Century Initiative: The Lobbyists that Want to Raise Canada’s Population to 100 Million

The fact that most Canadians remain unaware of the Century Initiative, the most powerful and well-heeled immigration lobby group in the nation, is not surprising in a country where major policy decisions are frequently made without a fulsome debate in Parliament.

The Century Initiative was founded in 2011 by Mark Wiseman and Dominic Barton. At the time, Wiseman was President and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Dominic Barton was the Global Managing Director of American consulting firm McKinsey.

The stated goal of the Century Initiative is laid out on centuryinitiative.ca: “We advocate for policies to increase Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100”. The stated reasoning for this increase is threefold: Canada’s population is ageing, a nation of 40 million people is too small to project global power and influence, and a larger population is good for economic growth. The bulk of their lobbying efforts are geared towards massively increasing immigration levels.

The Influence of the Century Initiative

Aside from publishing reports, producing videos, and creating social media hashtags, the Century Initiative has exerted serious influence over federal immigration policy. Dominic Barton chaired Trudeau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, with Mark Wiseman serving as a member. In 2016, the Advisory Council recommended that immigration be raised to 450,000 annually. A Radio Canada report published on January 4th of this year reveals how, according to an unnamed source from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the department was quickly instructed to take this number as a foundational plan.

The most recent Immigration Levels Plan allows for 465,000 immigrants in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025. Thus, 2025 immigration levels will actually exceed those proposed by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth. The 500,000 number corresponds to the Century Initiative’s Fall 2019 report, For a Bigger, Bolder Canada, which calls on the federal government to “pin the annual immigration target to 1.25% of Canada’s population”, which “would equate to approximately 500,000 immigrants in 2026 if Canada’s population is around 40 million as currently projected”.

Besides its direct influence on the Trudeau government’s immigration policy, the Century Initiative has had a significant impact on the national discourse surrounding immigration. The lobby group has been the subject of sympathetic pieces by Terence Corcoran in the Financial Post (100 million Canadians? We could only hope) and Andrew Coyne (Increased immigration is good for Canada — and the reasons aren’t only economic). In 2017, Doug Saunders published a book titled Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough, in which he echoes the Century Initiative’s goal of growing Canada’s population to 100 million.

A Program of Seismic Population Expansion

What would Canada look like if the federal government continued to implement the Century Initiative’s recommendations in the coming decades? The Century Initiative’s website projects that, if immigration is pegged to 1.25% of the population, there will be 560,000 immigrants annually in the 2030s, 633,000 annually in the 2040s, and eventually 1.14 million annually in the last decade of the 21st century. A revealing chart on the Century Initiative’s Wikipedia page envisions a future Canada dominated by “mega-regions”.

Mega-region 2016 population 2100 population Population change
Vancouver 3.3 million 11.9 million +261%
Calgary-Edmonton 2.8 million 15.5 million +454%
Winnipeg 0.8 million 1.7 million +113%
SW Ontario 1.2 million 2.0 million +67%
Toronto 8.8 million 33.5 million +281%
Montreal 4.4 million 12.2 million +177%
National Capital 1.4 million 4.8 million +242%

The Century Initiative envisions dramatic demographic change, which would transform Canada’s major population centres, doubling, tripling, or quadrupling the population of most cities. To justify its program, the Century Initiative invokes Canada’s ageing population, the alleged lack of global influence wielded by small countries, and a perceived need for more economic growth.

The Myth of the Silver Tsunami

In order for the Century Initiative’s ageing society argument to be valid, two premises need to be true: 1) ageing populations are a major problem which requires major government intervention and 2) there is no other possible way to address imbalanced generational cohorts other than mass immigration.

The highly charged rhetoric surrounding the so-called “ageing population” has reached the level of a moral panic. Every day, we are reminded of the coming catastrophe of the much touted “greying of the population”. The term “Silver Tsunami” first appeared in the 1980s, and yet the supposedly apocalyptic effects have yet to take place.

According to a 2021 report by Population Matters, Silver Linings not Silver Burdens, the frequently trotted out Old-Age Dependency Ratio (OADR) is “largely offset” by a reduction in the Child-Dependency Ratio (CDR), since the youngest generational cohorts in the West are much smaller than the older ones. The report quotes the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the United Kingdom, which confirmed that this offset is not merely theoretical: “Over the period 1992 to 2017, economic dependency has shown an overall improvement, despite the population becoming older”.

There is another faulty assumption behind worries over ageing populations, that people stop contributing to society once they hit retirement age. The Silver Linings report observes that “it is likely that the economic contribution of older people exceeds their cost in pensions” in the UK. The report also points out that the elderly are responsible for a considerable amount of volunteering, childcare, and involvement in activism. Most Canadian towns benefit greatly from the armies of predominantly older volunteers who work in food banks, clean up parks, serve on boards, and fundraise for charities.

Non-Immigration Solutions to Population Stability

To be sure, although it is not an emergency, countries with a declining population may wish to take action to ensure a more stable population and the continuity of their distinct national culture. The problem for the Century Initiative’s argument is that there is a solution other than immigration: increasing domestic fertility rates.

The fact that Japan’s low fertility rate, often cited by proponents of the Silver Tsunami panic, rose from 1.26 in 2005 to 1.46 in 2015 demonstrates that fertility rates are variable. While Japan’s fertility rate fell again in 2016, the Japanese government is now experimenting with a range of interventions to raise it once more, including funding IVF treatments and encouraging young Japanese to move to the countryside and revive emptying villages.

