Spooked by rising anti-immigration sentiment in Canada, particularly in Quebec, a business group that includes Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, has published a blueprint for preserving the country’s economic prosperity by welcoming newcomers and tripling the population over the next 80 years.
The Century Initiative tabled a detailed plan on Thursday for ensuring Canada’s next generation enjoys the same standard of living as the one that preceded it, centred on boosting the population to 100 million by the year 2100. The bulk of this growth would come through increased immigration, as the Century Initiative’s research shows that current demographic trends, including fertility and new arrivals, will translate into a population of just 49.7 million in 2100, with a high proportion of aging, unproductive citizens.
“We realize that active measures to increase Canada’s scale will run into the headwinds of current countervailing political forces that reflect a more skeptical public mood,” said the report, which comes on the heels of an election campaign that saw People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier put his face on billboards that read “Say NO to mass immigration.”
A collection of executives with strong ties to governments of all political stripes founded Century Initiative in 2013. The group’s board consists of Mr. Barton, Willa Black, Goldy Hyder, Tom Milroy, Andrew Pickersgill and Mark Wiseman. Mr. Barton was named Canada’s ambassador to China in September and is a former global managing partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and an adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Ms. Black is an executive at Cisco Systems Inc. Mr. Hyder is chief executive of the Business Council of Canada and former head of Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Canada. Mr. Milroy is the former CEO of Bank of Montreal’s investment dealer. Mr. Pickersgill is a Toronto-based managing partner at McKinsey. Mr. Wiseman is senior managing director of BlackRock Inc. and former CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
To support population growth that would see major cities triple in size – the report projects the Greater Toronto Area will be home to 33 million, while Montreal and Vancouver will each hit 12 million – Century Initiative recommends significant investment in infrastructure and education by both governments and the private sector. However, the group’s key message is that the Canadian government should hike its current target of 350,000 immigrants annually to 400,000 newcomers next year, and then boost the goal by 20,000 each year, until 2026. At that point, Canada will bring in 1.25 per cent of its total population each year or more than 500,000 immigrants annually.
To make a sharp rise in immigration palatable to current citizens, the report stresses the need for an education and marketing campaign that sells the merits of population growth. The Century Initiative’s members said: “Despite the vital need for increased immigration to ensure Canada’s long-term prosperity, Canadian public opinion around immigration is conflicted.” The group recognized that in Quebec, the prospect of newcomers pouring over the border is a hot-button issue.
Quebec has the right to set its own immigration targets and population growth in the province trails other regions.
“Quebec will need to take in far more immigrants if it wishes to maintain its historic share of the population – not the direction it is currently going,” the Century Initiative team said. “As the rest of the country grows, Quebec runs the risk of shrinking its relative size within Confederation.”
The need for population growth is even more acute in Atlantic Canada, according to the Century Institute. The region faces a “demographic storm” brought on by aging populations, migration and a decline in the size of the workforce.
The 88-page Century Initiative study pointed out that in the future, successful countries will anchored by densely populated cities, and said these “mega-regions” bring social benefits. “Properly planned, greater density is energy efficient, reduces environmental impact and delivers a high quality of life for residents,” the report said. A low-carbon economy requires scale, and the group said: “Under-population harms Canada’s climate and ecological future in key ways.”
Century Initiative recognized that immigrants and those already in the Canadian workforce would need new skills and training to keep pace in an increasingly global economy that features fewer jobs in traditional sectors such as manufacturing. “Automation will indeed reduce some of the costs of production and make some jobs redundant,” the report said. “But companies that are more productive are those that can compete and grow, thereby adding jobs in other places, often higher up the value chain, so that overall employment grows.”
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