Eco-economist Eric Noel has been contemplating that very question through his Canada Towards 2030 Project. The project calls itself “a non-partisan and non-prescriptive foresight research initiative.”
“The Canada of tomorrow may not be the country it is today, and positioning ourselves, our cities and our organizations is key,” the project says. “What will you do in 2030, where will you be?”
The only thing we can say for sure is that change is coming. Canada Towards 2030 speculates, “In 2030, the population shift to Ontario and the West will have redesigned our electoral map.” It then draws the obvious conclusion: the East Coast and Quebec will, by necessity, become less important politically.
While many in the technology world worry about robots replacing workers, Canada Towards 2030 foresees – due to Canada’s low birth rate and changing demographics – the reverse: “Instead of plants, mines or labs closing due to foreign competition or high exchange rate, could they instead be forced to shut down because of labour shortage?”
However, the most obvious change in the next few decades is global warming. The climate of Canada and the world will be fundamentally altered as the result of carbon emissions that nobody seems able to control. And although it seems prudent to try to reverse the growth of carbon emissions through the closure of coal-fired power plants, pursuing greater efficiency in energy usage and establishing carbon taxes, Canada has such a small carbon footprint globally that it might be useful to do the unthinkable: embrace global warming.
After all, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good. Despite the global disruption that climate change will bring, various northern countries will actually benefit from global warming. Canada could be the biggest winner.
The impact on Canadian agriculture could be dramatic. Canada’s severe climate now limits the growing season in much of the country. That’s why most Canadians live within 160 km of the United States border. This border zone is most desirable in terms of climate and its agricultural potential is substantial.
Should global warming unfold as envisioned, this temperate zone would expand massively. That would result in new possibilities for growth in Canada’s mid zone – that under-populated area between the border zone and the Arctic.
Could Canada support a population of 100 million?
If global warming becomes a reality (and they’re no reason to think it won’t), a vast territory stretching from Prince Rupert on the West Coast across the northern part of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba could become much more desirable. And it could support a second Canada with a population equal to or greater than that of the border zone.
It’s clear that immigration is the key to Canada doubling its population. But it’s also clear that major cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the choice of many new immigrants, have neared the limit of their growth. We can’t double the Canadian population on the backs of these metropolises.
Where will the new immigrants go? A warming climate could see Prince Rupert become the new Vancouver. Cities like Prince George, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Grande Prairie, Peace River, Edmonton, Saskatoon and many others could see unparalleled growth. It would be possible to double the population of Canada by populating these under-developed regions.
Embracing global warming could transform Canada into one of the world’s great nations.
Mind you, massive investment would be required. New transport infrastructure and nationwide communications would be needed. This second Canada would have to be grounded in a new globalized economy that would provide seamless access to markets for Canadian goods.
Expanding Canada in this way would also help connect and invigorate many presently isolated indigenous communities, bringing them into the mainstream of Canadian life.
It’s a pretty dramatic vision of Canada’s future, but if global warming is here to stay, it certainly could allow us to remain a young and dynamic country.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.