OOS 67-2
Big, cold and full: Population politics and the environment in Canada

Thursday, August 13, 2015: 8:20 AM
340, Baltimore Convention Center
Madeline Weld, Population Institute Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada
David W. Schindler, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmondton, AB, Canada

Canada has one of the highest population growth rates in the industrialized world. This growth does not result from a high birth rate, which has been at or below the replacement level since the early 1970s, but from a very high intake of newcomers, which has been near or above 250,000 annually since the early 1990s. The myth that Canada is underpopulated is based on ecological illiteracy and an adherence to the fundamentalist ideology of economic growth. In addition, the promotion of growth is intertwined with an official policy of multiculturalism such that challenging growth for any reason, including environmental considerations, is fraught. Since over 80% of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the US border, Canada's "real" size is much smaller than its geographic area. Furthermore, most newcomers settle in large metropolitan areas, increasing the stress on already overstretched infrastructure and social services. Despite its large surface area, Canada has a limited amount of high quality farmland and has lost over 15,000 square kilometres of such farmland to urbanization. In the densely populated southern part of Canada, there has also been a significant amount of habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. Recently weakened environmental laws have exacerbated the problem. Canada's rapid growth is also stymieing efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. While Canada's economy has grown along with its population, this growth has not increased the wealth or well-being of the average person. Every scientific study on population and the environment has concluded that growth offers no net benefits to the country. Yet growth continues to be actively promoted as an goal.   


Canada's very rapid growth in recent decades has come with heavy costs to the environment, urban infrastructure, and social services but has not resulted in an increase in real earnings of the average Canadian. The costs of growth are borne by all but the benefits go to the few (for example, developers, mortgage providers such as banks, some businesses). However, no Canadian political party is advocating for population stabilization and all (including the so-called Green Party) favor high levels of immigration. It is  likely that a rethinking of the "growth forever" paradigm must arise at the grassroots level as Canadians become increasingly aware that they are being scammed by the politics of growth.