Dealing with a big thing

John Ibbitson, again (I featured one of his columns just yesterday) who is Writer at Large ~ a sort of ‘super-columnist’ I suppose ~ at the Globe and Mail, and  Darrell Bricker, who is Global CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, are the co-authors of The Big Shift (2013) and Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline (2019), and they have written a provocative essay in the Globe and Mail which is based on Empty Planet and which deals with immigration and refugees.

The baseline for Messers Bricker and Ibbitson is that proper, legal immigration is both needed by and beneficial for Canada, a position with which I fully agree, but they also deal with refugees, in a way that I think is overly simplistic, and with population growth, in a way that I find remarkably interesting.

It is important to deal with their view on population growth first. They say that “In a century when most developed countries will see their populations decline, Canada will continue to grow, robustly. In a world where many populations are aging, Canada’s ages more slowly, because the average age of immigrants is seven years younger than the general population … [because, they say] … In about three decades, give or take, the human population will start to decline.

If you find this news shocking,” they say, “that’s not surprising. The United Nations Population Division projects that our numbers will swell to more than 11 billion by the end of this century, almost four billion more than are alive today. Where will we put them? How will we feed them all? How many more of us can this fragile Earth withstand? … But,” they say, “a growing body of opinion believes the UN is wrong. We will not reach 11 billion by 2100. Instead, the human population will top out at somewhere between eight and nine billion, somewhere around the middle of the century, and then begin to decline. By 2100, we could be back to where we are right now, and steadily growing fewer.” They cite a few quite reputable sources for their somewhat radical contention and they give one major reason: “Populations are already in reverse in about two dozen states around the world. Some of the richest places on Earth are shedding people every year, thanks to low fertility rates: Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy, much of Eastern Europe. “We are a dying country,” Italy’s health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, lamented in 2015 … [but, they add] … the big news is that the largest developing countries are also about to grow smaller, as their own fertility rates come down … [because] … China’s rate is the same as Canada’s – well below the average of 2.1 children per woman needed for a society to sustain its numbers. Unlike Canada, China does not welcome immigrants, which is why, in a few years, the world’s most populous country will begin losing people … [and] … The birth rate of India, which will soon replace China as No. 1 in population, has fallen to 2.1 and will continue to go down. Brazil, which ranks fifth, has a birth rate almost as low as China’s. In a couple of decades, it, too, will start losing people … [and, they say that] … In many respects, this is wonderful news. The Earth will be healthier for having fewer of us on it. But there will also be challenges as we become a race of many old people, with not enough young people to support them.

They provide a lot of data to back up their assertion …


… the UN (2017) refers to data provided by the United Nations Population Division, IIASA (2014) refers to the International Institute for Applied System Analysis, and Deutsche Bank (2013) refers to a study by that respected financial institution. If the latter two are more correct than the UN then, beginning in about 2050, the world will start losing people.

There are two major reasons for the projected decline: a) increased global wealth, and b) urbanization.

The effects of nearly 75 years of relative peace and rapidly increased global free(er) trade is that for the first time in human history more people are in the lower working, working and middle classes than are mired in abject poverty. History tells us that as people grow richer they have fewer children. China is, simply, proving history right, again. One aspect of increased global prosperity is that now, in the early 21st century, and again for the first time in human history, more people live in urban areas than in the countryside and, as Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson say, “A lot happens when people move from the countryside to the city. First, a child shifts from being an asset – another pair of shoulders to work in the fields – to a burden; just another mouth to feed … [and] … Even more important, a woman who moves to a city has greater access to media, to schools, to other women. She demands greater autonomy. And women who are able to exercise control over their bodies generally decide to have fewer children.

The Bricker/Ibbitson prediction, for Canada is shown in three charts:


Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 10.11.30.png

Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 10.11.45.png

The first shows that two of Canada’s top three legal immigrant producing countries (China and India) are either below or approaching the rate of population replacement (2.1 children per family). The third main source country, the Philippines, according to the World Bank, the source they used for the their chart, is already (at 1.5 children per family) below the replacement rate. A steadily growing economy, since the early 19th century, and first rate sanitation and preventive medicine mean that (second chart) we Canadians are living longer and longer even as we produce fewer and fewer children so that, in 2016, the seniors, people like me who draw e.g. the CPP and OAS, became a larger share of the population than children, aged 14 and under, who will be expected to work to pay for our pensions and health care. Our natural (live births to Canadian residents) population growth rate has been declining, rapidly, since about the 1950s. By the 2050s (third chart) we will have no natural population growth and Canada will become, as Italy’s health minister said, above, “a dying country,” unless we have new immigrants.

