You are one of the founders of the Century Initiative. Why did you choose to focus on population growth for Canada and why now?
I believe that the next twenty to thirty years will be some of the most transformative we will see two to three-hundred years – not just for Canada, but for the world. The intersection of a number of global forces: the economic shift to emerging markets, disruptive technology, and others will create enormous opportunities for countries prepared to capture them. Against that backdrop, Canada is well prepared to succeed in many ways – due to our talented population, wealth of natural resources and political stability – but we also face major headwinds related to demographics. In order to counteract challenges associated with our aging population, increasing population growth is one important lever to maintain Canada’s economic prosperity, as well as our relevance on the global stage.
In fact, having talented people will be an increasingly important source of growth and opportunity creation – even more so than capital and resources have been over the last 50 years. Technology change is the key driver of this phenomenon.
What do you think will happen if we do not act?
If Canada’s population continues to grow at its current rate – 1.2 percent per year – we will see a significant decline in our productivity growth as we have less people participating in the workforce. We will become a nation of about 53 million people by 2100, outside the top 50 countries in the world by population. As our population relative to the rest of the world shrinks, so will our economic prospects and influence in global affairs.
Other countries globally face similar demographic challenges as Canada. In your travels globally, what can you share about how this is being addressed elsewhere? What can Canada learn from this?
The challenges that Japan faces from its aging population are even more dramatic than Canada’s. Coupled with Japan’s low birthrate, based on current trends, the size of their workforce will be nearly cut in half in the next fifty years. Japan’s leadership is well-aware of this economic challenge – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched an advisory panel on the issue in 2015 and set a key policy goal of maintaining Japan’s population at 100 million people. There are two things that Canada can learn from Japan and other advanced countries faced with similar demographic challenges; first, building the necessary support systems that make it easier for families to have children (e.g., child care, tax policy) and second, maximizing workforce participation (e.g., by investing in training programs).
The Century Initiative is a private sector initiative. Why do businesspeople care about our population size – how does it impact the bottom-line?
The success of Canadian companies depends on the country having a strong economy, a deep talent pool, and a growing domestic market. A larger population means more people buying products and services locally and a deeper pool of talent to hire from. A larger and stronger economy will also make Canada more attractive for foreign investment and more relevant on the world stage.
If we are successful in thoughtfully and responsibly growing Canada’s population, how will this impact the daily lives of Canadians now and in the future?
Canada will remain the envy of the world and our children and grandchildren will have the same or better economic opportunities, access to education and healthcare, and support systems in retirement that my generation has come to expect. That is not to say that we cannot realize these goals without 100 million Canadians, but the economics make it much more difficult to achieve.
What are the biggest barriers you foresee in the success of growing Canada’s population to 100 million?
In many parts of the country, our education and healthcare systems and infrastructure are already under immense strain. To some, addressing these challenges in the short-term may appear at odds with our need to expand our population. However, we believe that these two goals can coexist and that Canada will be a more prosperous and inclusive country for all Canadians as a result. Balancing this long-term outcome with short-term tradeoffs will be the biggest challenge for the success of the Initiative.
If you could look to the future at Canada in 2100 and see success, how would you describe that?
Canada’s society and the opportunities that being a Canadian will afford will be even better than what Canadians have today. We will be a more inclusive, diverse, creative and resilient society. Our stature on the world stage will be such that it will be realistic to describe the 21st century as “Canada’s Century.”
On a personal level, why do you think Canada would be a better place with more people?
Being Canadian will always be a major source of pride for me, regardless of our population size. The values and motivation of our people and the respect that carrying a Canadian passport carries is unlikely to change over the next few decades. Economic prosperity, however, is never guaranteed in the long term and I do believe that a larger population in 2100 will make it more likely that the generations of Canadians to come will enjoy the same opportunities that we do.