Lisa Lalande is the chief executive officer of the Century Initiative; Tom Milroy is the vice-chair and treasurer of the Century Initiative’s board of directors.
Canada is at a crossroads. Our population is aging, and we are having fewer children. Our work force is shrinking, while the need for skilled labour is growing. COVID-19 has only made these challenges worse. According to the most recent reporting from Statistics Canada, the country’s population growth rate is at its lowest in more than 100 years.
An aging population and shrinking work force is a challenge to Canada’s long-term prosperity. It means fewer tax dollars to support the programs and services – from health care and schools, to roads, public transit and social services – we treasure as Canadians. That decline will, over time, diminish our quality of life, our standard of living, and the cultural fabric of the country. So, while our immediate collective focus is, and must be, the social and economic recovery from the pandemic, we cannot lose sight of the need to think longer term about the kind of country we want to leave future generations of Canadians. Simply put, we have a choice: We can manage our growth or manage our decline.
Since 2016, when a diverse group of Canadians from the business, academic, and charitable sectors first recognized the country’s population challenge and chose to act by creating the Century Initiative, we have advocated for policies to grow Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100. Growing to 100 million people would reduce the burden on government revenues to fund health care, old age security and other services. It would also mean more skilled workers to meet our labour market needs, and could contribute to more innovation, and fuel entrepreneurship.
However, if we want a more prosperous Canada, for more Canadians, we need to both plan for it and manage our efforts to achieve it.
That means ensuring the benefits of growth are shared among all Canadians. It means working with the provinces and territories, with municipalities across the country, and with Indigenous communities, where the population is younger on average than the rest of Canada’s population and is growing at a faster rate. And it requires a commitment to environmental sustainability. We can only manage these needs, though, if we measure our progress.
That is why Century Initiative created The National Scorecard on Canada’s Growth and Prosperity. The Scorecard is a new tool to help Canada’s policy and decision makers track our progress toward the goal of 100 million people by 2100. It is unique because it takes a holistic view of population growth, using data from the OECD, Statistics Canada, and other sources, to track a range of factors that, together, contribute to achieving that goal in a smart, sustainable manner.
From indicators on immigration numbers and child well-being, to our performance on fighting climate change, productivity, social progress, youth educational success, and employment, the Scorecard sets targets based on how Canada should perform compared with similar countries or against goals we have established as a country. And, it determines if we are leading, on track, in need of closer attention, or falling behind.
For instance, it assesses Canada’s performance on child care, because we recognize that there is a relationship between the quality and availability of child care and improved child well-being, labour-force participation for parents, particularly mothers, and could support a family’s decision to have more children. We track Canada’s progress on rolling out digital infrastructure because, as the pandemic has taught us, accessible, reliable internet service is critical to conducting business, accessing medical services, and connecting with family and friends.
While there is much work to do if we want to reach 100 million people, and enjoy the benefits that go with it, we are making some important progress. For instance, we remain among the top countries in the world when it comes to our reputation, which means we can attract people to Canada. But we also need to do more to attract immigrants with the skills for the jobs of today, and tomorrow.
We are leaders when it comes to high-school performance in reading, math and science, and in the proportion of our population with postsecondary education. But we need to increase investments from public and private sources for employee training programs once people enter the work force, and we need to ensure that the federal government moves forward with commitments to develop a national child care program.
These are just a few examples to illustrate the complex range of factors that influence population growth and, in turn, contribute to Canada’s prosperity. Tracking them provides us with a roadmap that we can use to help prioritize the decisions we need to make, together, to grow our population and leave a more prosperous, equitable, diverse and resilient Canada for future generations.
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