Friday, July 22, 2011

Super Big Canada

Robert Kaplan has a column in The Globe and Mail arguing for an active policy of immigration to raise the Canadian population to 100 million. The comments on it are overwhelmingly critical, and they are almost all quite correct: not only is the idea embarrassingly bad, all the arguments are embarrassingly bad. He gives about six arguments for the position.

Our culture would be less strained to survive. Our arts, books, magazines, newspapers, movies and music, electronic media, with more than triple the producers and consumers would become self-sustaining. They might even become better. Our comedians could be funnier. Our elusive search for definition as Canadians could be realized.

When I lived in Canada I was always amused by the "search for definition as Canadians," which really does take up a large amount of Canadian time; a result of the fact that you can't be True North without being north of something, and we all know the self-assured and charming loudmouth nation Canada is north of. It's a completely absurd kind of insecurity, since Canadians are pretty good at being Canadian without having any definitions in hand, but societies don't always function rationally. It takes a very peculiar kind of Canadian, however, to think that the way to define what it is to be a Canadian is to import people to tell you.

Canadians could better take up our vast opportunities. Domestic markets that justify branch plant operations today could attract Canadian entrepreneurs from the start. We would be a serious stand-alone market. Truncation could be reversed. Foreign capital coming in would be more challenged by growing Canadian domestic capital.

I confess that I simply don't understand this argument. In what sense would having a larger population make Canada a serious stand-alone market given that Canada would still be directly north of the world's longest trade-permeable border from a certain nation that would still have a massively larger population, massively greater production capability, and the wealthiest consumer market in the world? There's a perfectly reasonable sense in which Canada is a stand-alone market already; and the senses in which it is not are not magically fixed by having lots more people hanging around. I must be missing something, misreading something, or just plain overlooking something. I suppose, though, that it makes some sense if Kaplan's policy is to import millions of millionaires and billionaires; that would do wonders for Canadian domestic capital.

On the world stage, our skills at exercising soft power by finding project partners and leading by example could be supplemented by some “hard” power. We could address and solve problems single handedly if we wanted. Our military could be comfortably triple its present size, as could our aid programmes.

If Canada had three times the population, I guarantee you that its military would be nowhere near three times as large, and that if its military were three times as large, it would not be sufficient to address and solve problems single-handedly. The United States has problems addressing and solving problems single-handedly, and we have a military that's over twenty times as large as the Canadian Forces, not counting reserves, which we also use to a somewhat embarrassing extent. I also guarantee you that most of Canada's good reputation on the world scene is due to the fact that she doesn't do much supplementing with "hard" power, and, indeed, often resists it actively; it's one of the few things that keeps people from automatically assuming that Canada is a bogus front for U.S. foreign policy.

We Canadians believe we stand for something good in the world, that we have some values and some institutions worth promoting in the interests of international social harmony, peace and prosperity. At 100 million, the world audience might be more alert.

Yes, because we know how alert the world is to the cultural values of Nigeria and Bangladesh, which have populations in excess of 100 million, and how nobody is influenced by the Dutch, the Swiss, the Danes, and the Israelis, with populations much smaller than Canada has now. In what conceivable way does population affect how much people pay attention to you? And even if it correlated perfectly, you'd just have moved up from position 35 to position 12, ahead of Britain, Germany, and France, to be sure, but in the same league as the Philippines. Be a source of wealth, health, or life endangerment, and people will pay attention to you. Big population, not so much.

Canada’s ecology is changing. We oppose global warming for good reasons and should continue to do so, but we can see it coming, and it brings certain advantages to Canada. We will have much more arable land and a much broader range of foods that we will be able to grow – foods that the world needs. This is already happening. More farmers are needed. Also Northern opportunity is becoming, and has become, viable. Northern waterways are now accessible eight months a year, a window that is increasing. We need cities up there, and people for them.

Now, Canadian waterways do seem to be opening up a bit, and that will have an effect, but global warming doesn't create massive quantities of arable land and habitable terrain in Nunavut and Northwest Territories. There aren't going to be plantations on Ungava Bay, and Iqaluit will never be a big port city, even when its deepwater port gets developed. Most of the soil in these regions is a light sprinkle over hard rock, and where it is not, it is not what one could call a rich, black loam. Some viable farmland will come open, the population capacity of towns might expand by a few thousand, but we aren't talking hugely significant numbers here.

we should not ignore the growing world population and the growing number of refugees worldwide. It is not inconceivable that world organizations may begin telling us to increase what we now consider to be a generous immigration policy. Today’s limits are stingy for us. We could get ahead of this and gain world respect for doing so.

The number of people in the world today who in any significant way measure their respect for a nation by how generous it is in taking in refugees cannot be an extraordinarily large number. And obviously intake of refugees is better determined by how well they can be helped rather than by an attempt to get up to quota.

Of course, Kaplan does recognize one potential problem with the whole plan, namely, that in practice it would consist of flooding most of this 60-70 million new people into Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. So, says Kaplan, only let them in on condition that they reside for ten years where we tell them to! Which will go very well with the mobility rights of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; while those mobility rights do have limits, it does seem unlikely that the Supreme Court of Canada would hold that decade-long conditions tying immigrants to a given province can be reasonably required by the needs of the poor or of a free society, which are the major limitations to such rights. You'd really have to do it by incentives. And a population about twice as large as your current population is a lot of people to incentivize.

I enjoyed reading this column because it reminded me that American politicians are not unique.

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