“Maximum Canada” isn’t a phrase usually associated with our nation of frequent apologies and cold weather. Yet, as Doug Sanders asserts, Canada has sometimes undermarketed itself to the world and its own citizens. In a lively conversation with the CBC’s Adrian Harewood, Saunders outlined the unexpected costs paid by all who live in this lightly-populated land. A vigorous public question-and-answer session followed the presentation, and Saunders successfully defended his thesis. We are indeed a nation limited by a certain lack of critical mass, not in land or natural resources, but in population. Canada simply lacks the mass of artists and architects, laborers, venture capitalists who make a country a viable independent whole. As a result, we are a nation of small cities, a place in which 10% of the population can be found abroad at any one time.
Saunders began his presentation by outlining the challenges faced by his Ontario ancestors, outlining a world in which devotion to the Loyalist cause, as well as fear of annexation by the United States, blinded many to the actual needs of a developing urban industrial economy. Canada, of course, is not alone in viewing itself through a distorted mirror. Many nations have idealized rural visions of their culture and economy long after the land ceased to be a practical means of support for their populations. Sadly, Canada is far from alone in resisting immigration, nor its brutal repression of native populations. But Canada is alone, Saunders counters, in its continued underestimation of the number of people required to sustain a viable, independent nation into the 22 nd century.
Population density limits Canada’s future in several unexpected arenas. In addition to lacking the people to fill specific empty jobs, for example, the nation suffers from the lack of the solid infrastructure a larger population could fund via a more prosperous tax base. Denser cities could foster a more vital environment for small businesses and start-ups. Such places would certainly provide the ridership for more sustainable mass transit options. A similar lack of base population limits the creation and provision of culture: smaller potential audiences mean fewer successful playwrights, musicians and performers.
Saunders’ ideas are shaped by the time he spent in the US and UK developing his own skills as a journalist; he asserts that time abroad is all but mandatory in many career fields. The private sector also suffers from its small size. Fewer venture capitalists and a nationwide aversion to experimental investment means that such profitable everyday items as the telephone and Kraft’s “American” cheese were invented and marketed by Canadians working south of the border. Indeed, Canadian demographers have noted that Canadian outmigration has exceeded in-migration in almost every year since Confederation. Human population is not static, and as Saunders reminds us, this peaceful nation of the North will have to work hard to attract and retain people to live here if it wants to remain either its global influence or its domestic comforts.