Today I woke up to the news that over the last six years the world has got a bit more Canadian. The latest census figures for that great land have been released by Statistics Canada and they show that since 2006 Canada has grown by 5.9%, or 1.9 million people.  This growth rate (the highest for any of the G8 countries) takes Canada’s total population to 33.5 million people.  Some of the highlights of the results are:

  • “[f]or the first time in Canadian history, the proportion of the population living west of Ontario (30.7 per cent) is greater than the number of people living to the east (30.6 per cent)’;
  • British Colombia’s share of the population has reached a new high of 13.1%;
  • Ontario’s share of the population has also reached a new high of 38.4%; 
  • Quebec meanwhile has seen its share of the population dip slightly to 23.6%; 
  • the proportion of rural Canadians has dropped to an historic low of 18.9%; 
  • more than one-third of the Canadian population (35%) live in three cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver; 
  • around two-thirds of Canada’s population growth is driven by immigration and not by natural increase;
  • Canada’s fertility rate remains below replacement at 1.7 births per woman; and 
  • the greying of Canada’s population is set to accelerate between 2011 and 2031 as baby boomers hit the age of 65.

It is these last three factors that have some commentators worried. Writing in the Calgary Herald, columnist Licia Corbella argues that Canada desperately needs a baby boom if it is to remain prosperous. (I suggested this months ago!) She cites the following prediction:

“…according to all scenarios used in Statistics Canada’s most recent population projections, natural increase is expected to continue to decline in the future decades, due to a projected increase in the number of deaths.”

While the growth rate slows up, it will be supplied more and more by immigration as Canada’s fertility rate remains below replacement:

“The medium growth scenario used in population projections assumes an immigration rate of 7.5 immigrants per 1,000 population and a fertility rate of 1.7 children per women. This scenario indicates that starting in 2031, migratory increase could account for more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth, compared to about 67 per cent currently…Without a sustained level of immigration or a substantial increase in fertility, Canada’s population growth could, within 20 years, be close to zero”

The trouble is, even if immigration was to continue at the current rate (and leaving aside the potential societal issues that large scale immigration can bring), it does not solve the problem of a greying population:

“According to a 2006 Statistics Canada report titled Canada’s Population by Age and Sex, ‘even a substantial increase in the number of immigrants could not stop Canada’s population aging.’

For example, ‘if Canada was to admit four times as many immigrants per year, the population’s median age would still increase, from the current 38.8 to 44.1 years in 2056. This would mean an average of about one million immigrants per year for the next 50 years. Regardless, the proportion of seniors would increase from the current 13.2 per cent to 22.3 per cent in 2056…

‘The only way to stop the Canadian aging process,’ states the 2006 StatsCan report, ‘is to increase fertility.’”

How does one do that? Corbella argues that less tax will mean more money in the pocket for Mum and Dad and therefore more children.  However, this I think is at best a partial solution.  I think that a complete overhaul of how we think of children is needed to lift birthrates in Canada (or anywhere).  We need to stop thinking about children solely as economic burdens. While more money in potential parent’s pocket might help, it won’t if the parents can only see children in terms of the drain that they will place on their finances.  Canada is one of the most materially and economically wealthy societies in the history of this planet.  If 99.99999% of the world’s population (past and present) could and can afford to have children with much less than what the current Canadian generation has, then I don’t think a tax break by itself will push Canadian fertility rates higher.    

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...