Hungary has seen an increase in its fertility rate, which, according to an article in the Institute for Family Studies, is “probably at least partly…a result of a basket of policy changes including tax preferences, cash grants, loan subsidies, constitutional protections, and costly political signaling”. These incentives are effective because they are part of a “whole concert of pro-natal policies and cultural nudges”.

Thus, proponents of mass immigration find themselves in a bind. If Canada needs to stabilize its population, why should the significant financial investment needed to educate, house, and provide medical care to a population inflow from foreign countries not be spent on measures to incentivize fertility rates at home?

Is a Large Population Necessary for Global Influence?

The second major justification the Century Initiative employs is the idea that Canada’s “influence on the world stage” will decline if we don’t have a massive population. The assumption is that countries with larger populations wield more influence.

This is simply unsubstantiated. When Prime Minister Pearson invented United Nations peacekeeping in 1957, Canada’s population was only 16.7 million (compared to roughly 40 million today). Small countries, such as Israel (pop: 9.5 million) or the United Arab Emirates (pop: 10.2 million), can wield considerable influence. Bangladesh (pop: 164.7 million) and Nigeria (pop: 273.5 million) wield very little influence beyond the pressure they can place on their immediate neighbours.

Is a Large Population Necessary for Wealth?

Lastly, the Century Initiative argues that Canada needs mass immigration for economic growth. Although a larger population does increase total economic activity, the idea that a large population is a precondition for the prosperity of its citizens does not hold water when we consider indicators of prosperity across different countries.

The top 10 highest ranked countries on the Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, education, and per capita income are Switzerland (pop: 8.6 million), Norway (pop: 5.5 million), Iceland (pop: 372,000), Hong Kong (pop: 7.3 million), Australia (pop: 26 million), Denmark (pop: 5.9 million), Sweden (pop: 10.5 million), Ireland (pop: 5.1 million), Germany (pop: 84.5 million) and the Netherlands (pop: 17.7 million). These are all low population countries, with the largest among them, Germany, ranking only 19th highest in the world. The two countries with the highest populations in the world rank abysmally on the Human Development Index, with China coming in at 79th, and India at 132nd.

Elite Financial Motivations for Mass Immigration

The latest research from Population Matters indicates that an ageing society is not a major problem requiring a major government intervention. If Canada desires to increase the size of younger generations for other reasons, there are public policy interventions available besides mass immigration. Finally, there are no compelling reasons to believe that a larger population increases a country’s global power and influence, and low-population countries are in fact among the most prosperous.

The weakness of the Century Initiative’s arguments is likely because their stated justifications are a cover for financial interests. I believe this motivation can be uncovered by examining their board of directors, and their corporate partners.

The Century Initiative’s partners include CIBC, Scotiabank, BMO, and TD Bank. Four of the seven Century Initiative Board of Directors have ties to the corporate sector:

Goldy Hyder (CEO of the Business Council of Canada)
Willa Black (Vice-President of Corporate Affairs and CSR for Cisco Canada)
Tom Milroy (President of TOSA Investments Limited)
Mark Wiseman (Formerly Senior Managing Director of Blackrock, now Senior Advisor to Boston Consulting Group and Hillhouse Capital)

A rise in population on the scale advocated by the Century Initiative leverages the law of supply and demand to redistribute money from the bottom to the top. Adding to the population supply increases house prices and rent even as it decreases (or at least slows) wage rises. More importantly, an increased population raises the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measure of the market value of all the goods and services produced and sold. While irrelevant to the average citizen, any increase in the GDP raises the bottom line of corporations.

Christopher Lasch aptly described today’s borderless elites as “at home only in transit, en route to a high-level conference, to the grand opening of a new franchise, to an international film festival, or to an undiscovered resort”. In many cases, their interests do not converge with those of the general population, which is more firmly rooted in a particular place, in a specific country. The efforts of today’s elites to accumulate wealth, unhampered by the nationalist or religious impulses which guided elites in the past, frequently cause great incidental harm to their countrymen.

The Century Initiative is a particularly egregious example of this phenomenon. This powerful organization has lobbied, thus far successfully, for a massive expansion of the Canadian population, with the incidental side effects of straining infrastructure, crowding schools and hospitals, densifying historic neighbourhoods, and fuelling an astronomic increase in housing and rental prices. On a more fundamental level, there is the danger that the Century Initiative’s plan to raise Canada’s population to 100 million, by allowing large immigration inflows from foreign countries, threatens to effectively dissolve Canada’s historic cultural identity.

The Century Initiative, whose goals do not coincide with those of the wider public, is exerting considerable influence on Canadian immigration policy. This group has a serious potential conflict of interest stemming from the business connections of most of its board members, as well as the potential financial motivations of its corporate partners. If Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is to operate in the interest of the Canadian people, the federal government must cut ties with the Century Initiative, launch an investigation into the extent of the influence of lobbyists on immigration policy, and make the results available to the public.

Further Reading

All content on this website is copyrighted, and cannot be republished or reproduced without permission. 

Share this article

Dominion Review

The truth does not fear investigation.

Dominion Review is entirely funded by readers. I am proud to publish hard-hitting columns and in-depth journalism with no paywall, no government grants, and no deference to political correctness and prevailing orthodoxies. If you appreciate this publication and want to help it grow and provide novel and dissenting perspectives to more Canadians, consider subscribing on Patreon for $5/month
- Riley Donovan, editor

Scroll to Top