by Terence MacNamee
Economic advisers to the new Liberal government have said that Canada should plan for a population of 100 million by the end of the 21st century. It’s got 36 million now, so that would be quite a jump.
How is it to be done? Given that the existing population are not likely to heed Japanese-style government appeals to “be fruitful and multiply”, it will have to be by immigration. Opponents are already pointing to the inability of the Canadian natural environment to sustain all the new energy-guzzling urban sprawl that would spring up, because that is what it would mean. The counter-position to a “Greater Canada” that seems to be emerging in that country is that of the Ecopop initiative in Switzerland, which tried unsuccessfully two years ago to persuade the voters in a national referendum to decree a limit on future immigration for the sake of preserving the Alpine scenery.
Immigration is the real issue whenever population projections are discussed, and Canada is no exception. What kind of immigration is it likely to be? It will hardly be from Europe, which no longer has much surplus population to export. On the other hand, there is plenty of potential population in the teeming Asian countries, in China and India most of all.
The pundits on both sides of the issue are assuming a nation-state of Canada stretching unchanged into the future, making its own decisions about its development in splendid isolation from the rest of the world. That is a naïve assumption. What is at issue here is not just the future of Canada, a nation-state that has only been around for 150 years and often threatens to fall apart. No, the stakes are much higher.
North America was always seen as Europe’s back yard. Basically untouched and all ready for development. A ready-made solution to the problem of surplus population. (The native folks already there weren’t asked, but there were never enough of them to make a fuss.) Now Europe has no more to say – it is no longer the motherland ruling New World colonies from afar.
North Americans thought of themselves as a race of pioneers who were going to create a whole new destiny and a whole new civilization for themselves. It didn’t happen. Instead we got an amalgam called “the Western world” on both sides of the Atlantic. Asia was not politically a part of this story. The only thing that came across the Pacific was the odd Russian admiral and his ships, and they didn’t stay for long.
Now what seems to be emerging at last is that North America is destined to be the place of encounter between Europe and Asia. Remember that Columbus, when he set sail across the Atlantic, was carrying a letter of introduction to the Emperor of China. The meeting never happened, obviously. But that was the original plan. Europe comes from the East, and Asia comes from the West, and they meet in North America.
All things considered, Canada looks like having a great future. But whose Canada? What kind of Canada? A Canada so different from the one we have now – with its built-in power relations and its dominant cultural look and feel – that we cannot even imagine what it will be like. So much for the grandiose plans of economic pundits who have difficulty figuring out what will happen next week, let alone in a hundred years’ time.