Posted on July 1, 2010

Immigration, Old Age and Technology to Rule Wente’s Canada 47 Years From Now

Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail (Toronto), July 1, 2010

Forty-seven years ago, when my family arrived in Canada, I could never have imagined what kind of country we’d grow up to become. Toronto was a boring backwater. Almost everyone was beige. Nobody drank wine or ate foreign food. Everything was shut on Sunday, because you were supposed to be in church. The Royal York was the tallest building in the city. Dief was the chief, the flag looked British, and nobody had heard of Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell yet.

What will Canada be like 47 years from now? Let me imagine.

No one was surprised when Shibani Pushparajah became prime minister. The brilliant second-generation immigrant, who was born in Mississauga, belongs to Canada’s second-largest ethnic group. But really, she’s a citizen of the world. The last white male prime minister lost his seat in 2043. The only white man in Ms. Pushparajah’s diverse cabinet is the minister of agriculture.

Since the turn of the millennium, all of our population growth has come through immigration, mostly from China, India and the Philippines. In the thriving megalopolis of Greater Toronto (population: 12 million), people of European descent make up less than a third of the population. The biggest culture gap isn’t between competing ethnic and linguistic groups, though. It’s between the vibrant, globally minded, multiracial cities and the shrinking white ghettos of the Atlantic provinces and the rural hinterland.

Canada’s population has swelled to 44 million. But immigration hasn’t reversed the aging trend. Although the national IQ is high, so is the national age. A third of all Canadians are over 65. But “retirement,” as they used to call it, is long gone. There weren’t enough workers to support the retirees. Today, you can’t get old-age benefits until you’re 75 or 80. That’s really not that old. Breakthroughs in biomedicine have yielded cures for many of the old degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and the average natural life expectancy is pushing 100.

Even so, health-care costs are ruinous, and taxes are sky-high. Like other cash-strapped Western nations, Canada wants to cut people off medicare when they turn 90. Instead, it will offer you a lavish farewell party at a time of your choosing, along with a generous endowment for your descendants and a delicious cocktail to put you to sleep forever.

Some of the old folks remember when the neighourhoods were full of kids. They’re much more quiet now. For every person under 16, there are two people over 65. Instead of schools, governments are building group homes for geezers. One thing hasn’t changed, though. Caregivers from the Philippines are as popular as ever. Only now, their dependent, diapered charges are at the other end of life.

Compared to Europe, Canada is lucky. Italy is so depopulated that the entire nation has been declared a vast theme park. Most Canadians can’t afford to go there any more. Admission is restricted to the very wealthy–mostly Asians–who are happy to fork over the $10,000-a-day entrance fee. (All sums in post-Euro, pre-crash USD.) Instead, we flood to bargain-basement Central America, where huge colonies of elderly North Americans prop up the economies of entire nations.

Today, it’s hard to imagine how powerful Quebec’s French-Canadians used to be in national life. Demographics and immigration did them in. The separatist party collapsed in 2025, after its supporters literally died out. French-speaking immigrants from Africa and Haiti didn’t care about the old battles, and with the end of transfer payments, Quebec lost its leverage on Ottawa for good. Today Quebeckers make up less than 20 per cent of the Canadian population, and live in the poorest province of them all. But they still have the best places to eat.

After the Great Crash of 2024, when China finally stopped buying U.S. debt, Canada endured its darkest decade since the Depression. We’re still scarred by the memory of 18 per cent unemployment and the great pension fund collapse. Fortunately, our once-reviled oil sands saved our bacon. We leased them to China for 199 years at highly attractive rates, and that, along with a bonanza of new discoveries in the North, has made us nearly as rich as the Norwegians. We are happy the world is finally weaning itself off oil, but please, not yet.

Nostalgia buffs think everything was better in the good old days, of course. They love to sit around and listen to old Joni Mitchell tunes and show off their souvenir copy of the last Globe and Mail printed on dead trees. Their grandkids can’t imagine a time when The Globe did not exist entirely in cyberspace. Everyone agrees the world has changed a lot in 47 years. But one thing hasn’t changed at all. Canada is still the best country in the world.