Where will the immigrants come from? Messers Bricker and Ibbitson says that it is likely that only Africa will, by 2050, still have high population growth rates. But, now, in 2019, Africa, like some other regions, is not producing enough of the skilled, educated people it needs to sustain itself; it cannot afford to send its best and brightest to Canada. We only make matters worse when we accept physicians, engineers, nurses and teachers from Afghanistan, Benin, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea and so on. My guess is that, for the next generation or two, we will still find lots of useful immigrants from the usual sources, mainly China, India and the Philippines, because Canada still offers more opportunities and a more attractive culture than people find in their own countries. For the next few years the United Kingdom, still one of our ‘top ten’ source countries, might be a good source of new Canadians as people leave because of the effects (real or just feared) of the looming, maybe Brexit.

It seems to me that a smart immigration strategy is to pull as many legal, properly screened (economic class) immigrants from Britain, China, India, the Philippines, South Korea, Western Europe, Vietnam and the USA as we possibly can ~ that will mean shifting resources and priorities within Citizenship and Immigration Canada ~ so that, by say, about 2050, we will have accepted about 1.25 Million new, legal immigrants, who, by 2050 will, by adding their own children, have helped to grow our population to over 50 Million in 2050 and will put Canada on track to have a population of 100 Million by the year 2100. That’s the top curve (100 Million) in this chart from a Conference Board of Canada report done in 2016 …

Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 11.07.49.png

… in other words, Justin Trudeau is right, just this once: we need more, and more and more immigration. But we also need more carefully focused immigration. We should want to be selfish and recruit the people we need, but, at the same time, we should also want to be responsible and, therefore, not want to rob e.g Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria of the young professionals they need, so desperately in some cases, to build or rebuild their own societies. The immigration minister in the next (grown-up) government needs to tell his deputy and senior officials that (s)he wants more legal immigrants and (s)he wants a well focused recruiting campaign aimed at Britain, China, India, the Philippines, South Korea, asian-familyWestern Europe, Vietnam and the USA and (s)he wants resources and priorities shifted away from everywhere else to accomplish that. The goal should be: by the year 2030 we are welcoming over 400,000 new, legal immigrants every year ~ people we need to help sustain and grow our economy and people who want to be Canadians ~ and that number will continue to grow. It is possible that we might have a multi-partisan consensus on that one issue.

Messers Bricker and Ibbitson deal, a bit, with the question of refugees. They focus some attention on Canada’s lamentable history ~ the Komagata Maru in 1914 and the St Louis in 1939 ~ but they also make a really important (somewhat anecdotal) distinction in comparing newcomers to Canada and Sweden: “Sweden,” they explain “has a proud tradition of admitting refugees. Thousands of Danish Jews found refuge from the German extermination camps during the Second World War by fleeing to a welcoming and neutral Sweden. The breakup of Yugoslavia sent more than 100,000, mostly Bosnians, north to their new home. And when the collapse of civil order in Syria and Iraq sent people fleeing in search of safety, Sweden stepped up like no other country, taking in 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, when the migration crisis was at its peak. For a country of only 9.5 million people, this was extraordinary … [but, they add] … the strain soon began to show. So many, so soon, from such a desperate part of the world. So many of them young men. How quickly could they learn Swedish? What jobs were there for them? Homelessness increased, as did unemployment and crime and resentment. Anti-immigrant sentiment fuelled the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who took 18 per cent of the vote in last September’s election. So a Swedish reporter wanted to know how Canada was able to take in so many refugees, hundreds of thousands of them, year after year, with so little strife … [and it was explained that] … that’s not what Canada does at all … [instead] … Typically, about 10 per cent of the people who are granted permanent resident status (which puts them on the path to citizenship) each year are refugees; the rest are either immigrants brought in because they will contribute to the Canadian economy or family members of economic-class immigrants … [who often provide unpaid child care for two working parents] … The Swedish journalist was shocked. “Immigrants have always been accepted to Sweden for humanitarian reasons,” she observed. This is the fundamental difference between Sweden and Canada. Canada brings in immigrants for reasons that are entirely selfish, which is why immigration works better in Canada than in Sweden … [and, they explain, and I agree, that] … Good public policy is always based on communal self-interest. Each of us is in it for ourselves. In most cases, “ourselves” includes our immediate family and, in diminishing importance, our neighbourhood; our village, town, or city; our region; our country; our planet. Of course we have empathy, of course we act for reasons of altruism. But you will only do something because it’s the right thing to do for so long, before you start asking yourself: “Why am I making this sacrifice? What’s in this for me or my family?” There are curbs on nakedly self-interested behaviour: Traditional codes of duty dictate that, in an emergency, women and children go first. But, in the main, effective public policy reflects collective self-interest: It’s good for everyone. This is particularly true of refugees and immigrants.

