Preparing for Canada’s surging population

A new Statistics Canada report published on August 22, 2022, states that according to a high-growth population projection, Canada’s population could be as high as 74 million people by 2068 with a majority of that being in Ontario. Even in a medium growth projection, which seems to be most likely based on historical trends, Canada’s population could reach close to 60 million people by 2068. The same report shows that Ontario’s population could surpass 21 million people, a surge of nearly 40%, by 2043. Another report shows that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Canada had the fastest population growth rate in the G7 countries. The current driver of population growth has largely been immigration, and that is projected to continue in the future; based on 2020 data, Canada has among the lowest fertility rates in the world at 1.4 children per woman.

On the face of it, this is great news for the country and the economy overall. The same report states that we have an aging population with a significant number of baby boomers retiring and leaving the workforce. An increased population largely comprised of economic immigrants willing and able to work will help offset economic losses and help to sustain various social welfare systems through taxation. However, as anyone living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) over the past 20 years can anecdotally attests, there are significant negative externalities of an increased population some of which include hellish traffic, and soaring housing and rental prices. This is largely a result of poor planning and a failure to upgrade critical infrastructure to keep up with population growth.

As the population of Canada, and Ontario grows, no doubt the GTA will absorb a disproportionate number of migrants both domestically and from abroad. The GTA does not have the capacity to continue on its present growth trajectory without significantly reducing the quality of life of the people that live here. In the last few years, there have been significant affordability challenges, a lot of which are associated with a far larger demand for necessities like housing compared with a far smaller available supply. The solution, particularly for Ontario but also Canada as a whole, is to actively develop cities outside the GTA such that they are attractive places for people to live and raise their families.  

The government of Ontario should take proactive measures to incentivize businesses and institutions to relocate to less populated municipalities and regions within the province so we can have a more even population density. One of the most effective economic incentives is a tax break which could be offered to companies that relocate outside the GTA or relocate to specific designated areas within the province to spur development. Once employers start moving to various locations around the province, there is no doubt that employees will also follow. The work from home movement has started this shift in the right direction, however progress is slow especially with many employers favouring the hybrid work model splitting between work from home and work from the office.

The government of Ontario needs to actively invest in large scale infrastructure projects outside the GTA such as building new hospitals, universities, roads and power supplies to effectively and successfully sustain communities outside the GTA. I find that an ideal location for further development is the Windsor to Toronto corridor. There are a number of suitable and excellent cities including Windsor, London, Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph where people have started relocating over the past few years. One of the most critical pieces of infrastructure that is becoming almost a necessity is the development of a high-speed rail line between Windsor and Toronto servicing all the cities in between. This idea has been floated and studied for years by various levels of government and administrations, but there has been little progress on it; now is the time to start developing something like this as we anticipate future population surges.

It is patently absurd that an advanced democratic country, a G7 country like Canada, has only 3 major industries: real estate, oil and gas, and financial services. Real estate should not be one of our biggest industries, in fact I am of the opinion that real estate should not be an industry at all. Houses and personal dwellings should first and foremost be for living rather than viewed as investments. What makes the situation worse is that none of these are forward looking industries, nor high growth industries.

The governments of Ontario and Canada have an incredible opportunity to build up from here on forward looking industries particularly renewable energy, electric cars and the associated renewable technologies and accessories such as batteries. Research by Clean Energy Canada shows that, Canada has the potential to build a domestic electric vehicle battery supply chain that could support up to 250,000 jobs by 2030 and add $48 billion to the Canadian economy annually. Needless to say, swift action from the federal and provincial governments is required for this to come to fruition.

Additionally, Ontario has the 4th best hospital in the world, the 10th best cancer hospital in the world and the best children’s hospital in the world in addition to some of the best teaching hospitals in the world and various medical schools and research institutions. Clearly there is a high level of pedigree and precedent in the medical and health care field already, that can be propelled and expanded upon to create more jobs and expand the economy. One of the most promising fields is regenerative medicine. Between the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the McEwen Stem Cell Centre and the Canadian Centre for Regenerative Therapy, world class research and therapies are being developed right here in Ontario.

There is every reason to invest significantly in these fields and become a world leader. With respect to regenerative medicine research, and therapies, and the development of an electric vehicle battery supply chain, there is every reason for the government of Ontario propel these industries in various regions across the province. Advancing funding towards the development of these and other industries in various regions of the province and country with the concomitant investments in infrastructure will be able to effectively employ, house and provide a good quality of life for the present and future population.

There is an old Chinese proverb that comes to mind: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now”. Now is the time to think big, now is the time to spend money, and deploy capital effectively like our predecessors did a 100 years ago if we want to secure a bright and prosperous future for this country and the inevitably large number of people we will be accommodating in the future. There is no good substitute for self-reliance and self-sufficiency by developing endemic industries. The time to prepare for future population surges and economic challenges is now. We cannot afford to continue to wait any longer and we cannot afford to wait for more data or to commission more studies to tell us what we already know. The time to act in the interests of the people is now.