaffordable unless we can expand Canada’s population base sharply in the next few decades.

How to build a bigger Canada

The difference between a stagnant population and a robust one is less than you may think. By increasing Canada’s population growth rate of 0.8 per cent per year (based on 250,000 to 300,000 immigrants annually) by 50 per cent, we would have 75 million people in 50 years and 100 million by the end of the century.

To do this, we would have to attract between 400,000 and 450,000 immigrants per year, or about half the rate (as a percentage of the population) of the Laurier years. Canada’s low birth rates (averaging 1.6 children per family) will pull that number down, but that would be counterbalanced by the youth and higher first-generation birth rates of the new immigrants.

It wouldn’t last forever – immigrants always merge with their host country’s family size within a couple of generations, and the surge of youth and productivity will be temporary. But it would hold us through the 21st century, during which the entire world’s population will stop growing, level out, and start falling. Canada should use this moment – now – to start boosting its base population so we are on a world-class footing before the world reaches “peak people” and immigrants become increasingly difficult to attract.

In some ways, that competition has already begun. Australia’s government, influenced by the “Big Australia” movement, which calls for a doubling of population, has made entry much easier for its immigrants.

We need a “Big Canada” movement and – given our economic needs, our labour shortages and the continuing pains of underpopulation – this is the time to launch it.

Doug Saunders is a Globe and Mail correspondent based in London and the author of Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World, winner of the 2010 Donner Prize for writing on public policy.

OK, I’d say bring it on! One point in favour of the current federal government: it dared slightly opening the door to higher immigration quota (now at 250,000 a year). I’d love to hear your comments and ideas  about this, immigrant or non-immigrant….

About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
This entry was posted in Dealing with aging and dating, Diversity issues, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, the Netherlands, travel, Uncategorized, world issues, Writing life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. adanesuazo says:

    Hi Johanna,
    I found this post very fulfilling. I had also read the same article in the Globe and Mail, but I liked the approach you give to Canada’s small town mentality, and the closeness with which the situation in Quebec is seen outside of the province and, to a certain degree, even inside.
    I look forward to reading more posts in the not-so-far future.

    Adan E. Suazo

  2. david madsen says:

    i have lived around the world; from places with population bases of much significance to population cores barely, if not completely unable, to nurture primary industries, a shared culture, socio/economic union, global presecnce, true national mentality and decision making,et al. … and pathetically and thoroughly unable to structure and provide terteriary, secondary, goods and services provision, et al.

    these sectors of the territorial economy/culture/society/et al. leaves sadly the young/educated/ambitious/talented/eager/ and most productive … those most proficient in providing these sector services … leaves them with no choices other than emigration. and thusly indeed emigrating to … where? exactly – a territorial confine with a population base that shares within it’s confines a population market in excess of at least 50.000.000. for canada, so close in physical locality to our often nefarious in motive and rarely in action with our concerns of any matter – the 100.000.000 population base is of most sufficience.

    i would even argue to adopt the laizzez-faire yet carefully coralled social structuring of argentina in the 1920’s. only 1 in 5 argentinian residents was born there. the majority eager new citizens having relocated almost exclusively from german speaking, italian, spanish, portuguese, and even british homelands – 4/5 having arrived in the past fiveteen years.

    with a groomed purposefulness, an accurately manipulated social inculcation, and a warm amiability to learn that which is new – canada could so very easily adopt a similiar population structure – by the advent of such a proposal as this – canada would demographically number: 38.000.000 citizens – we could comfortably encourage 152.000.000 immigrants into a canadian mentality … and they would prove invaluable in the wealth they would bring to canada.

    if fears of overwhelming numbers of visible minorities and/or persons from inclusive and alien cultures is a fear. fear not – i lived in germany and danmark … and i had the very rare opportunity to be witness to an exhaustive questionaire the “always-insecure” canadian embassies delivered home to home. it was a very intricately designed poll delivered to people on a formal basis and treated as such. it asked – what the citizens of north-western europe (UK, Ireland, France, Belguim, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, and Scandinavia) the very epitome in every way of canadians – white, english/french speaking, very well-educated, exact similiar social/culture/ideological/political/ethnic/theological, et al.

    … it asked what they thought of canada. over 90% declared canada as god’s gift to this earth. their only expressed concerns (and albeit very significant mentions). were why such a sentient people could so vulgarly with such unconcerned apathy pollute our piece of heaven so effortlessly? and why – with such an incomprehensible wealth ofcompletely alien and fascinating aboriginal cultures from which much could be learned … why do we no hold them vaulted to be valuable … a profoundly priceless opportunity to look with different eyes … and instead – marginalize and annihilate these very cultures.

    the next question asked of these 300.000.000 very white, protestant/spiritual/catholic/well-educated/…. – asked if they would ever consider living in canada … 25% 0f the respondenets – 75.000.000 north-western europeans replied that even without hopes for a job or home, income, security, anything at all – 75.000.000north-western europeans replied they would move here tomorrowif it were possible.

    if to keep the racist agenda in place … this number of caucasians works well with an allowance of 25% (canada currently is 79%white/21%visible minority) – we can effortlessly welcome 25.000.000 from non-european origins.

    had the meditteranean and slavic peoples been questioned – with a population base of over 700.000.000 – i truly believe the numbers desiring to become canadian would probably be double.

    there, canada – you could again have diplomatic significance, economic independence, moral and theoretical stature, international presence, and a culture that doesnt force its clever children to sadly move south. i should know. i could not get an agent to save my life in canada. an american agency just swallowed me, loves me, and is actively promoting my previously back home unnoticed work. i have to move to LA.

    by the way – with the total euro-population – you would now have the luxury of 425.000.000 europeans and billions of others to most enhance this beautiful land and take your pick from amongst all of them to hit your target 100.000.000

    i cant wait until you do … maybe i can come home again.

    cheers, david jens jurgen madsen

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for that extensive and considerate reply, much appreciated. I was not aware that our current government is taking steps to prepare more immigration in such an elaborate way: that survey you spoke about. Very good to know. Thanks again.

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