The refugee issue is far, far more complex than just admitting a few thousand to Canada each year. We have a civic duty, as a civilized nation, to help refugees. But proper help may, should and, in my opinion, must involve a lot more than just resettling a drop in the bucket each year. But I have explained that before.

The authors deal, briefly, with some of Canada’s, especially Quebec’s problems with immigration and culture, and they conclude that: “Some who fear that unchecked immigration could lead to a loss of cultural cohesion argue for government policies that encourage couples to have more children. Improving child-care services, extending parental leave – while encouraging the father to do his part – and offering financial aid for families with young children are all worthwhile. But such programs are very expensive, and nowhere have they brought the birth rate of a low-fertility society back up to the replacement rate of 2.1. A core reason for this is what’s known as the low-fertility trap … [that is the case in which] … If a society experiences a generation or more of low fertility, goes this theory, then that condition becomes the new normal, a normal that’s almost impossible to change. As Sarah Harper of Oxford University describes it, “Employment patterns change, child care and schools are reduced, and there is a shift from a family/child-oriented society to an individualistic society, with children part of individual fulfillment and well-being.” Having a child is no longer an obligation to family and clan, to society, to God. It is a way for that couple to express themselves and to experience life. A new daughter will be far more important than the mid-century modern look they went for in the living room, or those two weeks they spent in the Costa Rican jungle, or that amazing – if rather insecure and underpaid – new job in graphic design. But she will be part of that continuum. Does this sound like anyone you know? … [but they say] … Maybe people will change. Divorce rates are down in part because children felt the pain of divorce in their family, or in the families of their friends, and resolved to avoid it. Perhaps a generation of people who grew up with one or no siblings will want their children to experience the messy joys of a home with lots of kids … [and] … Maybe women will finally achieve the full equality they deserve. Maybe a third child won’t set back her career – at least no more than it sets back his career – because he throws himself into parenting every bit as much as she does. We are still a long way from this. But every year the gap narrows a little bit … [but, they say] … In the meantime, we will grow fewer. A child born this decade will reach middle age in a world where population growth has stalled, and may already have begun to shrink. What will that world look like? We believe there will be much about it to admire. It will be cleaner, safer, quieter. The oceans will start to heal and the atmosphere cool – or at least stop heating. People may not be growing wealthier, but that might not matter so much. Power centres will shift – and centres of innovation and creativity, too. But it may be a poet who notices that, for the first time in the history of the race, humanity feels old.” Their argument, and mine, is that Canada can avoid becoming “old,” it can avoid being “a dying country” if it pursues, starting now, an aggressive programme to attract lot more of the sorts of legal, productive immigrants we need and which we all ought to want. But, at the same time, we have to secure our borders so that we can exclude the illegal migrants that we neither need nor want … they are the root of Quebec’s immigration worries.

This is going to be a difficult issue for Conservatives. As has been pointed out, something well over half of Canadians already think that we admit too many immigrants, and an election campaign is not the easiest time to mount a public education campaign ~ especially when I suspect that the overwhelming majority of the 57% who think we have too many immigrants, already, cannot and do not want to differentiate between legal immigrants, refugees and illegal migrants. As a friend recently reminded me, an election campaign is also an incredibly difficult time to admit that your opponent is right about anything and there are some in the Canadian commentariat who will crucify Andrew Scheer if he supports increased legal immigration, as he should, on principle. But, real Conservatives want, very much, to ‘Make Canada Great Again,’ and they must understand that do do that we need a lot of new people, millions and millions and millions of new people, to grow our economy and restore our traditional ambition to be a leader amongst the world’s middle powers.

Messers Bricker’s and Ibbitson’s closing paragraph is all too true: “Population decline,” they say “is not a good thing or a bad thing. But it is a big thing. We have mostly ignored this approaching reality for too long; we must ignore it no longer. Canadians, at least, can greet that future with confidence, so long as we remain the most welcoming place on Earth.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: