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The Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
The Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Immodest proposals: Five leaders on what the government’s priorities should be Add to ...

A CANADA 50-MILLION STRONG

John Manley

Former Liberal cabinet minister, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives

Sir Wilfrid Laurier dreamed of increasing Canada’s population to 50 million. Better late than never. John Manley would like to see Ottawa make population growth a virtue and our country “a destination of choice for seekers of opportunity wherever they come from.”

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“Canada’s growth rates are sub-optimal and our population is aging,” he says. “Unless we address that, Canadians’ standard of living will suffer.”

Extrapolating from current rates of fertility, immigration and life expectancy, Statistics Canada projects the country’s population will reach 44 million by 2036. Raising our sights to 50 million would require ramping up the intake of new arrivals.

One way to do that would be to offer citizenship to every foreign student who completes a master’s degree or above, Mr. Manley says (an idea that fits well with another proposal on this page).

Some will argue that Canada struggles to accommodate current levels of immigration. But experience suggests that immigrants create jobs for themselves and others, through entrepreneurial effort and by growing the market for products and services.

They also bring energy, initiative, new ideas and global connections. Mr. Manley sees an opportunity to “build on our strength as one of the most multicultural nations on Earth to ensure diversity in our institutions, governance and national celebrations.”

SPACE: THE NEXT NATIONAL DREAM

David Emerson

Former Liberal and Conservative cabinet minister, senior public servant and business executive

Over the course of the next two decades, Canada should invest at least $20-billion – a small fraction of the wealth potential it would help unleash – to make this country a global leader in using space to understand Earth, David Emerson believes.

“Think of it as the new railway” is how he puts it: a national enterprise that combines government and private resources to develop sophisticated infrastructure and technologies that make it possible to study every inch of Canada every minute of every day.

We live in a vast, mostly empty country that depends on natural resource industries and agriculture for much of its wealth. Advanced satellite technology would make it easier to identify that resource potential while monitoring a broad array of environmental phenomena.

It would increase Canada’s ability to track anyone and anything entering our waters or the Arctic archipelago. It would enhance our ability to talk to each other, in person and online, and help deliver health and education services to remote communities.

Ottawa could work with the private sector in developing and deploying new space technologies. Partnering with emerging powers such as China and India to exploit the potential of space would encourage knowledge sharing and trust building.

Exploiting “space as a tool for achieving national goals by reinvesting in and reinvigorating a space program with a long-term plan would be a great way to leverage Canada’s economic future,” Mr. Emerson says. “It’s not only for ourselves – it’s a whole new channel of opportunity for our next generation of dreamers and nation builders.”

A HAVEN FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS

Jacynthe Côté

Chief executive officer and president Rio Tinto Alcan

Students planning to study overseas look for three things: a country where they will feel safe and welcomed; a country with good schools; and a country where they can get a job after they graduate. In international surveys, Canada gets top marks in all three categories, which is one reason why Jacynthe Côté believes this country should move swiftly to double its annual intake of foreign students from 240,000 to half a million.

Foreign students who become Canadian citizens are vital to mitigating the impact of an aging work force, the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan believes. But only 7.5 per cent of students studying in Canadian postsecondary institutions come from abroad, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, while the figure for France is 12 per cent and for Australia a whopping 23 per cent.

“We can do better,” says Ms. Côté, who served on a federal task force that looked at how to attract more foreign students. “We really need to get our act together, with marketing, with branding, with making it easier to bring people in, so that we can benefit from the brightest and the best and continue to grow this country.”

To increase the intake of foreign students, Ottawa needs to issue more student visas and make it easier to get one; aggressively recruit potential applicants in source countries such as China and India; and fund scholarships for students from abroad.

It would be worth the investment. Foreign Affairs puts the contribution of foreign students to the Canadian economy at $8-billion annually. Not only do they pay tuition that is typically three or four times that of domestic students, they rent apartments, buy cars, purchase groceries and so on.

Best of all, international students benefit Canada whether they remain here or go home. “If they return to their native land, they forge key economic links between Canada and their homeland,” Ms. Côté points out.

$1-BILLION TO PROTECT OUR OCEANS

Pat Carney

Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and senator

The tides that churn through Haro Strait, the maritime boundary between Canada and the U.S. in British Columbia, dump oxygen and nutrients into the Strait of Georgia, nourishing the salmon, orcas and other marine life along Canada’s spectacular Pacific coast. For Pat Carney, who lives in Haro Strait on Saturna Island, balancing the development of offshore markets for our energy resources with the protection of our oceans is critical to Canada’s future and the viability of its coastal communities.

Ms. Carney would like to see the federal government pump $1-billion over the next 10 years into developing a three-ocean monitoring network to study and improve ocean health. “Canada is the global leader in ocean observatory technology,” she observes.

Ocean Networks Canada, a consortium of eight Canadian universities, already operates two of the world’s most advanced underwater ocean observatories, providing data on maritime environments from the salmon-rich Fraser River to the hot vents of the deep Pacific.

The observatories – essentially a series of giant underwater power bars, with sensors, cameras and Internet connections – provide data that can help predict marine hazards such as storm surges, underwater landslides, tsunamis and earthquakes, and monitor oil spills and changes in ocean chemistry that affect fish and marine life.

The additional $1-billion, says Ms. Carney, would make it possible to build and operate similar observatories in the Arctic, Baffin Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It would make it easier to assess sea conditions for vessels transiting the Northwest Passage, to monitor northern fish migration and to study erosion that affects Atlantic shorelines. How many people know that Prince Edward Island is shrinking?

“Life began deep in our oceans,” Ms. Carney reminds us. “Their health is crucial to our own survival.”

KNOWING THE REAL COST OF WHAT YOU BUY

Preston Manning

Former leader of the Reform Party and head of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy

A consumer bill of rights, much talked about these days, should emphasize the responsibilities as well as the rights of consumers, Preston Manning believes.

“At the heart of a consumer bill of rights is the right to know what’s in the product and to have recourse, whether it’s a refund or something more, if what’s claimed turns out not to be true,” Mr. Manning says.

“But while it’s good to know what your rights are, it’s also imperative to know your obligations,” he adds.

That requires increasing consumer awareness of the true costs of whatever they buy and their responsibility to purchase wisely. And it means product labelling that goes beyond listing the calories and fat in a chocolate bar.

“When you buy a tank of gas, maybe you ought to know how many tonnes of oil sand it took to fill your tank,” says the founder and head of the Manning Centre, which seeks to strengthen the knowledge and skills of political practitioners.

Mr. Manning is not picking on the oil industry. “No form of energy is environmentally neutral. So where’s the reservoir tax for the hydro guys, the radiation tax for the nuclear guys, the environmental levy for the wind and solar guys?” he asks.

“Whatever you buy, you are having an environmental effect, and ultimately mitigating that effect ought to be part of the price of what you buy.”

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