Maximum Canada: How big is enough?
Acclaimed Globe & Mail journalist Doug Saunders argues in his book Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough that Canada has had trouble keeping the immigrants it attracts. This "minimizing impulse", as he terms it, has to be jettisoned if Canada is to take its rightful place on the world stage. Joining the conversation to expand on and challenge Saunders' argument are: history professor Barrington Walker of Queen's University and Anna Kramer, professor of urban planning at the University of Toronto.
Canada has a high standard of living. But Doug Saunders says we got here by accident. Historically, Canada never saw itself destined to be a "big" country. It was meant to play the role of a colony, quietly feeding the British motherland, and not to strike out on its own and think big like its southern cousin. Saunders describes this mode of thinking to Paul Kennedy as the "minimizing impulse".
"It was a set of ideas that emerged after the War of 1812 for the first time, and reached fruition in the decades running up to Confederation, and became a set of ideas that dominated Canadian thought for a long time — which was that our country should be a limited place. It should be a a closed economy whose predominant role should be East-West trade or provision of goods to the British motherland and resource extraction, that should not have significant trade or movement of people with the United States. And that it should predominantly be agrarian. There was also the idea that it should be British and white in identity and another part of that was that the Indigenous peoples of Canada should not be partners in nation-building but should be seen as obstacles or problems to be solved.
Its consequence was that our population remained very small, but the starting point was not always this idea that we should we should be a small country. In fact the minimizing influence, the minimizing impulse existed in, for example, John A MacDonald's time as as a set of ideas that thwarted big attempts to bring in immigration. The big immigration drives of really almost every part of the 19th century failed. More people departed Canada largely for the United States during the 19th century than arrived as immigrants. And that was because, yes, they wanted to bring people in, they wanted to fill the land with people and displace the people who are already there. But they also said let's have closed and restricted trade with the United States. Let's have our only role being to provide raw materials to Britain. Let's discourage people from becoming urban or entrepreneurial or things like that.
And that set of factors made Canada a very difficult place to live, a place that people would use as a stepping stone to another country rather than a place to settle. And there's a legacy of these that still exists in the structure of Canada today."
Guests in this episode:
- Doug Saunders is a journalist with the Globe and Mail. His book Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough is published by Penguin/Random House.
- Barrington Walker is a professor of history at Queen's University.
- Anna Kramer is a professor of urban planning at the University of Toronto.
**This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa with the assistance of Tiffany Lam and Mitchell Thompson.