|An intelligent article on overpopulation in an Ottawa Newspaper|
What's the big idea?
Visiting Canada's largest cities, have you ever said 'boy,
there just aren't enough people here?'
The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Questioning the god called growth is about as popular as flatulence in
church, but it's Sunday, always a good day for heresy.
Conventional wisdom tells us growth is both good and inevitable. We want
a larger population, bigger cities and a continuously enlarging economy.
These outcomes are so obviously desirable that all three levels of
government have made fuelling growth their top priority.
The federal government is doing its bit by raising next year's
immigration target by 10,000 people. If we are able to admit up to
255,000 new immigrants, we will help "secure the economic and
social prosperity of our country for this and future generations,"
Immigration Minister Joe Volpe assures us.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is another growth enthusiast. His
government is planning for Ontario to grow by 4.4 million people during
the next 25 years, an increase of more than one-third. Most of them are
expected to live in the Greater Toronto area.
In Ottawa, growth means more of every kind of service the city provides,
every year. We must continuously hire more police and paramedics, for
example, and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on light rail, to
move all those new people downtown.
The problem with all of this is that the underlying premise -- growth is
good -- doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Continuous growth consumes
finite natural resources at a reckless rate, damages the environment,
destroys the quality of life in our cities and will be ultimately
In planning to continuously expand its population, Canada is trying to
outrun depopulation, a demographic trend that is affecting almost every
major western country. Only the United States has a fertility rate
adequate to replace existing population. That's 2.1 children per woman.
Canadian women have 1.5. There is no realistic hope of increasing
fertility rates. Couples have fewer children because of the high cost of
raising them, the need for two incomes and the ease with which abortion
and birth control allow people to limit family size. It's a trend
unlikely to change.
We've been trying to overcome our low birth rate with the most aggressive
immigration program of any G8 country. If the goal is to get more
workers, our immigration system is a poor tool for doing it. In Canada,
we are told the immigration program is a vital source of workers, yet of
235,000 people admitted last year, only 55,000 are skilled workers or
entrepreneurs. The rest are spouses, family members or refugees.
Some say we need even more immigrants, and raise the fear that failing to
do so will mean China and India will pass us on the economic racetrack.
Let's not kid ourselves, we aren't even in the race, so losing it isn't
a concern. Those two countries are using their vast populations to lever
dramatic economic growth. We don't have a vast population, and
immigration won't give us one.
But wouldn't an end to economic growth mean poverty all around?
In a word, no. When you think about it, GDP growth is only essential if
the population is growing, too. The economic pie has to keep increasing
if it is shared among more and more people every year. If the number of
people is decreasing, the pie can too. Even in a no-growth economy,
things will not be static. Some areas will always be growing, others
Growth skeptics got some rare support this week, when Ontario's
environment commissioner made the modest suggestion that the province's
population expansion plans would be bad for the environment. The points
made by commissioner Gord Miller are only common sense, although he has
been accused of being anti-immigrant and anti-development. If you've
toured the vast sprawl of southern Ontario recently, you'll know that
growth can't be achieved without destroying natural areas. And the
provincial government wants to add 2.4 million more people in the GTA
Why would a province that can barely generate enough power for current
needs want to add so much more demand? The solution is more nuclear
plants, although they are astoundingly expensive and we still haven't
solved the problem of disposing of nuclear waste.
We see the negative effects of growth around us every day. More people
means more cars, more roads, higher taxes and more crowding everywhere
we go. When visiting Canada's largest cities, have you ever said
"boy, there just aren't enough people here?" The federal
government pretends that more immigrants can be directed to rural areas
and small cities. Not likely. Recent immigration destination patterns
make it pretty clear immigrants want to go to big cities where there is
the perception jobs will be easier to find, and they have the support of
others from their homeland. A federal policy position isn't going to
Some argue the effects of growth can be minimized with higher density
development and use of more transit. It's true, up to a point, but like
so much of the unrealistic national growth plan, it counts on people
acting quite differently than they always have in the past.
No Canadian politician will even begin an intelligent discussion about
growth because it would immediately open him to accusations of being
anti-immigrant, anti-progress and anti-business. There is another
factor, too. Growth has kept so much money flowing into federal coffers
that annual surpluses in the billions have become routine. At all three
levels of government, planning for all the growth has been a growth
industry in itself. Why would they want to give up a concept that has
served them so well?
Instead of putting more effort into yesterday's solutions, Canada ought
to be taking a more realistic view of the world that lies ahead of us.
That would mean re-evaluating such traditional markers of success as
growth in population and gross domestic product. It would also mean
reassessing the value of immigration. Canada still has 6.7 per cent
unemployment and an economy in which Canadian-born university graduates
have a tough time getting a foothold, and yet we wring our hands because
a foreign professional can't step off the plane and find work here.
Growth is an insatiable demon, and a guarantor of constant instability as
our governments and individual Canadians chase a continuously moving
target. When you really think about it, and we ought to, you have to
ask, what is the point of our blind allegiance to growth?
Contact Randall Denley at 596-3756 or by e-mail, email@example.com
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005
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